Secondary ELA Game: Teach Tone and Mood by Gamifying your Classroom


Do you find it difficult to increase language acquisition in your classroom? Are you looking for ways to clarify mood and tone in literature? I’ve developed secondary level ELA games to get your students talking about vocabulary, using new vocabulary, and exploring mood and tone in a fun way.

Do you find it difficult to increase language acquisition in your classroom? Are you looking for ways to clarify mood and tone in literature? I’ve developed secondary level ELA games to get your students talking about vocabulary, using new vocabulary, and exploring mood and tone in a fun way.

What do you need?

  • A deck of playing cards
    • Old/used cards are totally fine, they just need a complete set of 52. (Offer extra points for students that bring in an extra deck to donate)
    • You can also purchase a couple extra packs for students that lack the ability or funds to get a pack of cards. (The Dollar Tree has two packs for one dollar. Score!)
  • A student created list of tone/mood words
  • A binder ring
  • A sharpie
  • A hole punch

Together, these simple things will you help you create a great secondary ELA game.

Starting Your Game

Tone and mood are always difficult concepts to master. A great way to help students understand a difficult concept is through the use of a game. At the secondary level, games can be hard to come by but they are very effective for learning.

I decided to focus on tone first. Tone usually hints at the author’s purpose and is a recurring topic on standardized test questions.

Step 1

If you have already covered tone, it’s best to begin with a review. I explain that tone is the author’s attitude towards the topic they are writing about, and this is most often conveyed through word choice or diction.

Step 2

After reviewing tone, compare it to a family sitting down to dinner in the evening. The mother will set the tone for the dinner with her word choice and intonation. The family (or audience) will feel a certain mood based on the tone of the mother (or author).

Step 3

Once you have identified a tone word, discuss different forms of the word and rank them according to intensity of meaning. You can meansure intensity through the difficulty level or length depending on your age group.

Let’s start with “love”. List every word you can think of that means love :

  • passion
  • like
  • devoted
  • care
  • adore
  • affection
  • romantic
  • infatuation
  • obsession
  • fondness
  • idolatry
  • lust

Step 4

Students should rank the words according to intensity. A higher level love word (idolatry) might receive a 10, whereas a lower level love word (like) will receive a 2 (there are no ones in a card deck). Continue to rank the words in the middle. Examine the meanings of higher level vocabulary to help the class find the best place for the ranking.

When you use these cards in an ELA game, students can use the higher level cards to earn more points!

Step 5

The list of words you created for love, write on the Heart cards 2-10. More than one word can be written on a card if they share the same rank. Try to avoid having too many words on one card though. Make a limit of three or four.

Use these suits to categorize:

  • Clubs-angry/sad
  • Spades-neutral
  • Hearts- love
  • Diamonds- criticism
  • Kings-arrogance
  • Queens-pride
  • Jacks-open category,or make your own classifications.
  • Aces-approval
  • Jokers-funny/joking

Modifying For Mood

If you are looking to make a “mood” deck as well, you will need twice as many decks of cards.

Step 1: Review

To start, review what mood is with your students. Mood is how the reader feels about the text through the help of the author. Typically we discover mood by looking at the atmosphere and the setting of the text.

Step 2: Explain (Give an example)

For example, in To Kill A Mockingbird, Boo Radley’s house is described in a creepy, haunted way.

…jutted into a sharp curve beyond our house. Walking south, one faced its porch; the sidewalk turned and ran beside the lot. The house was low, was once white with a deep from porch and green shutters, but had long ago darkened to the color of the slate-gray yard around it. Rain-rotted shingles drooped over the eaves of the veranda; oak trees kept the sun away. The remains of a picket drunkenly guarded the front yard-a swept yard that was never swept-where johnson grass and rabbit-tobacco grew in abundance.” (pg. 8)

Talk to students about the imagery in the text and WHY the mood may be creepy.

Step 3: List synonyms

  • eerie
  • frightening
  • shuddersome
  • hair-raising
  • haunting
  • threatening
  • mysterious
  • macabre
  • menacing
  • awful

After step three, you want to follow the same directions from tone for steps four and five. You may have to change the categories of the cards to fit your needs.

Another word you may want to teach students is “connotation.” Because mood is how the reader feels, how we feel about a certain place or atmosphere may vary. For example, many people view Christmas as a happy, warm, and joyful time. If you don’t have happy memories associated with Christmas it may seem lonely or sad. Keep this in mind when discussing mood.

Gamifying Your Deck

There are a number of ways to use the tone deck as a valuable teaching tool. The creation of the deck itself is an incredible learning experience. Students discuss tone words, their meanings, and rank them. This process teaches them new words and how word choice matters.

The incorporation of the playing card makes the experience a novelty and very engaging. The cards also give you and your students “pieces” for a potential secondary ELA game.

You can use these cards to help your students analyze a text that is new to them. Your students can examine the word choice of the author and discuss which words in the deck best describe the tone. Having the cards handy will help them come up with a variety of words for tone.

“Throw It Down”

If you’re looking to turn this into a more competitive game give this a try. I created a secondary ELA game called “Throw it Down”. My students are divided into teams of four. I pop a short piece of text on the screen and each team member “throws down” the best tone word to describe that text. A judge in that team makes the final call. They love taking turns being the judge and arguing about which word best describes the tone.

Download a freebie here to get this high school ela game going in your classroom!

“Moody Max”

Another secondary ELA game that you can play is “Moody Max.”

  • Create a character (literally anything you can find a picture of online) and name him/her Max.
  • Divide students into groups (no more than 4).
  • Then give a description about where Max is.
  • Each student needs to lay down the mood card they think Max would have based on the description.
  • Then, the judge, decides which mood is best. The person who gets the card is the judge for the next round.
  • Whoever gets 5 mood cards first, wins!

To add a little bit of extra skill to this game, give students 20 seconds to defend their answer to the judge.

There are so many ways you can use these games! Let your imagination soar; the sky is the limit. Whether you just make the cards for the experience or use them to gamify your secondary ELA classroom, your students will gain a better understand of mood and tone all while having a little bit of fun.

Meet Our Guest Blogger!

Guest blog post by Crystal Karwacki: I’ve been teaching for 23 years in North Carolina and I still love what I do. My husband and two kids (19 and 13) are a daily inspiration for my crazy/creative lessons. Creating lessons for my TPT store brings me an abundance of joy. You can find my blog and you can check out my Instagram for more secondary ELA fun ideas and tips!


    • Oh, how wonderful to hear such a nice comment! Thank you so much! Enjoy the free download that you can find here in the post. Thank you again!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I’m so glad you are here! My name is Danielle. I am passionate about helping teachers and homeschool parents promote critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication with their students. 

Subscribe and receive a FREE body biography for your classroom straight to your inbox!

latest From
the Shop