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Tone in an information text

Learning intention

For students to be able to identify the tone of an author in a non-fiction text.

Explain

to students that they may think that non-fiction texts are neutral accounts of facts. Explain that this is not so. Sometimes the views of the writer are explicitly stated and at other times the tone of the text may only suggest the writer's point of view. The tone of a passage often provides clues about the overarching attitude of the author.

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What is it with tall buildings? The Burj Khalifa, in the United Arab Emirates, which opened in 2010, is still declared the world's tallest inhabited building at 829 metres as measured to the top of its spire. But how much does the spire count as a building? What it means to be the tallest building is hotly contested. The Shanghai World Financial Center, China, which was completed earlier in 2008, actually has a higher roof, at 449 metres, and a higher inhabited floor, at 474 metres, than the Burj Khalifa.

But what is the point if you can't get up there to see the view? The Shanghai World Financial Center had the highest observation deck at 474 metres until 2011, when it was beaten by another Chinese construction, the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, at 488 metres.

The Empire State Building observation deck, built in 1931, at 369 metres still provides a magnificent view of New York and has huge queues of tourists every day. How much have we really gained in 80-plus years of making buildings taller?

Read

the text with the students and discuss any vocabulary that may need clarification, such as spire, hotly contested, observation deck.

Discuss

how tall the various buildings actually are. Provide a concrete example of how far 100 metres is and ask students to try and visualise a building 829 metres tall.

Ask

students about the tone of this text.

Ask:

What does it suggest about the writer's attitude to tall buildings?

Ask

students to find evidence from the text to justify their opinions. For example: the first sentence provides evidence of a slight irritation or annoyance of tall buildings.

Explain

that a rhetorical question is a question asked for effect with no answer expected. For example: 'So if Michael told you to jump off a bridge, I suppose you'd do it?'

Encourage

students to offer examples of rhetorical questions sometimes asked by their parents or teachers.

Discuss

the use of rhetorical questions in this text.

Identify

the rhetorical questions in the text and explain them to the students.

Explain

that in this text the rhetorical questions largely determine the tone. Without the questions it would be a simple information text.

Ask

students to identify the overarching idea in this text, taking the tone of the text into account. The overarching idea should refer to the pointlessness of making buildings taller and taller or competing for the tallest building. The tone of this text is fairly clear. There are several, consistent pieces of evidence that suggest the writer's attitude.

Discuss

the merits of various suggestions.

Ask

a student to read the text out aloud using the tone the text suggests.

Change

the tone to make it more subtle. Remove or change the clues until there is just a hint of disapproval in the text. Students can do this individually and then compare their changes or you can do it as a group.

Change

the tone so that it suggests that the writer admires or is proud of tall buildings.

Remind

students that sometimes the tone of a text is clear and sometimes it is not.

Extension

 

Ask

students to work in pairs to identify the tone in extracts from other texts that you are studying as a class. Examples might include newspaper or magazine articles, a book on climate change or a restaurant or theatre review.

Encourage

students to read the text aloud to use tone to help them to identify overarching ideas.

Share

students' ideas and responses. Some groups may like to read their text out aloud demonstrating the identified tone.