Teaching How Diction Reveals Tone

Posted on September 16, 2009


Teaching students to dig deep into a text can be challenging, especially when today’s students aren’t regular readers. Since school started four weeks ago, I’ve been trying to inspire mine to establish a daily habit of reading and to read deeply.

Today, we tackled diction and tone.

I began the lesson by having three  students “act out” a sentence, each using a different tone.

I just saw someone smash into Mrs. Huff’s car in the parking lot.

One student assumed an angry tone, another an amused tone, and the last an apathetic one. The class had to guess their tone.

We then transitioned from voice to text. I quickly explained that since we can’t hear the author’s voice, our only clue to how he feels–his attitude or tone–about what he’s writing about is hidden in the text itself. If we look at the words (diction) he uses, we can often figure out his tone.

After showing a few sentences, modeling how diction points to tone, I put students into teams and had each team read Langston Hughes A Dream Deferred. Before class I created an Etherpad for each team, then put the link to the pad on our class wiki. I included directions and a copy of the poem on the pad. Students then read and discussed the poem within their teams, identified diction with strong connotations, and brainstormed tones. They then wrote a paragraph explaining the tone of the poem and giving at least three details to support their explanation.

I had to prod a few groups by asking them if they knew what deferred meant and for a few groups asking them how they might find out what it means–mind each student has his own laptop, and a few students looked dumbfounded as to how they might define the word!

I was able to assess their understanding by reading all the team’s responses at the end of the day.

Not every lesson is successful, but it’s exciting when the stars align–and the tools and strategies and students’ hormones–and magic and learning happens!

Posted in: Projects/Lessons