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How to Teach the Passive Voice

Updated on June 6, 2015
The Passive Voice
The Passive Voice | Source

Example of the Passive Voice

The Passive Voice
The Passive Voice | Source

This lesson is intended to high school students who have had an exposure with the topic being considered in the lesson. Elementary students and ESL students may find it difficult to understand that in the passive voice, the focus is on the action; rather than who is performing the action;

You may introduce this lesson on any topic of your choice. I chose to teach the passive voice under science by presenting it in the topic of auroras (light show at the poles). There are many processes taking place, from the time cosmic rays from the sun and outer space travel through space to the time they interact with the atoms in the atmosphere to create auroras, which may help you convey the passive voce to students.

Auroras are Made

Auroras | Source

Presentation Stage

After having greeted your students and having practiced a warm-up, you may present the topic lesson of auroras in a reading, which they all should comprehend, since they´re not ESL learners, but English speakers. After the reading presentation, and following the standard flowing of any class, ask some questions linking to the topic lesson. It shouldn´t take more than 10 minutes for this.

Draw the earth and a surrounding magnetic shield on the white board. Explain how the cosmic rays coming from the outer solar system and the sun interact with the earth´s magnetic shield and the atoms in the upper atmosphere at the poles before auroras are made.

Ask the first question to the students. Let them all participate during this stage.


Brief explanation of the grammar

Have them answer the questions on the board. While they do, prepare a brief explanation of the grammar on the board. Explain when the passive voice is used and make the distinction against the active voice. Most of the times students don´t care about how the language works, unless someone thinks on being a teacher, since most of them function well in society and they already use the passive at some time or another automatically.

Science Lessons

Do you Include Science Topics in Your Class?

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Practice Stage

Tell them that they´re going to work in pairs using the daily newspaper; their task is to find some daily events that occurred during that day. They should change five events from the active to the passive; for example, ¨ the policeman caught the thief, ¨ should be changed into, ¨the thief was caught by the policeman.¨ give out the newspapers to pairs of students.

You may include a fact finder matching game or any other activity to provide them with ample practice on the topic, if you need to fill some time.

Production Stage

For the production stage, show them how to describe a process using the passive voice;

The Process of Making a Compass

  • Frist, all the items for making a compass are laid on a flat table.
  • Next, the needle is introduced in a cork
  • Then, a water container is filled with glass.
  • Finally, the cork and needle are placed in the center of the water water container.

Describing a Process with the Passive

Show them how to use the passive when describing a process, for example the process of making a compass.

Tell them to think on a process they would like to present to the class; for example, preparing a coffee, an orange juice, turning on a computer, etc.....

Activities to Practice the Passive

Fact Finder

During this activity, students are given a set of two part sentences at random, they have to find the matching sentence. Next all of the cards are spread on a table; the students take turns to turn over two cards. He/she wins that card when they match together.

Newspaper Headlines

Students create newspaper headlines from set of topics, (crime, politics, weather, etc.), using the passive.


After having shown how a process is described using the passive, students are instructed to write a process, (preparing lemon water, clean the refrigerator, shop online, etc.). They present the process to the class.

Favorite Snack

Students are instructed to write a paragraph about their favorite snack. They, then, look for the sentences in the active voice in the writing and change them into the passive. They present their favorite snack to the class, describing it using the passive.


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