The objective in writing is ALWAYS clarity, and that is why teaching active and passive voice is critical. Let's walk through some simple strategies for teaching your students this key concept so that their writing achieves what they want it to.
Why teach active and passive voice
Although students should not always use active voice (just like they should not always do anything), in many cases active voice is going to lead to better writing than passive voice.
In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action, which makes the writing more concise, direct, and engaging.
When students use passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon, making the sentence wordier, more indirect, and less engaging. This can make the writing less clear and more difficult to understand.
Teaching students to use active voice can help them to express themselves more clearly and effectively. This is especially important in academic writing, where clear communication is essential. Additionally, the use of active voice can make writing more interesting and engaging for the reader, which is important in any kind of writing.
By teaching students how to use active voice, teachers can help them develop strong writing skills that will serve them well in their academic and professional lives.
I’m including a step-by-step breakdown for how to teach active voice in a single class period, plus some fun follow-up activities for practice.
Observe great sentences
First, like all types of writing and grammar instruction, model great sentences that use active voice.
As you may know, mentor sentences are my thing. I find them useful for teaching any and every type of grammar concept imaginable. Teaching active and passive voice is no different.
Use a handful of mentor sentences that are written in active voice and some that are written in passive voice.
You can showcase these sentences and then see if students can tell the difference between the two types of writing.
If students on their own can figure out the difference, the concept will likely sink in more deeply than if yo simply tell them the difference.
Now, you can also simply tell them and then show them the examples. Either option works, and really depends on how much time you have and your personal style of teaching.
But whether you tell them the difference or they determine the difference on their own, be sure you use mentor sentences to get them there.
Mentor sentences allow students to see how strong writers craft their language, and the more we can get great literature in front of students, even in bite-sized chunks, the better.
Write using active voice
After students understand the basic concept of active and passive voice, give them a few opportunities to practice writing using active voice.
Using sentence frames are a great way to allow students to practice the concept of using active voice in their writing. They get to look at a mentor sentence and then write a sentence that is similar to the mentor sentence.
They can pick any subject and any verb, but the key is that the subject needs to be performing the action.
Write using passive voice
Students should also practice writing using passive voice. If they only practice using active voice, they may not fully understand the difference. They have to work with moving the subject around or even leaving the subject out to practice writing in passive voice.
You can teach this concept through sentence frames as well providing another mentor sentence for imitation that is written in passive voice and having students write a similar sentence.
Watch Mr. Indifferent and write about it in active and passive voice
Watching a short, well-done film is a great way to end a lesson on active and passive voice, and I truly have found the perfect film for this lesson. The film Mr. Indifferent by Aryasb Feiz is an outstanding short film about a man who goes through his life passively, ignoring things around him, and never really doing anything.
Then, something happens (no spoilers here), and he becomes active. He starts doing stuff, and everything changes for the better.
It’s a lovely film really about the power of being active in your own life.
The film is perfect for discussing the general concept of active and passive.
After watching the film, tell students to:
- write 2 sentences about the main character in the active voice
- and 2 sentences about the main character in the passive voice
And that’s it! Have volunteers share and make sure that students are getting the concept fully.
Follow up with a game
Any time you can incorporate a game, do it. Grammar is no exception.
I’ve created a game with a bunch of hand-held cards with mentor sentences on them. Some of the sentences are written in active voice and some are written in passive voice. Students have to separate the cards into two piles--one for active voice and one for passive.
You can go around and check the students’ piles, or you can have them check with a partner and if their stacks are different, they have to make their case for why they put the sentences where they did.
Takeaways and Recap
Active voice usually makes writing more engaging and concise, so in most situations students should write in active voice.
Teach active and passive voice through showcasing mentor sentences and having students imitate these sentences.
Watch Mr. Indifferent and have students write about it using both active and passive voice.
Follow this lesson up with a hands-on game to double check students’ understanding.
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