Passive Voice

Just a few simple activities

to practice the passive form in meaningful contexts.

Tip: Avoid all kinds of transformation exercises (active into passive  :-() They are highly unnatural. Passives are used in order to highlight specific parts of a sentence — by simply changing active to passive the original message of the sentence will also be changed!!! Many of these transformed sentences would never be produced by a native speaker.


Passive Bricks (by David Newby)

Here is one of my online versions of this game.











Passive Pairs

The most obvious topics to teach the passive are crazy inventions or  descriptions of how things are made.

In these topics  it is likely that you will find phrases like:

it is made of…//it is used for…// it is produced by…// something is added …// wrapped…// shipped…// sold…

I have used the following short video many times. Students listen once and find out how ketchup is made. Then we watch again and see where the speaker uses passives and where they use active voice. Obviously, the passive tends to be used where machines are involved or where the focus is on the process rather than the humans who do them.

Students then watch another video from the “how it’s made” series on youtube and summarize the steps in about 10 sentences. They consciously choose active voice where people are doing things and passive voice where the focus is on the production process, often involving machines. Of course, using the passive here is not the only correct option. Many of the “how it’s made” videos use hardly any passives. Therefore, let’s not overdo it — passives can be useful, but overusing them will make any text clumsy and wordy.

Another warning: Don’t teach how to form the passive in all the different tenses. If your tasks are meaningful and authentic, the students will use the correct tenses automatically anyway. The same is true for shifting pronouns and time expressions. Just make sure your tasks have a clear and realistic context and trust your learners’ brains.

e.g.: Nowadays, books are made in large printing companies…. but in the Middle ages, books were written by hand.

Try this live worksheet based on the above video:










Try this worksheet:










Another warning: Passives tend to be used in food processing videos, but they are NOT used in cooking recipies. English recipies just say: add, stir, bake, fry, measure…because in these cases we think of a person preparing the food in the kitchen and see them DOING things personally.

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