When I introduce the concept of voice, I share several different distinctive writers' voices with students and give them a "tone" handout (you can find many of these online). I ask them to listen to me read each except aloud and then work in partners or small groups to determine adjectives from the "tone" sheet that describe each writer's voice. I usually use something from Sandra Cisneros ("My Name" usually), an excerpt from Catcher in the Rye, and a Rick Reilly piece. (Note: There's a great piece called "Three Bears in Search of an Author" by Dan Greenburg in which he retells the Goldilocks story as Holden Caulfield from Catcher and in the style of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms that also works well to show students different voices.)
I've found that Reilly's ESPN piece entitled "The Jersey Rules" (2011) works especially well to help students learn how to create a humorous, sarcastic voice. Reilly's thesis in this piece is basically that adult men shouldn't be "dressing up" in sports jerseys. If they do, he suggests they follow his "rules" for wearing jerseys appropriately.
Click here for a link to the full article.
Here's a sample of his list of rules:
Jersey Rule No. 1: You may not wear a jersey past age 29.
a) You are immediately related to the person whose name is on the back.
b) You are the person whose name is on the back. (Team photo required.)
Jersey Rule No. 2: You may not wear a jersey without a shirt underneath it, especially NBA jerseys. We do not want to see your rash. Or your spare tire. Or your nipples. My God, people.
Jersey Rule No. 4: You may not, under any circumstances, wear a jersey AND a hat. Who are you, Tony Romo?
Jersey Rule No. 5: You may not wear a jersey with your own name on it if you didn't wear it on a real team once. Please. Are you expecting Bill Belichick to look up in the stands and go, "Flanagan! Get in there at tailback!"?
After we discuss "tone words" that apply to this voice, I ask students to spend 5 minutes annotating the text - what do they notice about how he creates humor or sarcasm in this piece? We then share out what they've identified and think together as a class about the effect of what they've noticed. Students often notice things like the use of rhetorical questions to make the jersey wearer feel silly, the second person "you" to create a mock aggressive voice, sentence fragments to create humorous pauses or contrasts, all caps or italics for emphasis, and parentheses to add a short humorous phrase.
Finally, students take 15 minutes to write their own "rules" piece in which they choose a different topic and create humorous, sarcastic "rules." Here's a student piece from Emily, a 9th grader, titled "Rules for Playing Girls' Tennis":
Rule Number 1. No one cares if you and your opponent used to be best friends in preschool. Stop squealing, this is not a playdate.
Rule Number 2. If you call a ball out, just say out. Do not drag on the word for over two seconds. The word is out, not ouuuuuuuuuuutttttt.
Rule Number 3. If you are asked if you are sure about a call, "I’m pretty sure" and "I think" are not acceptable answers.
Rule Number 4. If you call a linesjudge and he disagrees with you, do not yell at him. You are probably wrong.
Rule Number 5. Do not take two minutes between each of your serves to bounce the ball twenty-five times, fix your strings, take three deep breaths, fix your wedgie, do some yoga, pray... Whatever it is, now is not the time. The rule is twenty seconds.
Rule Number 6. If you win, do not wave and blow kisses at your parents. This is not the U.S. Open.
Rule Number 7. If you get a blister on your foot, do not show it to your opponent, upload it, and talk about it for a full five minutes. It’s just disgusting. Who wants to see that?
Each day over the course of the next week, I share a different excerpt with students that I think has a distinctive voice, and we go through roughly the same procedure. By the end of the week, students have experimented with several different types of voices and seem to have a stronger sense of the concept that writers don't "naturally" write in a particular voice but, instead, they cultivate a voice that's appropriate to their subject, audience, and purpose.