Change Moans and Groans to a Love of Tone: Teaching Students to Listen to Text

byMarva Hutchinson

The mere mention of the word tone elicits moans and groans in my classroom. Students can hear the tone of the spoken word-the question is: how do we help them make the transition to hearing the sound of the written text and identifying that tone? This unit will promote the idea that the study of poetry, with a particular emphasis on sound, can actually serve as the impetus for improving student facility in discussing the tone of any prose text, fiction or nonfiction. The unit will begin with a more substantive discussion of the definition of tone, accompanied by activities that build student confidence in the ability to recognize audible tones in their day-to-day lives. When we actually hear what someone is saying, we can easily recognize how it is being said-we hear the tone. Firmly rooted in an historically oral tradition, poetry serves as a natural bridge from the study of spoken words to written texts. The final transition in the unit will involve students taking the same approaches they have learned in the study of the sound of poetry and applying them to their study of prose. These techniques should be used in conjunction with other analytical techniques as an organic discussion of the meaning of the text-not isolated as arbitrary exercises. The ultimate goal is to improve, not replace, an already substantive analysis of text.

(Developed for AP English Language and Composition, grade 11; recommended for English, grades 10-12)

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