The Passive Voice

I. Explanation

In a sentence using the passive voice, the subject and object of the sentence are reversed. The object comes first.


        (Active) The Jutland Peninsula divides the North Sea and Baltic Sea.
        (Passive) The North Sea and Baltic Sea are divided by the Jutland Peninsula.

In a sentence using the active voice, the verb does the action.
In a sentence using the passive voice, the verb is receiving the action or not personally doing the action. The passive voice is characterized by some for of the verb "to be", plus the past participle.

        (Active) The serfs used weapons.
        (Passive) The weapons were used by the serfs.

Possible changes that the passive voice undergoes:

1. The subject and object noun phrases of an active sentence are interchanged.

"The North defeated the South." becomes
"The South was defeated by the North."

2. "By" is placed in front of the new object.

Polant was defeated by the Germans.
Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan during World War II.

3. A form of the verb to be is inserted after the auxiliary verbs.

The paparazzi is being blamed for Princess Diana's death.
Some Mexican deaf people in the U.S. have been exploited.

4. The perfect participle form of the main verb is used.

Saddam Hussein was beaten by the United Nations.
The Constitution was written by our founding fathers.

    (Taken from A Developmental Guide to English Syntax: An Aid for Teachers in Facilitating the Acquisition of Linguistic Competence by Hearing-Impaired Children, written by Jennifer Ryan Hsu for St. Joseph's School for the Deaf in Bronx, NY.)

broke was broken (by)
appointed was appointed (by)
wrote was written (by)
invaded was invaded (by)
elected  was elected (by)
beat was beaten (by)
declared was declared (by)
founded was founded (by)
explored was explored (by)


Present The soldiers see the map. The map is seen by the soldiers.
Past I saw the army. The army was seen by the kids.
Future I will see the WWII movie. The WWII movie will be seen by me.
Present Perfect  He has seen the history book.  The history book has been seen by him.
Past Perfect They had seen the devestation of war. The devestation of war had been seen by them.
Future Perfect She will have seen the movie by Friday. By Friday the movie will have been seen by her.


II. Content Area


For this unit on the Middle Ages, the information covered will meet the competency goals outlined in the North Carolina Standard Course of Study for Social Studies for sixth grade as follows:

The student will:
        Investigate the characteristics of people in Europe.
        Assess the influence of mjor religions, ethical beliefs, and aesthetic values on life in Europe.
        Evaluate ways the people of Europe use, modify and adapt their physical environment.
        Evaluate the extent to which basic cultural institutions help the people of Europe meet their needs.
        Examine the wys in which the people of Europe govern themselves.
        Determine how societies in Europe make decisions about the allocation and use of economic resources.

III. Core Learning Activities 

Trivia game about Feudalism in the Middle Ages. The students will be required to answer the questions in the passive voice.
Database with information about cathedrals in Europe. Students will manipulate the database to answer questions asked by the teacher. After completion, the students will write 10 sentences, using passive voice, about cathedrals in Europe.
After selecting a European country, students will make a map of that country which includes important qhysical geographical information (major bodies of water, landforms, etc.) and then, using the passive voice, will write 5 statements about the importance of the geography to the people of that country.

IV. Lesson Plan


Each student will be able to correctly sort a prepared database on European cathedrals two times, looking for information specified by the teacher.
Each student will also be able to type responses to a prepared worksheet in a word processing program which asks students to convert sentences in the active voice to sentences in the passive voice and vice versa with 80% accuracy. This lesson will also address Objective 3.1 in the Computer Skills section of the North Carolina Standard Course of Study as outlined for the sixth grade: "Use database to sort records."


A prepared database listing the names of ten cathedrals in Europe, their "birth date" (construction), the city in which each is located, and the country in which each is located.
A prepared word processing page on which ten sentences have been typed, leaving space underneath for students to type responses. Five of these sentences should use the active voice and be changed to the passive voice, while the other five should use the passive voice and be changed to the active voice. The topic of thes sentences should center on cathedrals.

Sample sentences:
        Chartres was built by French Christians.
        Religion was greatly valued by the people of the Middle Ages.
        Stained glass windows taught Biblical stories.
        Historians called cathedrals "Bibles for the poor."
        Saints were honored by Christians for their good deeds.


1)     "Yesterday we talked about computers. What did we learn to do on computers? (Hopefully someone explains what we learned about databases and how to perform a sort.) Today we are each going to do our own sort on a database that is about cathedrals. Do you remember in social studies when we talked about cathedrals in the Middle Ages? Does anyone remember what they did to tell Bible stories since hardly anyone knew how to read? (Answer: The stories were painted on the stained glass windows.) Very good."

