In school, most of us were instructed to avoid the passive voice whenever possible.
We were told that active sentences are more descriptive, more interesting, better choices for our writing. And while getting rid of the passive voice is a challenge that teachers to native speakers face, ESL teachers have an opposite challenge – teach students how to recognize and use the passive voice. Because even though teachers tell their students not to use it, the reality is that they do, and so your students will have to understand it as well. Here are five simple activities you can use to practice the passive voice. Some need time for set up (like solve the crime), but others (like the research race and blame it on your brother role play) don’t need any preparation. Just walk into the classroom and go. All of these activities, however, will get your students using the passive voice and having fun while they do.
Here's How You Can Help Your Students Really Use Passive
Solve the Crime
The set up for this activity may take you a bit of time, but once it’s set up students can pretty much work on their own. You will want to create a crime scene in your classroom. Think of a crime that could have been committed in your classroom. It doesn’t have to be realistic. Maybe the pencil sharpener attacked the garbage can or a fire breathing dragon tried to burn all the books in the classroom. Designate a corner of your room as the crime scene and put several clues in the crime scene area. These clues can be anything, for example, a turned over chair, cookie crumbs on the ground, a torn piece of paper, footprints (or paw prints) on the floor, etc. If you want your students to solve a crime, then have an idea in your mind what happened and set up the scene accordingly. If you are only going to use this activity to practice the passive voice, put any clues you want to in the area. Students will then role play the investigators for the crime. They will investigate the scene noting the clues as they do. They should write their clues in the passive voice. (The chair was turned over. Footprints were left on the floor.) Tell students how many clues are hidden in the crime scene (you don’t have to make all of them obvious) and see how many they are able to find and write passive sentences about.
Mythical Creature Compositions
Are your students into zombies? Vampires? Werewolves? Whatever creature of the night excites your students, use them to help your students distinguish sentences written in the passive voice. Start by giving students a list of ten sentences, half written in the passive voice and half written in the active voice. You can either write these sentences yourself, which I recommend, or have students write their own sentences. Show students how to tell if a sentence is passive with this little trick. If they can add the phrase “by zombies” (or vampires, werewolves, etc.) after the verb, the sentence is passive. If they cannot add that phrase, the sentence is active. If your students are young enough to appreciate art in English class, have them rewrite the passive sentences including the mythical creature phrase and then illustrate their favorite sentence. Display these illustrations with their passive sentences around your classroom.
What inventions do your students think are most necessary in their lives? As a class, brainstorm as many different inventions necessary to modern life as possible. Then use that list of inventions in this combination grammar and reading activity. Give students ten minutes to work with a partner on their smartphones or other technology devices (this works best if you have Wi-Fi in class or can take your students to a computer lab) and identify who masterminded each of their necessary inventions. For every inventor they find, they should write a sentence in the passive voice. “The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell.” Give your students only ten minutes to research as many inventions as possible. When you call time, award each pair one point for identifying the correct inventor and one point for writing a grammatical passive sentence. The pair with the most points wins the game.
Blame It on Your Brother Role Play
What kid hasn’t gotten into trouble and blamed a sibling for the damage? Take advantage of this universal blame game for a simple role play to practice the passive voice. Choose two students to play the parents and two students to play the siblings, who will be placing all the guilt on each other. With the four students in the front of the class, have the parents ask their children about various negative situations around the house using the passive voice. (E.g. How was the lamp broken? The cookies were stolen by whom?) The siblings both try to blame the activities on the other (I didn’t break the lamp. It was broken by Hyun.) or on a third party (The cookies were eaten by Big Foot.) using the passive voice. Parents and kids should try to stump one another with the outrageous damages or causes of those damages. If one pair is able to render the other pair speechless, they win the role play.
Here is a simple activity you can do with your students that touches on grammar, vocabulary, memory, and observation skills. Use either a tray or a desk not in use to set up an arrangement with familiar (or unfamiliar) objects. Give your students one minute to study the tray. Then hide it from their view (behind a large piece of cardboard works well) and make five changes to the tray. You might want to remove objects, reposition objects, or add new objects. Then reveal the tray to your students. They will have to note the differences in the tray using sentence in the passive voice. (The pencil was moved to the other side of the tray. The coffee mug was removed.) Once students get all five changes, reset the tray and try the activity again with new changes. If you like, ask students to come up to the front of the class and make the changes for one round.
Do you have any creative yet simple activities for practicing the passive voice?
Share them with us in the comments section below.