Week 6: Developing Mood


  • The most important thing to do as a writer is to make the reader feel something. This is more important than explaining or even convincing. Inspire feeling in your audience and they won’t forget!
  • Mood is not what your kids probably think it is, and it’s one of the most difficult, abstract concepts you’ll cover together. (For instance, some of them might even think hunger is a mood, but actually it’s a physical feeling, not an emotion.) When we’re talking about literature, mood refers to the emotion the READER experiences when reading the work. It is not necessarily the same as the emotion the character is experiencing. For example, a villain might feel sad if his plan has been foiled, but the reader might feel triumphant or joyful. Don’t confuse this with tone, which refers to the author’s attitude toward the subject. For reference, see The Cure for IDK, pg. 56
  • Mood is developed through setting, dialogue, character description. Word choice is important.

Today’s goal

  • Develop mood by describing a [choose one to focus your lesson]: setting, person, or conversation.

Target exercise ideas

  • Show Me Your Mood: Play segments of a few different songs, and get everyone to stand up. As the song plays, ask them to act out the mood the song is making them feel. (Download these songs in advance. WiFi and cellular networks can be unreliable in school buildings!)
  • Snow White Remix: Show your authors this portrait of Snow White. Then read these short stories, both written in response to that portrait. Ask your kids to identify how they feel after each, and point out how word choice affects their mood. (Credit: writing fellow Tori Quante-Dulaney, 2015)
  • Mood Mad-Lib: Try this “Life is Hard” poem remix activity to get kids to experiment with word choice and its influence on mood. (Credit for this entire activity packet to Emma Iocovozzi and Marian Carrasquero, 2016.)


Another way to see mood in action is through genre-crossing movie trailers. In film editing classes throughout the States, a common assignment is to take an existing film (say, a comedy) and create a film preview that presents the film as a different genre (for example, a horror film). This is accomplished through editing and splicing scenes, adding new, anxiety-producing music and sound effects, and adding a new voice-over introduction.

Some of the best examples of this are:

  • Mary Poppins as a horror film: Scary Mary
  • Dumb and Dumber as  a horror film: Lurk and Lurker
  • The Shining transformed into a feel-good romantic comedy: Shining

(Find links to watch at the end of this article!)

This can also be well illustrated through songs. Play three different songs, and ask your kids to act out the way the music makes them feel.

Reading ideas

Writing prompt ideas

  • Students may generate a new piece or apply this lesson to an existing piece they want to publish.
  • Ask your writers to note the mood they’re aiming for at the top of their page. This will be a reminder to them as well as a tool for you to give constructive guidance/feedback. Is the mood well-developed? If this is easy for some, challenge them to change the mood of the piece halfway through!
  • A: Where is your safe place? Where do you go to hide? / Write about your first time in a brand-new place that wasn’t anything like you’d imagined it would be.
  • B: Write about a time you stood up for someone, or a time when you didn’t. Write about your most complicated friendship.
  • C: Write your inner monologue in response to assumptions people make about you. [To help you get started, make a list of things people assume about you. Then make a list of things people wouldn’t know about you at first glance—the real you. Weave these two lists together to help build your piece.]

Sharing/performance ideas

  • FEED the Voice: During designated sharing time, get at least two young authors to FEED their fellow author after sharing by explaining: 1) a burning question they hope to have answered and/or 2) a moment in the piece they relate to.