The Passive: Engage Students in 5 Seconds!

Burglar_181155902English Language School was Broken into!

The Passive isn’t the most exciting of grammar points now is it?  It’s no second conditional, that’s for sure!!  Here’s one way of engaging your students from the second you enter the room.

Enter your classroom in distress (practice your ‘shocked’ face in the mirror beforehand) and wait for your students reactions.   Inform your students that a terrible crime was committed in the school last night and that students are now being questioned by the police.


Teacher:  ‘Have you heard what happened?’

Students:  ‘No…..?’

Students will ask you more questions.  Use your talents and acting skills without giving too much away!

Everyone should be very engaged by your story so far…… now, for the news story!!

Tell your students the story has already been reported in the local paper.  Bring a newspaper into class with you, open it and pretend to read the story from it.  Paste your story to a page of the newspaper out of students view.  Tell your students to listen carefully as you read but not to take any notes. (This is a great dictogloss task!)

Here’s a link to a text I use, (Burglary at English Language School), but you can adapt it to suit your own school/students if you wish!

Put students into pairs and ask them to discuss the story and what they heard.  At this stage, they will probably have realised that its part of the lesson, but you’ll find that they are all still curious to know what happens!!

Now, read the story for a second time and this time, instruct your students to take note of the main ideas.  Ask your students to work with their partner to compare their notes and get feedback.

Get them to work together and explain any unknown vocabulary to each other.  Get feedback and drill some pronunciation of tricky vocabulary on the board.

Now, assign different partners and give two minutes to discuss what grammar point they think you will be focusing on today.  If nobody is aware it’s the Passive Voice, write a sample sentence from the text on the whiteboard.  Now ask students to underline all the passive voice examples from the text and begin eliciting the rules.

A highly engaging and fun way of introducing the passive in context to students…….Do you have any more ideas? 


2 Responses

  1. Nadine Early

    A nice lesson on using the passive voice! As an extension to this, with a strong group, you could ask your students to work in pairs to go through the text and decide which verbs used in the active voice could just as easily be used in the passive voice. They have to decide firstly if the verb can be used in the passive voice, and if so, if it stylistically appropriate to do so. So for example, ‘Police have released a statement’ could be stated as ‘A statement was released by the police’, or ‘We can assume’ could be written as ‘It can be assumed’. This consciousness-raising activity should get students thinking about when it is appropriate to use the passive.

    Another extension activity (moving away from the focus on the passive) could be to look at crime-related collocations in the text. Students could think about how strong/weak the collocations are and whether or not certain words could be substituted. For example:
    Police were alerted to the break-in / incident / attack / robbery.
    Police have released a statement / a warning to the public / a photofit of the suspect / the suspect without charge.

  2. Nadine Early

    Here’s another idea for presenting the passive in context to your students. It’s a jigsaw reading. Find an authentic text that outlines a process for making something that your group might be interested in. Cut it up so that you can mix up the stages of the process. Students work in pairs to put the text back in order. I did this with an adult group and a text I found on the Guinness website, outlining the process for brewing Guinness. With a younger group you could find a text on how Coke is made. Or, toffee. Once the students (working in pairs or small groups) have reassembled the text, checked unknown vocabulary and have got the gist, they then go about underlining and analysing examples of the passive. An obvious extension activity is for students to then write out a process for something –a recipe, instructions on how something is done etc.

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