7 Activities for Teaching Passive Voice in the ESL Classroom
Passive voice is something native English speakers can use without much thought but it can be difficult for language learners to master because the switch from active to passive voice is quite an involved process – as many EFL teachers find when they first attempt to present it. Here are some fun activities that you can use in the classroom to help your students practice using this tricky language pattern. Do remember when you adapt these games that not every verb or tense in the English language can be used for the passive voice!
Change the Room
This is a tried and tested game that’s been used with the passive voice for a long time. It’s a lot of fun and easily adaptable to past and present tenses, although you may need to be creative if you want to use any future forms! Divide your class up into teams – and send one member from each team out of the room for 1-2 minutes. Have other students move things in the room and then call the students back in. The idea is for them to say as many things as possible that have been changed within a time limit, awarding a point for each correct sentence. It’s important to set a time limit so that as many students as possible get a go. The sort of language you should expect is:
“The table has been moved”
Have students enter the room without notice: “The chair is being moved”
“The curtains were being closed when I walked in”
To maximize student talk time, you can then have each student say something that wasn’t spotted at the end of each round: “The board markers were put on a chair”.
Although this idea may require a bit of research and preparation, it’s well worth it as you’ll be able to save it for future lessons. There are also plenty of resources on the internet where you’ll be able to find ready-made passive voice quizzes. Students are put into teams and given prompts on slips of paper such as:
“65% of Greenland / cover / by ice”
Each team has a different prompt from which to make passive voice statements. In this case, it would be a present simple passive “65% of Greenland is covered by ice”. You award a point for making an accurate sentence, then each team must make a sentence either agreeing or disagreeing with their own figures. In this case, the closest to the correct answer (85%) gets the point. Other examples are the use of animals or countries:
“Seals / eat / by crocodiles” (false> polar bears)
“Spain / visit / by the highest number of tourists in the world every year” (false > France)
This activity lends itself well to past passive as well.
Describing a Process
Passive voice tends to be taught at higher levels, so this is a useful activity when teaching business English, particularly to people involved in manufacturing or customer service of some sort, such as in a hospital or airport. It involves very little preparation by the teacher, other than planning the scenarios. The students are put into groups and must create a flow-chart type description of a specified process. The tense must be consistent with your lesson, but you would expect students to create something like this: The raw material is delivered to the warehouse. All material is inspected before being passed to the production area. It is first moved to the preparation area.
Relay Tennis Game
An easy to set up activity that’s a lot of fun and can be used with a variety of tenses. Set the class up into 2 teams and have them in lines facing each other. Give a vocabulary prompt to start, such as “rice” and students have to create a passive voice sentence using the patterns from your lesson. The game works by having a student at the front of the line create a sentence, then the person opposite them in the other team must say something else. Work your way up the line back and forth until someone either repeats what has already been said or can’t think of anything new. The opposing team gets awarded a point when you restart the game with a new prompt from where it left off.
Examples with “rice” could be:
It’s grown in Thailand > It’s eaten all over the World > It’s sold in bags > It’s used in many dishes
You can vary the tenses used, depending on your lesson:
It has been sold in… It will be used…. It’s being……….
You can also vary the type of start prompts:
Animals that are found in Africa (Example “Lions are found in Africa”…..). Things that are made in (Germany) (Example “Cars are made in Germany”…..). Languages that are spoken in (Europe) (Example “French is spoken in Europe”…..).
This is a simple, fun and versatile idea if you have access to some “Jenga” sets, sometimes known as “Tumble Down Tower”. This is best played in groups of 2-6 students, so you’ll need enough sets to suit your class size. Write a verb on each block in erasable ink or on slips of paper that you put face down on the table (remember that only transitive verbs can be used for passive). Write “Passive” and “Active” on separate slips of paper or card, and also put these face down with each set. Students take turns in taking out a block and turning over a card than making sentences in either active or passive as appropriate. If the other students agree that the sentence is correct, the next student has a go. If it’s incorrect they must repeat the process. The idea is not to be the student that causes the tower to collapse. Have an amusing forfeit – for example, if they do, they must clean the classroom! You can restrict this to one tense or allow the use of any tense depending on the focus of your lesson.
Roleplay; Blame it on Your Sister
What child hasn’t done something wrong and blamed a brother or sister for the damage? This can be made more realistic for the students by setting them up in small groups to role play as a family. You might also have them act out their favorite example in front of the class at the end of the activity. Have two students in each group play the siblings, and one or two as parents who pass judgment. Have them swap roles regularly. Give the parents prompt questions such as “How was the window broken?” Have the siblings blame each other using passive voice such as “The window was broken by a stone thrown by Kay” > “No, it was a ball kicked by Joe”. A nice variation is to have the two siblings create reasons which blame a third party: “No, it was broken by a big bird”. The question doesn’t have to be in a passive voice, but you should encourage maximum use of the passive in the excuses. For example “How did the cake end up on the floor?” “It was knocked off the table when Kay walked past”.
Also read: Top 5 Icebreakers for New TEFL Teachers
A “Find someone who....” questionnaire is a very simple and effective activity which can be designed to include whatever tenses you’ve covered in your lesson and generates a lot of natural student talk time. Create a questionnaire form with two headings:
Find someone who…… / More information.
Below the first heading, have question prompts such as “……….has been awarded a prize”. Students use this to ask their classmates questions in the passive voice: “Have you ever been awarded a prize?” and then record the name of whoever they find that has, together with some follow-up information having asked something appropriate using the passive voice, such as “Why were you awarded the prize?”
Make sure you allow time at the end of the activity for students to report back. Expect something like “Nick was awarded a prize for being voted employee of the month”. Don’t expect all the follow-up information to be in passive, but do encourage natural responses.
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