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Tone in column writing


This is a lesson about identifying and using a formal tone in columns. Students will read examples of opinion stories to see examples of voice and tone, marking the words that set the tone. Then they will write paragraphs of their opinion stories with different levels of formality.


  • Students will read professional and student opinion pieces to determine the tone of a piece of writing.
  • Students will write two paragraphs with different tones to practice changing language to change tone.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
CCSS.ELA-L.9-10.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
CCSS.ELA-RI.9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose


70 minutes


Slideshow: Tone

Reading/writing with tone – copies for entire class

Copies of three opinion stories for each student

Lesson step-by-step

1. Introduction — 20 minutes

While taking attendance, have the students answer “Here” or “Present” but use their tone of voice to indicate their opinion on the school’s cell phone policy. (Or other school issue that will get a student reaction.) Discuss with students how they answered. How does tone of voice affect the way we interpret what people say? How do we show tone when we are writing or texting? Can we run into problems when the tone is unclear?

Present the slideshow about tone.

2. Reading examples — 20 minutes

Distribute the three opinion story examples, and reading/writing with tone worksheet. Read through the first paragraph of one story and point out examples of words that express tone. Have students mark words and phrases that show whether the piece is more or less formal, whether it is personal or impersonal, and words that show the general attitude of the piece. Then have students read through the other opinion stories and determine the tone of those stories.

3. Discussion — 10 minutes

  • Regroup as a class and discuss your findings. Go over the answers to the two articles.

○      Which tone was the most serious? Formal? Objective?

○      Which opinion story would be the best received by students? By adults?

○      How did the tone of each piece help or hurt the writer’s cause?

4. Writing and tone — 20 minutes

Now have students flip over to the writing with tone side of their handout. Using their outlines from the previous class period, students should write one of the body paragraphs from their outline. Their first paragraph should have a personal, informal tone. Provide time to work and move around the room to monitor their progress. Then ask students which words they used to create a personal, informal tone. Where would a tone like this be useful? Next, have students write a second paragraph that uses an impersonal, formal tone. They may need to adjust their emotion or attitude a little an angry paragraph may be a concerned one, a bubbly one may be excited.

5. Wrap up

Before students leave, have each one share a sentence or phrase from one of the paragraphs that shows tone, and what type of tone it shows. Have students turn in their reading/writing with tone handouts and the two paragraphs they wrote.

Paragraphs rubric

4 3 2 1
Formal vs. informal The more formal paragraph consistently uses formal language and avoids contractions. The less formal paragraph uses some slang or has a more conversational tone. The formal paragraph generally uses formal language, but has a couple of mistakes with contractions or slang. The formal paragraph has three or more examples of slang or contractions. Neither paragraph has a formal tone of writing.
Personal vs. impersonal The personal paragraph uses the author’s voice and experience to make a point. The impersonal paragraph does not use first person. The personal paragraph uses first person, but not the writer’s experience. The impersonal paragraph may use first person once. The impersonal paragraph uses first person two or more times. Either both paragraphs are personal or both paragraphs are impersonal.