Teaching Active and Passive Voice with Older Students

Teaching active and passive voice with older students? Add these verb voice activities to your grammar lesson plans. Grammar activities for older students.

Teaching active and passive voice with older students? An active and passive voice lesson plan? Active passive voice activities? Conversation starters?

So! You would like a lesson plan for active and passive 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. My active and passive voice lesson plan never repeats itself, and after years of teaching, I’ve accumulated many teaching ideas.

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. (That connection is probably my biggest tip as someone who enjoys teaching grammar—connect these active and passive voice activities to writing in positive ways.)

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.

Teaching active and passive voice in English class?

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.

Teaching active and passive voice can engage secondary English students. Teaching passive voice applies directly to student essays.

Anticipatory Set

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 passive voice 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, leaving the passive voice construction. 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. A quick hook for any lesson plan on active and passive voice can include a direct connection to students’ lives.

After hooking students, I take different approaches for teaching active and passive voice. Here are some routes.

If you're looking for ways to teach passive voice, download this free active and passive worksheet. Included is a lesson plan on active and passive voice.

Prior knowledge

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 in the English language.

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. Be prepared that with your active and passive voice activities, you might have to explain what verb voice is not.

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. Middle school students cover verb voice, but high school classes need a review.

Add a lesson plan on active and passive voice to your ELA lesson plans. A passive voice lesson plan connects grammar to writing.

Direct instruction

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.

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!

If a quick review is what your students need, great!

An active and passive voice lesson plan should include higher order thinking. Be sure that your active and passive voice activities reach those higher though processes.

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.

An active and passive voice lesson plan engages secondary ELA students. Add passive voice activities.

Zombies with passive voice

When I consider how to teach passive voice, I attempt to make the concept meaningful to students. Memes and Facebook threads exist about adding “by zombies” to test for passive voice. A quick idea for a lesson plan on active and passive voice can include zombies! 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.

Passive and active voice activities engage language arts students. Add meaningful passive voice lessons to English class to connect grammar to writing.

Overall review

Older students might not like zombies, and other classes may appreciate a no-frills approach to learning. Your active passive voice activities will be simple, and that is ok! 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.

Teaching passive voice requires a discussion of verbs. A passive voice lesson plan can encourage more diverse grammar lessons.

Passive Voice Lesson Plan

Teaching passive voice is important because writers should understand use of the passive voice. Part of my active and passive voice lesson plan includes spending time on a passive voice lesson plan. During a passive voice lesson plan, I emphasize that passive voice is a stylistic choice and has a purpose. Since language standards for older students require a discussion concerning the use of language and how rules change, I show students several opinions concerning the use of passive voice.

Sometimes writers use passive voice, and explaining the complexity is necessary for our students to understand the depth of our language. I include the use of passive voice in my active and passive voice lesson plan.

Plus, 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.

Of course, teaching active and passive voice in any form requires flexibility, and a willingness to be flexible in explanations and approaches for students.

If you're a high school English teacher looking for a lesson plan on active and passive voice, download this active and passive voice activity for free. Add passive voice grammar lessons to your ELA grammar lessons. A passive voice lesson plan is included. Activities for active and passive voice should engage students and connect meaningfully to their lives.

Final grammar and verb voice tips:

Finally, spend time writing some sentences in a variety of voices. Specifically require a passive sentence at least once in a paragraph or student essay. A passive voice lesson plan can be fun! Discuss the debate of language specifically concerning the active subject of the sentence.

Next, cover clarity with active sentences. Show young writers the passive form in their own writing and work to change it. The best way to teach any grammatical form is with writing.

Your lesson plan on active and passive voice should include writing. 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 malcontent. 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.

Teach active and passive voice with the middle school grammar curriculum

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Activities for active and passive voice can include direct instruction, a grammar sort, or zombie lessons.
Grammar sorts are engaging ways to practice grammar.