7 Songs With Passive Voice for ESL Class

The passive voice is one of the hardest concepts to teach ESL students.

Students find it to be both confusing and frustrating—and for good reason: Many ESL students don’t even have the passive voice in their first language.

So, how do you teach such a challenging concept in a way that’s fun and easy to understand? I suggest song-based activities, which has worked wonders in my ESL classroom.

To help you do this, I’ve curated this list of songs that contain the passive voice. So warm up those voices and get ready to sing!


7 Passive Voice Songs to Use in Your ESL Class

Use this list of songs to make the passive voice crystal clear to your students.

1. “She Will Be Loved” By Maroon 5

Passive language: She will be loved

An internationally popular song such as “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5 is sure to grab your students’ attention. Catchy and easy to understand, this song is suitable for advanced as well as lower-level students.

You can find the passive voice in the chorus.

Use this song for the first activity discussed above or include it on a list of songs to use in the second and third activities.

See the full lyrics here.

2. “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles

Passive language: Nothing you can make that can’t be made. No one you can save that can’t be saved

This classic 1967 anthem features a lot of passive voice amidst its playful lyrics. In fact, there are seven passive constructions in the song. Notably, the lyrics often use both the active and passive voice in the very same phrase, such as in: Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.

In this one lyric line, you can see is active and that isn’t shown is passive.

See the full lyrics here.

3. “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics

Passive language: Sweet dreams are made of this; Some of them want to get used by you; Some of them want to be abused

Your students will have a lot of fun with this song! There’s a lot of wordplay in this one, including different word forms and conjugations of the same word.

For example, “to use you” versus “get used by you.” This song is appropriate for any of the above activities and works especially well for filling in the missing words.

See the full lyrics here.

4. “Someday You Will Be Loved” by Death Cab for Cutie

Passive language: Someday you will be loved

A rather sad song. But from a literary and language-learning standpoint, it offers a lot!

It’s full of nice comparisons, rhymes and useful English vocabulary words. Use this song in any of the activities above.

See the full lyrics here.

5. “Rhythm of Love” by The Plain White T’s

Passive language: A beautiful song to be sung

The passive voice is a little tricky to spot in this song, but it’s there. It also includes a lot of similes and dialogue, which can add an extra element for your advanced students.

Again, this song would work with any of the activities mentioned earlier.

See the full lyrics here.

6. “Almost Lover” by A Fine Frenzy

Passive language: My back is turned on you

“Almost Lover” is more than a song with a beautiful message. It also uses language that’s understandable for most ESL students.

More importantly, the accompanying music is soft enough to make the singer’s voice stand out, which is ideal for listening comprehension exercises.

This song lends itself to the rewriting activity, changing the active voice into the passive voice and vice versa.

See the full lyrics here.

7. “You Were Loved” by Whitney Houston

Passive language: The greatest gift this life can bring; Is when you look back and know; You were loved; Touched by someone; Held by someone

This is a very nostalgic song that offers some useful life advice and could spark some lively debates in your class.

The song is repetitive, which will give your students several chances to catch the passive voice in use. In addition to discussion and analysis, “You Were Loved” is a useful song for rewriting the passive voice into the active voice.

See the full lyrics here.

Activities for Learning the Passive Voice Using Songs

You can use these exercises as their own as mini-lessons or in conjunction with each other. Each activity builds off the previous one, helping your students memorize what they’ve already learned.

Listen and fill in the missing words

This activity tests a student’s ability to recognize the passive voice. It can be used directly after teaching the passive voice for the first time, or you can use it as a warm-up activity for subsequent lessons.

Before introducing this activity, make sure that your students have actually learned about the passive voice in earlier lessons. If not, you’ll need to pre-teach it before moving on.

For this activity, you need:

  • A playlist of songs the students will listen to in class.
  • A sheet of lyrics for each song played. Every student should have their own copy of the lyrics.

Begin by passing the lyrics out and giving the class a few minutes to read over them. Once finished, play the song and instruct the students to circle or underline the passive voice phrases on their lyrics sheets. Go over the answers with your class and move to the next song.

For advanced students, you can even have an open discussion about the structure of the songs. Ask them why the songwriter used the passive voice, if it sounds better passive and whether the active voice changes the meaning of the sentence.

If you have access to a language lab or multiple sets of headphones, you can turn this exercise into a social activity. Simply put students in pairs or groups or three, giving each group a song with the corresponding lyric sheet. The groups then listen to their songs using their smartphones and headphones (you can use YouTube for songs) while underlining the passive voice structures in the worksheet.

Tip: For advanced students, don’t provide the set of lyrics. Have them listen to the song and write down all the examples of the passive voice they hear. After the song finishes, compare the lists. Students that noted all the examples of the passive voice win.

For best results, I recommend playing the song twice. This way, you can go over any words the class doesn’t understand after playing the song for the first time.

Rewrite the passive voice phrases

Another useful activity is to take songs and rewrite their passive voice lyrics into the active ones. This will help your students identify passive voice sentences and learn the difference between active and passive structures.

For this exercise:

  • Play the selected song one or more times (I recommend two to three times).
  • As your students are listening, ask them to write down any passive voice lyrics they hear.
  • Once you’ve played the song for the last time, get the students to mention all the sentences they heard in the passive voice.
  • Make sure to write these sentences on the board as students read them out so that everyone can check their right answers.
  • After reviewing the passive voice together, ask your students to change all of the passive sentences into the active voice.

For lower-level classes, you might want to actually provide your students with a worksheet that has the passive voice phrases from the song. That way, all they need to do is translate them into the active voice.

Make active voice sentences passive

This activity involves a little more work on your part.

  • Select a song to use for this activity.
  • Paste each song’s lyrics into a document and rewrite all passive sentences using the active voice.
  • Then make a worksheet using the song lyrics where the students have to turn the highlighted active sentences into the passive voice. 

Depending on the level of your class, you can ask your students to rewrite complete sentences back to the passive voice, or you can set it up as a multiple choice activity where students choose which answer is in the passive voice and is grammatically correct.

Before you get started, distribute the worksheet in class and have students read over the lyrics as they listen to the song.

Play the song a second time, instructing students to rewrite the highlighted sentences as they listen. Once they’ve finished, play the song a final time so they can check their work as they listen.

When I did this activity, I used the song “Almost Lover” by A Fine Frenzy (more on this song below). In the song there’s a line which reads, “my back is turned on you.” I changed it to “I turned my back on you” on their worksheets. As I played the song in class, students were instructed to change this sentence back to its original passive voice.

Tip: You can also try this activity on the board. Instead of worksheets, write your active phrases on the board and ask students to shout out answers or work in teams to transform the phrases. Then play the song again to see how well they did.

Get students to analyze their favorite songs

Need something with a little more engagement for your advanced students?

Tell your students to listen to a couple of their favorite songs for homework, writing down any sentences in the passive voice as they do. The next time you have class together, each student should present their song to the class and read out all the passive sentences they found in the lyrics.


These are just some of my favorite songs to get you started. Be sure to check your own favorite songs for use of the passive voice, and check out our list of ESL song activities for your next class!

Happy listening and teaching!

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