ESL Active & Passive Voice Lesson Plan

Instructor: Trisha Powell

Trisha has taught academic English reading and writing courses for ESL students for 10 years and has a Master's in Teaching English as a Second or Other Language.

This lesson will help English language learners identify the active and passive voice and understand when and how it is used. As classroom situations may differ, partner activities as well as individual activities are provided.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Distinguish between active and passive voice in sentences
  • Understand why active or passive voice is appropriate to use in certain contexts
  • Create sentences in the active and passive voice


45 to 60 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Form and use verbs in the active and passive voice.

Key Grammatical Form(s)

  • Verb to be in the forms of: am/is/are (present simple) and was/were (past simple)
  • If students are familiar with the present simple and past simple, you may want to add in the progressive, future, and perfect forms: is/are being, was/were being, will be, have/has been
  • Main verbs used will be in past participle form, such as: given, done, lost, taken, stolen, sung, drunk, etc.


  • Newspaper headlines (you may find your own, or make print outs of headlines found in activity 1)
  • News story that illustrates active/passive voice (you may find your own or use print outs of story in activity 2)
  • Highlighters
  • Note cards
  • Optional images from Google


Activity 1: Looking at Newspaper Headlines

This activity will allow students to begin to identify active and passive voice through a familiar form of media: the newspaper.

  • Begin this activity by presenting newspaper headlines to students (ideally, you should find actual headlines from the any preferred online newspaper and photocopy them or project them on the screen in the classroom. If not, here are some sample headlines from actual newspapers:
  1. Thousands of Delta flights canceled days after storms
  2. University of Pittsburgh group invents wheelchair powered by compressed air
  3. Family expected to recover after Liberty Bridge wreck
  4. Former interns tell how they landed a first job
  5. 30,000-year-old jewelry found in Indonesia
  • For each headline, ask students to identify the main verb that comes after the subject.
  • Then, ask students if the subject of each sentence does the action, pointing out how this makes the headline active or passive.
    • For example, in the first headline, did the flights do the action of canceling? Of course, the flights did not cancel themselves. Someone had to make the decision to cancel them! Ask students who may have done that action. They should say that Delta did, or the company did, or something of that nature.
    • Explain to students that in headlines, often the auxiliary or helping verb is omitted, in that ''flights cancelled'' actually means ''flights were cancelled.''
    • They will understand this more when they see more examples in the second activity.
  • Answers for this activity:

2. INVENTS is the verb, and this headline is in active voice because the group did the action 'invent.'

3. EXPECTED is the verb, and this headline is in passive voice because the family is not who did the action 'expect.' Most likely, the doctors in the hospital expect this of the family.

4. TELL is the verb, and this headline is in active voice because the interns do the action of 'tell.'

5. FOUND is the verb, and this headline is in passive voice because the jewelry did not do the action 'find.'

Activity 2: Recognizing Active and Passive Voice in a Story

Since the first activity was with the whole-class, the next step is to let students work in pairs or alone to ensure students get more practice, as you circulate the room and identify students who may be struggling with this grammar point.

  • Hand out a short story which contains sentences in both active and passive voice. You may want to find a news story from the local paper. If not, here is a sample story.


In a home robbery last week, two men wearing orange ski masks broke into a house on Seneca street and stole $20,000 dollars worth of valuables. The home owner, Gary Johnson, said that some of his most valuable possessions were stolen while he was at the movie theatre, and he can't believe it. Mr. Johnson said, ''My front door window was broken and the lock was destroyed. They threw things all over the house as they tried to find anything worth money.'' Police are investigating the incident and they are asking anyone who knows something about this robbery to come forward with details. ''The important thing,'' Mr. Johnson noted, ''is that nobody was hurt. Things can be replaced, but people cannot.''

  • Ask students to identify which sentences are in active voice and which are in passive voice.
    • You can have students highlight active voice sentences in one color and passive voice sentences in another color, or circle active and underline passive sentences.
  • If students work in pairs, you can ask one student to mark the active, and the other student to mark the passive.
  • When everyone is completed, project the story on the board/screen and check the answers with the whole class.

Activity - Part 3

In this part, you will reinforce the grammar/sentence structure the students have been working with by writing it or projecting it on the board/screen. This part of the lesson (about 5-7 minutes) is a bit more teacher-centered than the other parts because some students can benefit from more explicit instruction about the grammatical forms.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account