2)     "We've been talking in our language arts class about sentences that are written in the passive voice. Who can give me an example of a sentence in the passive voice? (Since the class has had several lessons on the passive voice they should answer this without any problems. If they do have difficulty you can write three sentences on the board, two of them in the active voice. Then ask the students to identify the sentence using the passive voice, and explain why it is passive.) So, we remember that the passive voice has a form of the verb 'to be' plus the past participle. For example, 'Tasha and Michael were excused by the teacher to go to lunch.' And we also remember that in a sentence using the active voice, the verb is doing what? (The action.) Great! So then the sentence would become, 'The teacher excused Tasha and Michael to go to lunch.' (Write both sentences on the board, one above the other, to show comparison. Draw arrows showing how 'Tasha and Michael' and 'the teacher' change places.)"


1)    "Today we are going to study cathedrals in a different way. You are each going to sort a database twice, looking for something different each time." (Go to Teacher Input #1)

2)    "After you complete two sorts on the cathedral database you will go into a word processing program, with the help of an adult, and change ten sentences form active to passive voice and from passive to active voice." (Go to Guided Practice #2)


1)    "We are going to walk over to the media center where each of you will sit at your own computer. On your computer screen you will see a database listing the names of ten different cathedrals, when they were built what city they were built in, and what country they are in. (Write "name", "when built", "city" and "country" on the board.) Each of these are called fields. Remember last class we talked about sorting? Does anyone remember how to sort? (Answer: Go under the "Tools" heading and choose "Sort Records." Draw a picture on the board of what the "Sort Records" screen will look like.) Ok, the computer will ask us what we want to sort by. So, for example, if we have a database that lists everyone's name, address phone number and birthday and I ask you to sort them alphabetically, what are you going to sort by? (Answer: name.) Good. So each of you will be asked to perform two sorts and raise your hand when you are finished with each one so that either i, the teacher assistant or the media center assistant can come check your work. Does everyone understand? (Wait for students to acknowledge.) What screen are you going to go under first? (Check for comprehension by asking the students to explain what you just reviewed.) What are you going to do when you are finished with a sort? (Raise our hands.) Wonderful! How I am going to explain the second part of the lesson." (Go to Focus and Review #2.)

2)     "So remember that when you finish sorting you will raise your hand so that one of us can come and check the answer. When you have finished your second sort we will help you access a word processing document called "Passive voice." On this screen you will see ten sentences. Each of the sentences will have space  underneath then for you to type your answers. Some of the sentences will be written in the active voice and  you will have to switch them to passive voice. The others will be written in passive voice and you will have to change them to active voice. When you are finished changing all of the ten sentences, I want you to type your name on it, print it, and bring it to me."


1)    "Now that we are here in the media center, and looking at rou database on the screen, let's practice creating a sort together. I want everyone to sort these cathedrals alphabetically by name, but this time I want it listed from Z to A. What is the first step? (Go under "Tools" and choose "Sort records/." Under "Sort by" choose by name, and list from Z to A. Then click "OK".) If nobody has any questions you may begin your independent work. The two sorts that you are to create are written here on the board for everyone to see. Does anybody have any questions? (Wait for questions.) Remember to raise your hand when you are finished with the first sort so that we can check it off. Then you can go on to the second sort. When you are finished with the second sort, raise your hand and we will help you get into the word processing document."

2)    "Let's do an example before we walk over to the lab. (Write two sentences on the board: 1) The cathedral was built by one hundred men. and 2) People worship God inside cathedrals.) I've written two sentences on the board. Which one is written in passive voice? (Number one.) Right. And is this one passive voice also? (No.) (Pick two students to come to the board.) I want you to change this sentence from passive voice to active voice. Please write the answer beside it. And then for the other, please change this sentence from active voice to passive voice. (When they have finished, call two other students and ask if their answers look correct. If they have made a mistake, as a class fix it so that it is correct. If they are both correct, then call on students to explain why they are correct.) Does anyone have questions about how to do this? Be sure to ask now if you have any questions because you will be asked to do this kind of work while you are in the computer lab. (Wait for questions.) I'd like everyone with stripes today to line up at the door. (Look at students and choose a few commands like this so that everyone is eventually lined up at the door.)"
** From here go to Guided Practice #1. This will be the first thing you do once you get to the media center.


1)    On the board, write the two sorts that the students will perform:

1) Sort the cathedrals names alphabetically and
2) sort the cathedrals from oldest to newest (date of construction).

Students should be able to perform thses tasks independently. Be available for anys tudents that may need assistance. Check off students' work when they have correctly completed a sort. Once a student has successfully completed the second sort take them into Microsoft Works and look for the document "Passive voice." Students will type responses on this page and print it out with their names on it, when they are finished.

2)    Students should independently work on this passive voice activity. If a student has finished the assignment and has correctly changed the sentences from active voice to passive voice and vice versa (if not, hclp them fix the incorrect ones) he or she may play on the internet. I would not announce this to the class as a whole because the remaining students may rush through their work and increase the number of incorrect responses. This way everyone will be actively engaged in a learning activity of some sort.


"Today we practiced creating sorts in a database about European cathedrals. Then we practiced our typing skills in a word processin documetn by changing sentences in passive voice to active voice as well as the other way round. I'm very impressed with the work that you did today!"

V. Resources

None included

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