Ever feel like the passive voice is one of the hardest concepts to teach ESL students?
Many students find it to be both confusing and frustrating—and for good reason.
You’d be surprised how many learners don’t even have a passive voice in their own language.
So, how do you teach such a challenging concept in a way that’s fun and easy to understand? With music, of course.
Warm up those voices and get ready to sing!
How to Teach the Passive Voice to ESL Students with Songs
Using songs can be a fun, interactive approach to help students conquer the passive voice.
The passive voice is pretty rare in spoken English. Most people use the active voice in day-to-day conversations. If you’re like me, you’ve probably corrected your students on more than one occasion, having them change their passive sentences into active ones.
However, it’s important for students to be able to recognize the passive voice and understand when to use it.
Mostly reserved for official documents, law-related files, the news and scientific reports, you can also find the passive voice in some of your favorite songs.
Today we’re going to look at how you can use some of these songs to teach the passive voice to your students.
The exercises below are great worksheet activities for teaching the passive voice with music.
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Activities for Learning the Passive Voice Using Songs
Want to teach students the passive voice in a way they’ll never forget? Use songs.
Music is a great way to teach English to students of all ages and skill levels.
Music is everywhere, which means that songs are something nearly every student can relate to in some way. With targeted practice and a good playlist, you can introduce students to the passive voice and even give them a chance to practice identifying and using it.
Ready to get started? Here are some exciting activities that use songs to teach students the passive voice.
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 lyrics.
If you’re searching for a website to find song lyrics, check Genius.com for lyrics, videos and other music-related news.
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, have your students listen to a song one or more times (I recommend two to three times). As they’re listening, have them 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, have your students convert 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.
The first thing you need to do is select one or more songs that you want to use for this activity. Once you’ve done that, paste each song’s lyrics into a Word 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. Make sure to highlight the sentences that need to be rewritten to avoid any confusion.
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 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 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.
ESL Students Struggling with the Passive Voice? 6 Songs to the Rescue
Now that we covered some activities to help your students master the passive voice, here are a few song ideas for your next lesson on this topic.
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.
2. “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.
3. “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.
4. “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.
5. “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.
6. “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.
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!
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