Using Mood Structures to Support Student Writers

A post by Trevor Bryan

When it comes to discussing stories, Mood is by far my favorite word. Why? Because almost all stories, fictional or not, are built around moods.

Whether you are watching a play, an animated movie, or reading a story with pictures (or only written text), the stories that you and your students love are driven by the moods of the characters within them. Understanding this idea can help you and your students to think about and discuss the stories that you read, watch, or create - deeply and meaningfully. Let’s take a closer look.

For readers, a good indication that they are comprehending the story before them is their ability to answer three simple questions:

  1. What’s the mood?

  2. How do you know what the mood is?

  3. What’s causing the mood?

A good example of this is Peter H. Reynolds’ book, The Dot. If we look at the opening illustration and think about the mood of the character shown, we begin to enter into the heart of the story. Clearly, Vashti, the character we see, can be described as frustrated, upset, or by using another word that connotes a negative mood.

The Dot TB Post.png

The following visual can help students to home in on the textual evidence that would support their thinking. For instance, students can infer that Vashti is in a sour mood based on her facial expressions, her body language, and the colors that envelop her. That fact that she is not talking, that she’s alone and far away from her desk and other people also shows the negativity within the scene.

Courtesy of Trevor Bryan, Art by Peter H. Reynolds

Courtesy of Trevor Bryan, Art by Peter H. Reynolds

Based on the textual evidence, the only question we can’t answer with certainty is the third one: “What’s causing the mood?” Peter H. Reynolds does provide some clues as to what could be causing it, but in order to know for sure, the reader would have to read on.

Moving On to Mood Structures

Courtesy of Trevor Bryan

Courtesy of Trevor Bryan

Once readers figure out a beginning mood and what’s causing it, they are in the thick of the story. However, mood is not the only thing that great stories have in common; they also usually have a change in mood.

For instance, in The Dot, Vashti’s mood shifts from frustrated to joyful. Again, Peter H. Reynolds shows this mood change in the illustrations. Using the Access Lenses, students can see that Vashti’s face has changed, her body has changed, the colors have shifted, she is no longer alone, and she is close to her artwork. Paper, which started as a symbol of frustration, flipped to a symbol of confidence, creativity, and joy.

This story’s mood structure can be classified as negative to positive. Understanding basic mood structures helps students to see how stories work, to make predictions, and to recognize key moments. Answering the question, ‘What might cause the mood to change?’ is an easy way to help students to make predictions. And when moods do change, or start to change, it normally indicates a key moment.

From  The Dot  by Peter H Reynolds, Published by Candlewick Press.

From The Dot by Peter H Reynolds, Published by Candlewick Press.

It’s important to note that less complex stories often follow a single mood structure, and in more complex stories—such as novels—the plots and sub-plots will often have different mood structures.

Using Mood and Mood Structures to Support Student Writers

The textual evidence that students pull out of stories to make-meaning is the same kind of information that students can put in to the pictures or text of their stories. The Access Lenses sheet is therefore not just a tool that can be used for comprehension, it can also be used for craft. Likewise, when students use the mood structures to think about the stories they read, they also can use them to think about the stories they create. Below are two general graphic organizers, based on the mood structures, that can help students to plan their stories. For each scene in their stories, students should be able to answer three questions:

  1. What’s the mood?

  2. What is causing the mood?

  3. How can they show the mood?

Courtesy of Trevor Bryan

Courtesy of Trevor Bryan

Courtesy of Trevor Bryan

Courtesy of Trevor Bryan

Stories are built around moods. How characters feel and what drives that emotion is how we connect to stories. Use the Access Lenses and mood to help your students enter into the stories they read (or watch), and to anchor the stories they craft.



About the Author
Trevor Bryan has been an art teacher in New Jersey for the last twenty years. He is passionate about helping students to use the arts to share their unique voices. This post is based on his first book, The Art of Comprehension: Exploring Visual Texts to Foster Comprehension, Conversation and Confidence, which will be out in early 2019 through Stenhouse Publishers. You can contact Trevor through Twitter, @trevorabryan, through his blog, fouroclockfaculty.com, his website, theartofcomprehension.com or reach out through Stenhouse Publishers.

Images from:

  • The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds, published by Candlewick Press

  • The Art of Comprehension: Exploring Visual Texts to Foster Comprehension, Conversation and Confidence, by Trevor Bryan, published Stenhouse Publishers