Teaching active and passive voice with older students? Here are some lesson plans, grammar activities, and conversation starters.
So! You would like to teach verb voice, perhaps without active and passive voice worksheets. I’ve assembled the numerous ways that I’ve taught active and passive voice over the years. I enjoy verb voice activities, and I hope that you can take these ideas and talking points and apply them to your grammar lessons. I’ve found success with anchor charts, grammar sorts, videos, task cards, and authentic examples.
Verb voice is part of most language arts standards, and when students understand the nuances, they own a powerful tool as communicators. Present this language concept as a tool to students. You are not correcting grammar errors! Instead, you are empowering students with knowledge of how voice can impact a message’s meaning. Start the grammar lesson with a positive, upbeat message. Don’t introduce verb voice as a problem students must overcome.
Plus, anytime you have a clear grammar to writing connection, you’re in luck as an English teacher. After students understand the definitions of active voice and passive voice, you can immediately apply the concepts to student writing.
Not only is verb voice important for writing, but it is also vital for speaking. Students naturally crave to understand how lessons apply to their lives. Understanding verb voice is a powerful tool in writing, sure. As a consumer, I would argue that knowing and applying voice is part of media literacy.
If you can’t tell, I enjoy teaching voice. As you create any grammar lesson, you’ll want a variety of teaching tools. Here are my methods I’ve found successful in teaching active and passive voice.
No matter the grammar lesson, it helps to build an anticipatory set. Connect it to students’ lives and futures. With active and passive voice, you’ll have plenty of examples. (For future use, you might stay aware of local politicians using passive voice. Keep track of the videos to show students how passive voice can skew meanings.)
Understanding active and passive voice is a tool for reading, writing, and listening. Consider this sentence:
Something must be done about our economic issues.
Politicians and political candidates frequently use such language. What do students notice? (It’s not a great sentence. . . the pronouns don’t have clear antecedents, and it is vague.) But! The voice is passive.
By implementing passive voice, the speaker can shift away the responsibility. Who should do something?
Something must be done by politicians about our economic issues.
Politicians are probably not going to include that “by” prepositional phrase. They also aren’t going to use active voice:
Politicians should do something about our economic issues.
You should do something about our economic issues.
Part of being alert and savvy audiences, speakers, and writers is understanding verb voice. I typically introduce active and passive voice with such sample sentences to hook students. No one likes to feel duped. Understanding verb voice is an important part of being an active listener, a careful reader.
After hooking students, I take different approaches for teaching active and passive voice. Here are some routes.
I do not begin with the discussion over “tense” and “voice” because I don’t want to bring confusion to a situation that might be difficult. However, most classes will confuse the elements of verbs.
Since we’ve already covered verbs, I explain that verbs have many features. Voice is simply a feature of verbs. Then, I relate back to subjects and verbs of sentences.
At this point, students might bring up verb tense. (Normally, that is what happens, so be prepared.) We discuss that verbs can have moods, tenses, voices. . . verbs are complex. I try to separate those concepts for students.
Next, I chunk information. Chunking grammar allows me to see where and if we need to review. Common chunks include subjects and verbs, prepositional phrases (“by” preposition), and sentences with multiple components like dependent and independent clauses.
In most standards, sentence structure precedes verb voice. You might start your lessons with students providing you simple sentences. Normally, these sentences will be in active voice. Show students how you can easily make them passive voice:
We ate pizza for lunch. (active voice)
Pizza was eaten for lunch by students. (passive voice)
Find an area students understand and connect active and passive voice to that area.
Direct instruction and a few talking points
Older students probably understand verbs and after a quick reminder, you can focus on teaching active and passive voice. I introduce the definitions and ask students to take notes so that they have reference material. We practice identification and cover reasons that people use passive voice.
Most language standards require older students to sense the changes in language and to recognize the rules of language. You can meet that standard by discussing passive voice. Sometimes, passive voice works better in writing. To reach the analytical and evaluative parts of your lessons, ask students to evaluate where passive voice belongs in their writing.
Sometimes, active and passive voice “clicks” for students. A class recognizes active and passive voice, writes both forms, and discusses the potential for use in writing.
I can end the lesson after a few points or a presentation. We write a few sentences together or identify active and passive voice in their writing. To confirm that students understand, we might complete a grammar exit ticket. You can also experiment with higher order thinking and grammar (click on the image for a free download.) Done!
