How Does the Setting Affect a Story's Mood?

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SWBAT use specific words from the text to determine the mood of "Ghost Cat."

Big Idea

How does an author create a spooky story?


10 minutes

I start with this question: How can you tell if your mom or dad is in a good mood or a bad mood.  My students will usually tell me details about their parents' facial expressions, tone of voice, or actions. Also, be ready for some students to tell you waaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy to much information about their parents!  

Once our conversation is over, I recap it by saying that it is easy to tell a person's mood because we can look at them and hear them.   It is also easy to tell the mood of movie, which is how we will start today. 

Our goal is to transfer the strategies we use to analyze people and video into  a text.  It is much more difficult to analyze the mood in a story.  

Scary Mary vs. Mary Poppins

15 minutes

I have done this activity for the past several years when first introducing mood and/or tone.  It is just so much fun and really makes the point clear to the students.  I have modified it a little bit with the onset of CCSS to make it more evidence based, but over all, it is a fun way way to introduce mood.  For the rest of the year, when we are discussing mood I just have to say, remember Scary Mary?  Everyone instantly remembers mood.  

I have the students make a t-chart in their reading notebook and title the columns:  Original Mary and Scary Mary.  

First we will watch the original Mary Poppins trailer.

I tell the students that we are looking to see what kind of mood the video creates.  As they watch, I have them jot down the mood they think it is creating and the specific examples/evidence that create it.  I tell them to look at the visuals as well as the music.  Watch for colors, fonts, and the way the characters interact.  

After, we have a brief discussion about the mood of the trailer which is generally happy and carefree. I record the moods they mention along with the specific examples on a t-chart I have drawn on the board.  

Now for the fun part!  Scary Mary is a short video where someone took the actual footage from Mary Poppins, added some captions, scary music, and lighting effects to make the once jolly world of Mary Poppins creepy and haunting.  The kids LOVE this!  Since the video is short, I have them watch it one time without writing anything down.  

After watching the video a few more times,  (My students could watch it all day...) we repeat the same process of describing the mood and citing specific things that created the mood.  

Student T-Chart

Now I ask the key questions, "Why was it so easy to detect the mood in these two video clips?  What strategies did we use?"

Students will talk about listening to the music, viewing the images, the lighting, the captions, even the font used as mood creators.  

Then I will ask, "How do we figure out the mood of a story, book, or poem when there is no music, no characters to watch, no special lighting to see?"

My students typically tell me that we would have to look at the words the author uses.  Specifically, the descriptions and dialogue.  They will usually also mention that the plot events or setting can also create a mood.  If they don't give all of the information  I am looking for, I will ask them to think about the different elements of literature we have studied.  Can they contribute to the overall mood?  I will also bring up examples of past stories if needed.  

Describe the Setting

15 minutes

Now it is time to transfer finding the mood over to the story "Ghost Cat".  I start by asking the students to refer back to the figurative language tree map that they completed in the previous lesson, "Wrapping up the Second Reading."  

As a class we will discuss the examples of similes, metaphors, and personification that they found in the text, and I will create a class tree map on the board as they share.  We will analyze all of our examples and I will ask the students to generate words that come to mind when they see these details.  

Typical responses are: lonely, deserted, depressing, haunting, creepy, sad, run-down.  I will remind them that they found the majority of the figurative language in the description of the setting.  The author is using the setting to help create the deserted, sad mood of the story.  Instead of music and lighting, the author uses very descriptive language to paint a picture of the mood.  

I will have students create a bubble map and in the center they will write Mood (from the setting).  They will choose four descriptive words from the list that we generated as a class to make the branches of the bubble maps.  For each descriptive word, they will find evidence from the setting of the story to support it.  For example, if they chose deserted, an example might be "no houses in sight" or "narrow, deserted beach".

After completing this bubble map, I will ask students to answer the following question about mood on the back of the bubble map, "What is the overall mood of the story, and what evidence from the story supports your ideas?"

I like this activity because it takes something really abstract, like mood, and makes it more concrete by showing that there are specific words and sentences that authors write to create this mood.  On purpose!  I also like the way that students figure it out on their own from their own evidence.