Teacher interacting with students in classroom.
Teacher interacting with students in classroom.

Kids learn a lot easier when they are having fun. One of the best ways to learn new concepts such as passive and active voice in grammar is through the use of educationally sound games. Games help children learn to construct sentences that precisely communicate who or what is performing the action of the verb. For example, “Pat hit the ball” is the active voice; whereas, “The ball was hit by Pat” is the passive voice. Games are a more effective teaching tool than structured formal lessons because they can increase interest, motivation and retention.

Active to Passive Race Game

Students in upper elementary or middle school will enjoy changing active sentences to passive ones in this game. Begin by dividing the class into teams consisting of three or four students that work together to change an active voice sentence to passive. Give each group of students a sentence strip made of colored cardstock on which you've written a sentence in active voice. The students must work together to change it to passive. For example, they must race to the board and change the sentence "Scientists observed the tigers in their natural habitat," to a sentence written in a passive voice. Play the game in rounds and keep score for each group. Correct sentences are worth five points, while incorrect ones get zero, and the group to reach the designated total points first wins the game.

Good Sentences Game

Choose teams of three to play this game and give one person in each group all the cards with passive verbs such as "was bitten," give the second person body-parts flashcards, and give the third person flashcards with pictures of animals, people and objects. Each member selects a card from his own stack, but doesn't show it to the other members. Then they lay their selected cards on the table, and the members try to make a sentence from them. An example of a correct passive sentence is "He was bitten on the leg by a tiger." If the sentence they make is correct, the team gets a point, but if the sentence is nonsense, the group gets no points. Total all points at the end, and the group with the most points wins.

Draw a Sentence

One activity that works well as an individual or group activity is to have students draw a pictorial representation of a sentence they create. They must illustrate the sentence in both passive and active voice and then present the drawings to the class. For example, "Mary hit the ball over the fence" and "The ball was hit over the fence by Mary." The class decides which sentence is better to include in a writing activity and why.

Physical Vignette

Call three students to the front of the classroom and present each one with a slip of paper. For example, one student gets a slip that says "The new outfielder," the next student gets one with the word "hit" and another student's paper says "the ball." They must interact with each other to make a sentence by placing themselves in the correct order. This obviously is an active sentence with the subject on the right. Call three more students to the front and follow the same procedure, but this time use "The ball" for one, "was hit" for another and "by the new outfielder." Ask the class what the difference is in the positions of the subject, verb and direct object in active and passive sentences. Allow other groups of students to make up their own sentences and to line themselves up accordingly.