Sometimes voice lessons are not that easy; lessons require more discussion and support. Talking through grammar and making the ideas part of a conversation is always my goal. We again practice passive voice:
Today, lessons will be taught. Elements of verbs will be discussed. Writing has been improved by looking at verb voice.
I speak in passive voice, and then I ask students to try it too. Doing so shows students that they can hear a difference. I also connect the idea to their lives. Who would use passive voice? The media, politicians, and advertisers. I want my students to outsmart those people!
I’ve found that many times, students admit to using passive voice to make their papers longer. (They maybe didn’t realize what they were doing exactly, but now they understand.) I try to turn that admittance into a learning opportunity that they already have experience with verb voice. After a few more conversations, students recognize the difference in verb voice.
Keep going with practice over a few days. A grammar worksheet can clarify the process and end frustrations. Try a few activities like a grammar sort or video review. If you spot passive voice in literature, point it out. I might wrap-up the review with color by grammar. Sometimes, teaching active and passive voice over the course of many days will be the right balance.
If those talking points, quick lessons, and application to writing satisfy your students, you might have accomplished your standards. If not, you might need more structure for teaching active and passive voice.
Zombies with passive voice
Memes and Facebook threads exist about adding “by zombies” to test for passive voice. Images help with grammar lessons, and sometimes, a bit of goofiness cements understanding. See:
The homework was done by zombies.
The meals were prepared by zombies.
Dependent upon students’ ages and the class temperament, I will complete zombie-themed activities with them. Students not interested in language do enjoy playing with language if they can discuss zombies. (I personally enjoy language studies in most capacities, with or without zombies.) As a teacher, I take advantage of the interest in zombies for reluctant learners.
I start with a video animated with zombies. Students can actually see the action while studying voice, and this video supports visual learners. I provide a note sheet so students have the concepts when they review with task cards. (Be sure to remind students to keep the note sheet out as they analyze and practice.)
Another grammar activity that is not a grammar worksheet is the grammar sort. When students sort active and passive voice, they are categorizing, applying concepts, and drawing conclusions. Grammar sorts can also become a collaborative activity as we discuss what makes a verb active or passive. Digital grammar sorts can become reference tools. Simply share a completed activity as “view only” or as an image.
To close our zombie lessons, we write. Since students like zombies, we write a story about zombies. Of course in the story, we practice active and passive voice.
Older students might not like zombies, and other classes may appreciate a no-frills approach to learning. A grammar sort connects ideas for students and since students can move, sorts are often my go-to grammar activity. After students sort the active and passive pieces, help them draw conclusions. When we are in a physical classroom, we glue the sorted pieces to a poster board and write traits underneath. For example, I would have two columns (active and passive) with all the pieces in the appropriate places. Then we would draw conclusions about the different voices:
Active voice: the subject is “doing” the verb
Passive voice: “to be” verb, the subject is acted upon, “by” prepositional phrase with an object that could be the subject
The grammar sort easily becomes an anchor chart. Often, our finished grammar sorts are the review to start the next class period.
Grammar stations are another review tool. They encourage peer discussions, and you simply need to plan what materials will help your students. If you want to use a sort as part of station work, you can add writing prompts, a color by grammar, and worksheets to part of the rotations. Sometimes, I personally am a “station.” I answer questions and gather important data about what future lessons should be.
Finally, a grammar worksheet or can clarify confusing points and give you fast feedback with where students are confused. Ask students to complete a worksheet, and use the data to hone on certain segments.
Normally if verb voice is not clicking for a student, one area needs more work:
- Identifying subjects and verbs.
- Understanding “action” in verbs.
- Adding on a “by” prepositional phrase.
If you see one of those pieces confused in your feedback, you might return to a previous chunk of information. Verb voice is a difficult concept in the scheme of grammar lessons. Students should recognize subjects and verbs and understand key components of a sentence. Getting students there might require creativity, like acting out verbs.
Of course, teaching active and passive voice requires flexibility, and a willingness to be flexible in explanations and approaches for students.
Finally, spend time writing some sentences in a variety of voices. Specifically require passive voice at least once in a paragraph or student essay. Discuss the debate of language specifically concerning passive voice. Once you show students that they can manipulate their language and be involved in the discussion surrounding grammar, your grammar lessons will come to life.
Pointing out active and passive voice naturally in class will happen the longer you teach verb voice. Emphasize that students will hear and see passive voice once they understand it. Sometimes, passive voice is used with malintent. As consumers, students should understand verb voice. With a few well-placed lessons, your students will be using and finding active and passive voice with purpose.