Tone Map


This is an activity that helps students to identify tone in a poem, to track how tone evolves over the course of a poem, and to consider how tone contributes to the overall meaning and message of a poem. They will identify the “emotional journey” of a poem, identifying how emotions can be mixed, and they will gain facility in finding how poems often include an “emotional resolution.”

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Inferring
Analyzing Poetry

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Launching Into New Content
  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Reading

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Staircase of Complexity
  • Text-Based Answers
  • Writing from Sources


Select the poems students will be exploring. Establish access to a dictionary. Distribute and review a list of tone words (see below), and ensure that students understand and can use them. Consider dividing words among students, asking each student to research and then present the words to peers.

Activity Steps 
  1. Launch: Ask students to brainstorm as many emotion words as they can.
  2. Mini-lesson: Teacher introduces the idea that poetry can convey a variety of emotions, and that the emotions can change and evolve over the course of the poem.

    We can understand the “emotional story” of a poem by tracking the tone as it changes over the course of a poem, moving towards an “emotional resolution.”

  3. Modeling: Teacher reads a poem aloud. Teacher stops every time there is a shift in emotion or tone and models thinking aloud about the emotion and tone. Teacher records tone/emotion words next to the relevant lines of the poem.

    Be sure to display the poem for the students to see, or provide them with their own copies. Be specific about the words, phrases, and lines that convey a particular tone or emotion to you. Model using words and combinations of words from the list of emotion words. Be very clear about the steps you take in thinking about tone and how it changes. Keep in mind that tone can shift from stanza to stanza, from line to line, or within a line.

  4. Guided Practice: Teacher provides students with a copy of a poem, and reads the poem aloud with good expression. During the first reading, ask students to mark on their poems the places where they hear a shift in emotion or tone. During the second reading

    Encourage students to use combinations of words when appropriate: affectionately ironic, respectfully critical, begrudgingly apologetic, etc. The idea is to label each emotion/tone as precisely as possible.

  5. Investigation: Teacher distributes model of a tone map. Teacher provides individual students or small groups of students with a poem. Students read each poem individually, mark, and then label shifts in emotion/tone. Then, students create a tone map of t

    A tone map is a type of two-column notes, in which the left column is the poem divided into sections, and the right column is emotion words or word combinations describing the tone of each section of the poem.

  6. Synthesis: Students share out the tone maps they have created. Students brainstorm a list of what they have learned through these activities.

    The synthesis discussion could be led in a big group or in smaller groups. The share-out could be in pairs, small groups, or a big group, and could use a non-speaking format such as a gallery walk.

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