How to Teach Tone of Voice: In 4 Easy Steps

If you have ever wondered how to teach tone of voice, you are not alone. I have been there, sitting across from a boy who has confusion written across his face, as I try and explain that yes, saying I’m sorry is usually a good thing, but that it was his tone of voice that made his teacher upset.

Have you been there? Can you see that student? Do you want to help this child, but have no idea where to begin? I have been there too, and I can tell you what I would do to try and help this boy.

  1. Introduce the topic:

Reading passages are a great way to introduce a new topic. They educate the student about the topic and introduce new vocabulary. It’s a great way for students to warm up their mind to receive the knowledge they are going to be taught. I also love reading passages because they are versatile for mixed groups. All students can benefit from additional reading practice and it is easy to use reading passages to target articulation skills as well.

I use two reading passages. One passage explains what tone of voice is and why it is important. The second one teaches students how to listen for changes in tone of voice. I also give my students a short quiz to reinforce their understanding of the passage. As an extra bonus, the quiz also gives them a chance to practice reading comprehension skills.

2. Learn the vocabulary.

The topic of tone of voice requires knowledge of two types of vocabulary. The first type is emotional vocabulary. Students must have a strong foundational knowledge of emotions before they can be successful with tone of voice. And I am not just talking about basic emotions. I am talking about complex emotions such as embarrassed, frustrated, or disappointed. (You can read more about teaching complex emotions by clicking here).

The second type of vocabulary relates to the changes in tone of voice. These are words like “rate”, “pitch”, “emphasis”, “prolong”, and “volume”.

The following YouTube videos provide good examples of the following vocabulary words:

Pitch & Volume:

                After you watch this video practice talking in louder and softer volumes and higher and lower pitches.

Emphasis & Prolongation:

After you watch this video, help your students identify why Rachel prolonged certain words while she was talking to Joey and which words Rachel and Monica were putting emphasis on.

                Rate:

                Use this video to discuss Elliot’s rate of speech, why you think she is talking fast, and how it effects the communicative message.

3. Learn to listen.

Before students can interpret tone of voice, they must learn to listen for it. At this point I would have my students listen to the same word, pronounced with several different emotions/tones. For example, you could use the word “no” and say it with a happy tone, a sad tone, a frustrated tone, and an embarrassed tone. Using audio clips that do not show other non-verbal cues, such as facial expression, will help your students to practice only using their listening skills. Many similar emotions also have similar tones, which can be difficult to identify without knowing context or seeing body language, so I would focus less on identifying the correct emotion, and more on picking out the tonal differences in each word.

I use a worksheet to guide my students through the listening process. The worksheet helps students identify the rate, pitch, volume, and any emphasis’ or prolongations the speaker used to convey the emotion. You can continue to practice this skill using a variety of words and sentences until your students are proficient at listening for the tonal differences in a communicative message.

4. Practice identifying emotions based on tone:

The next step in the process is probably the trickiest-learning to listen to a speaker’s tone of voice and interpret the communicative message. Here are a few activities you can use to practice this skill:

Watch Video Clips: The first time you play the video, don’t let your students watch the characters, instead, have them practice listening only to the tone of voice. I would have my students complete a guided listening worksheet to help them through this process and to help them guess which emotion they think is being portrayed.  After they have listened without watching, allow them to watch the video and discuss how it is easier to understand the communicative message when you can see the speaker’s body and facial expressions. You can use these video clips below to get you started.

How I Met Your Mother: Marshall’s Dad Died (Sad)

Star Wars: “Luke I Am Your Father” (Anger, Disbelief)

The Devil Wears Prada: “You Think This Has Nothing To Do With You” (Annoyed)

Titanic: “I’m The King of The Word” (Excited)

Barrier Games: Practice identifying tone of voice when you cannot see your partner. You can do this by having the student sit with his or her back to you (or another student). One student is given two cups. One cup contains a word or sentence, the other cup has emotion words. The student draws one card from each cup and must say the word or sentence using the emotion that they drew. The other student must guess the correct emotion.

Teaching Tone of Voice Activity

There you have it! Four steps to teaching tone of voice. It looks easy enough in writing, but we know how challenging this skill is to teach. If you would like a little extra help, check out my resource on tone of voice by clicking HERE. It contains reading passages, audio clips, guided listening worksheets, and activities to help you get started.

Tone of Voice Activity Packet

What tricks do you use to teach tone of voice? Please share in the comments below so that everyone can learn something new!

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