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SEL Series – How You Say it Matters

“It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it”, I remarked to my father after he said “never mind, it’s fine I’ve got it”. I could hear the frustration and impatience in his voice. His words said, “everything was okay”, but I knew he needed help and was spent from a long day. I then reminded him something he had taught me a long time ago, “Dad, how you say things matters just as much as what you’re saying! I can hear the exhaustion in your voice, let me help you…”

Helping your students identify voice pitch and tone is not an easy task. However, aiding children to recognize that it is not always what you say that gets your point across; rather, it is how you say it– is an incredibly important lesson that will help them with both decoding others’ words and intent and also help them manage and regular the impressions they give off as well.

I remember talking with my daughter about recognizing the change in others tone of voice. I aimed to give her better insight into knowing that everyone has their approach, style of inflection, and intention in speech.

Here a few tips I shared with her, and you can share them with your students.

Listen Carefully  

Tell your students to listen carefully to the tone and pitch of people’s voices. Tell them to identify them as positive, neutral, or negative. Once they understand the tone and pitch, then they can help them to figure out the emotion behind it.  Encourage them to watch videos and tv to help them practice identifying sounds like teasing, joking, and openness.


Clarify to them that tone of voice, body language, and words create a person’s attitude.  Observing social cues will support identifying the overall “tone” of the interaction.  


Educate your students about the importance of intonation.  Meanings of words change with intensity, volume, and speed of speech.

Ask Questions

Reassure your students, that in some case it will not be easy to read someone voice tone. Tell them to ask questions like, “I can’t read your voice tone, are upset with me? “

We all know that tone of voice is crucial.  Especially when a child is trying to make out the meaning of an adult’s words. As adults, we need to know that we are modeling how to speak to others when children as listening to us. Tone of voice is important!


Tiana Brown is the Assistant Director of the Norwalk Housing Authority Learning Centers


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