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ESL Passive Voice Activities

Instructor: Suzanne Rackham

Suzanne has taught English Language Development for twenty six years and holds an MA Ed. in TESOL Education

This lesson offers ideas for passive voice activities for the classroom based on language level and purpose of passive voice. Activities listed are introductory, visual, and sentence construction activities.

Proficiency Levels

Students can be introduced to the passive voice (when the subject of a sentence of clause receives the action) after they are comfortable using simple and continuous tenses. In all levels, students should have knowledge of past participle form and may need support by using a list of irregular verbs, such as 'eaten.'

Lower Intermediate students will use forms of to be with:

  • Present simple
  • Past simple
  • Future simple

Upper Intermediate and Advanced students will use forms of to be with:

  • Continuous tenses
  • Perfect tenses
  • Perfect continuous tenses

It is important when introducing the passive voice that students have a clear understanding of when and why they would use the passive voice.

In this lesson, we will focus on the following purposes:

  • To focus on the person or object that experiences an action
  • If the actor is unknown or not important
  • To hide the identity of the actor or draw attention away from actor

Introductory Activities

You may want to introduce the structure of passive voice by using things in the classroom and demonstrating action.

For Lower Intermediate students, it can be something simple, like, I dropped the pen changed to The pen was dropped. Adding the actor to the sentence could be done as a follow up activity. After demonstration, students can demonstrate similar actions with classroom items.

For Upper Intermediate and Advanced students, you may have students create passive sentences instead of simply inverting active and passive. An example would be The chair was moved to the front of the room. Students turn their backs, classroom items are switched around, and the students use more complex sentence structure to describe what happened.

Visual Activities

Use visuals to demonstrate the action done and the vocabulary needed to express that thought. You might be able to find 'before and after' pictures or you could create your own.

Lower Intermediate Students

Compare pictures using the passive voice to discuss changes. Students can use simple past tense, more advanced students, a perfect tense. When using the perfect tense, reinforce that perfect tense is also used when the actor is not known. Some examples with appropriate pictures are:

  • Personal makeover (His hair was combed.)
  • Spot the difference (The table has been moved.)
  • Used hotel room, table setting (The towels were/have been used.)
  • Crime scene. Students are given pictures of damaged items with pictures of the possible suspects and match the damage with the suspect. If you are creating the pictures, make it fun by adding something that might give them a hint. (The window was broken by the little boy because he is carrying a baseball bat.)
  • Sports theme with athletes. This is similar to the activity above with pictures of sports equipment and pictures of athletes. (The soccer ball was kicked by Pele.)

As you get comfortable with the goals and basic structure of the above activities, you can change the themes to the interests of your students.

Upper Intermediate and Advanced Students

Compare pictures using the passive voice to discuss changes such as:

  • Rural setting into urban development (The road has been extended./The trees were cut down.)
  • The messy room (The bed was slept in. or The clothes were thrown on the floor.)
  • The game show. This could be a little more complex as you can add pictures of prizes and pictures of contestants answering questions. (The correct answer was given by Anne. The trip to Hawaii was won by Bill.)
  • Crime scene. Make this more complex than the Lower Intermediate activity by using one picture of a crime scene (not graphic!) and a list of suspects. Students analyze the physical characteristics of the suspects and try to determine who committed the crime. (I think the robbery was done by Suspect 3 because he is small enough to fit through the window.)
  • Sports theme with athletes. Match pictures of sports equipment with pictures of athletes and create a sentence.

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