At the beginning of most English courses, students focus on learning active voice structures. It is usually the easiest way for them to phrase sentences but as students progress in their studies, they will encounter passive voice sentences. Since this is an entirely new structure, spend plenty of time on the introduction and conduct several comprehension checks along the way.
How To Proceed
Warm up Asking questions such as “What sport do you play?” and writing both the response and the student’s name on the board with give you some material to work with during your introduction of passive voice. It will also give your students some quality speaking practice.
Introduce Using the example above, show students the difference between “Andy plays basketball.” and “Basketball is played by Andy.” Explain how in one sentence the subject is Andy who is actively doing something. In the second sentence the focus is shifted to basketball which is now the subject but is not actively doing anything. In passive voice, the verb is done to the subject as opposed to the subject doing the verb. This whole concept will be completely different from what your students have studied so far so it is important to reinforce this concept as much as possible during your introduction and practice stages.
Practice Passive Voice As a class have students change responses given in the warm up from active to passive voice. If they are doing well, call on students individually or ask for volunteers to do the same thing. This will give the class as a whole some practice and also test comprehension individually. You can ask for students to tell you the subject and verb of sentences and also ask for translations as part of this exercise.
Practice Passive Voice More Use a worksheet to give students further practice. In one exercise have students circle the correct form of the verb to complete both passive and active sentences. To do this they will have to understand the sentences well so use simple sentences and vocabulary they are very familiar with. In another activity have students fill in the blank with the correct form of the verb. You can also include Scrambled where students have to rearrange words to form a grammatically correct sentence. Lastly, students can do a writing exercise. The easiest way to do this is to write very short, simple, active voice sentences for students to rewrite using passive voice. A sentence such as “He built the house in 1951.” should become “The house was built in 1951 by him.” There are many activities you can include to give students further practice. Mixing active and passive voice sentences into every section of the worksheet will challenge students and help to determine whether or not they understand the difference between the two.
Discuss Passive Voice Now that your students have had some practice using the passive voice on sentences they will most likely not encounter in their English studies, talk about when passive voice would commonly be used. The passive voice is used to emphasize the object or when the person or thing doing the action is unknown. Passive voice is often seen in newspapers, for instance “Eight stores have been robbed in the past three weeks.” politics, and science.
Produce Ask students to write three to five of their own passive voice sentences. Have volunteers read sentences aloud and give translations for further speaking practice and comprehension checks. At the end of class, collect these sentences to correct any mistakes and return to students another day. This will give you a good idea of how well your students understand and use this structure as well as how to proceed with your lessons.
Review Ask your students to summarize what they learned in class. If they can explain passive voice to you, then they are probably doing quite well understanding it themselves. If students struggle, lead them to say at least a few major points regarding passive voice and make a note to review everything further in a later lesson.
Most English students will not have much need for the passive voice structure at this time but it will come up every so often in readings so it is best to cover the material thoroughly and make an effort to include it in other exercises.
Tara Arntsen has worked with English Language Learners of all ages for many years and has taught in Japan, Cambodia, and China as well as online. When she is not teaching, she enjoys cooking, traveling around the world, and scuba diving. She is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California.
Sorry, but I'm going to be a pain. I liked Step 1, I liked the idea of using sports, but stoppped reading at Step 2. When would one need to say "Basketball is played by Andy"????? In any case, this post did open my eyes in the sense of using sports for passive... that I liked.