Teaching active and passive voice with older students? Here are some lesson plans and conversation starters.
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.
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. Then I take different approaches for teaching active and passive voice. Here are some routes.
An overall review 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. We practice identification and cover reasons that people use passive voice. Sometimes, active and passive voice “clicks” for students. 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. Done!
Some 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 verb voice.
I might wrap-up the review with color by grammar. Sometimes, teaching active and passive voice might take only a portion of a class period. Congratulations!
If those talking points and quick lessons 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. 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.
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. After students sort the active and passive pieces, help them draw conclusions. I typically 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. 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. Of course, teaching active and passive voice requires flexibility, and a willingness to be flexible in explanations and approaches for students.
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 will malintent. With a few well-placed lessons, your students will be using and finding active and passive voice with purpose.