The passive voice may be something native speakers are told to avoid in their writing, but it’s an area of grammar ESL students need to study and practice.
Here are some exercises that you can do with your ESL class to give them practice using the passive voice.
Here's How You Can Practice Passive Voice Expertly
Who Did It?
If you have access to a computer lab, set your students on this project that combines grammar with reading comprehension. Have students work in groups of three or four. Each group should list twenty modern inventions they think they could not live without such as the telephone, television, cars, etc. They should then research each invention to see who invented it, and then write a passive sentence for each one. For example, the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. Once students have all twenty sentences written, have them write the sentences on index cards each sentence taking up two cards. The main clause should be on one card and the “by phrase” on the second card. For example: The telephone was invented/by Alexander Graham Bell. Students should shuffle all the completed cards and lay them out on a large desk in a grid pattern, face down. Students take turns flipping over two cards, memory style. If the cards match, students should read the complete sentence, keep the cards, and take another turn. If the cards do not match, students should turn them back over again and let the next person take his turn. Have students play until all the cards have been matched. The person with the most cards at the end of the game wins.
Newspaper Passive Hunt
The passive voice is often used for news and informational writing (such as brochures). Put together a collection of this type of informational reading material for your students to peruse. As they do, challenge them to find examples of the passive voice in the texts they are reading. Have students complete a chart with the passive voice examples they have found. Each chart should have three columns. Students note the sentences that are written in the passive voice in the first column as they appear in the text. In the second column, have students write down who performed the action, if it is mentioned in the passage. In the third column, challenge students to rewrite the sentence using the active voice when possible.
This simple activity challenges students to make careful observations while using the passive voice in their speech. To prepare for the activity, place between five and ten random objects on a table in the front of your classroom. Give students a few minutes to study what they see on the table. Then have students close their eyes or put something in front of the table, such as a blanket or piece of cardboard, so students cannot see what you are doing with the objects on the table. Remove one or two objects and move one or two objects for a total of four changes. Then show your students the objects again. In groups of three or four, have students talk together, using the passive voice, to describe the changes they see in the objects’ layout and then write those changes also using the passive voice. For example: The cup was taken from the table. The pencil sharpener was moved from the right to the left. Once a group thinks they have figured out all the changes you made, have them read their observations aloud. If a team gets all the changes correct, they score five points. Each other team scores one point for every correct observation they have already written down. Play until one team reaches fifteen points and wins the game.
Passive Voice Race
This activity gets students up and moving while also giving them practice writing sentences the passive voice. Print out a list of several sentences in the active voice, and make one copy for each of two teams. Then divide your class into two teams for this relay race. On go, one person from each team runs to the front board. He looks at the list of active sentences and chooses one to write in passive form. Once he has written the passive sentence correctly on the board, give him the okay to run back to his team so the next person can take his turn. The second player erases the first sentence and then takes her turn writing a sentence from the list. Continue playing until one team has written all their sentences on the board. The first team to finish all their sentences wins the race.
Home Country Bragging Rights
In my experience, most international students are proud of their home countries and appreciate any opportunity to tell their classmates about the places they call home. Encourage your students to share some information about their home countries in a lesson using the passive voice. Have students do a little research about their home countries, even if they think they know everything there is to know about them. In their research, have them read about the primary products their countries manufacture and items that they export as well as any other information they think the class would find interesting. Then have students share that information with the class in a short three to five minute presentation on their countries. In their presentations, students should pay careful attention to use the passive voice when they talk about the items that their country manufactures.
Classroom Crime Scene
If you have never tried setting up a classroom crime scene, it’s an activity that takes some work but will make for a memorable class and a fun activity using the passive voice, but there is an easy version you can do, too. The basic idea is you create the aftermath of a crime in your classroom and students use the clues you have positioned to determine what happened. What makes this activity so memorable is it practices the passive voice in a creative and engaging way. Since students do not know who perpetrated the crime, the passive voice is perfect for describing the clues that they see. Have students observe the crime scene and then write five to ten sentences describing the clues they find using the passive voice. For example, students might write sentences like the following. The cup was turned over. Papers were scattered around the scene. For the easy version, instead of setting up a crime scene in your classroom, get some pictures of crime scenes, either classroom crime scenes or real ones available on line, and have your students write their observations from the picture.
Though the passive voice may not be the grammar of choice for writers, it is a skill your ESL students need to learn and practice.
Try these activities with your students the next time you review the passive voice in class.
What are your favorite activities for practicing the passive voice?
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