Exploring style and tone in a range of texts

The following teaching approaches allow pupils to explore a range of narrative styles. They will also learn how language is used to set the tone of a piece of writing.

Modal verbs and tone

Discuss the ways in which modal verbs can convey tone:

  • annoyance – She could have called
  • anxiety – She should have called by now
  • hope – She might call later.

Creating attitude and humour

  • Explore the ways in which sentence structure can convey attitude, by comparing different ways of saying the same thing, for example: Please work quietly; I'd like you to work quietly if that’s OK; Work quietly; Quiet!; May I request that you work quietly please? Ask pupils to write a letter of apology and a letter of complaint using sentence structure to create an appropriate tone.
  • Explore the ways in which grammatical features contribute to the creation of humour in a text such as The Pig Scrolls by Paul Shipton. Techniques used in the novel include: the narrator's use of language that contrasts with how he is feeling (such as using sentences including modal verbs instead of exclamations in a panic situation, in order to try to sound calm); the juxtaposition of an informal conversational tone with tense, frightening events; and sentences structured to create hyperbole. Model and then share the writing of a humorous text set in a tense situation.

Ambiguity in texts

  • Introduce the idea of deliberate ambiguity in texts. Pupils could write scenarios around sentences that could be interpreted ironically, for example: 'She is in a different class', he thought. Discuss the ways in which sentence structure contributes to the ambiguous tone.


  • Use shared reading to explore character through the use of dialogue, identifying the techniques that writers use to give their characters a distinctive voice. For example, discuss:
    • the use of individual or unusual ways of speaking
    • the degree of formality
    • the use of standard English or non-standard speech patterns
    • the use of repeated expressions and favourite phrases
    • the writer's use of verbs and adverbs when introducing direct speech (for example, he squeaked anxiously, she exclaimed vehemently).

Pupils should try to apply similar techniques in their own creative writing.

Multiple narratives and other distinctive features

  • Using a text with multiple narrative perspectives, take ten sentences from parts of the text and ask pupils to decide from which narrative perspectives the sentences have come, explaining to a partner how they made the decision. Take feedback, and explore how writers use language features to change style to represent different perspectives. For example, use sentences from Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko from Moose's perspective, and from the letter of Mrs Del Peabody III to the Warden, and ask pupils to identify which sentences belong to which perspective and how we know. Ask pupils to include different narrative perspectives in creative writing, each using distinctive language features
  • Through shared reading, explore the grammatical features used by a writer with a distinctive style such as Dickens. Pupils then go on to look at other extracts to identify use of the same features. Discuss as a class the elements of the writer’s style. Pupils can then write a pastiche to demonstrate understanding of the stylistic features
  • Lead a shared reading of the opening of a novel written using 'stream of consciousness' such as Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, discussing the way in which sentence structures reflect the character's thought processes. Pupils could then write a 'stream of consciousness' passage from the point of view of a character in a text being studied.

Texts from different genres

  • Give pupils two texts that are seemingly unrelated or from differing genres and ask them to work in pairs to draw out the similarities and differences in writing style. Dr Frankenstein's account of the events that bring the monster to life work well in comparison with scientific literary non-fiction describing creatures, such as the account of seeing a shark in Close Encounter with a Great White in Collins Cascades' Wild World. Ask pupils to extend the extracts by writing additional sentences in the style of the authors.

The work in this substrand has strong connections with the Language strand from the Framework for secondary English.