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Lesson Plan

Choosing the Best Verb: An Active and Passive Voice Minilesson

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Choosing the Best Verb: An Active and Passive Voice Minilesson

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Minilesson
Estimated Time 50 minutes
Lesson Author

Haley Fishburn Moore

Hopkinsville, Kentucky


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Instruction & Activities


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • identify verbs in a variety of contexts.

  • analyze verbs to determine whether constructions rely on active or passive voice.

  • draw conclusions about how to match active and passive voice to their writing situation.

  • choose verbs (active or passive) appropriate for the audience and purpose of their writing.

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Instruction & Activities

  1. If necessary due to computer availability, divide students into groups.

  2. Provide the basic definitions of active and passive voice, preferably through demonstration, as shown in "Vignette: Teaching the Passive Voice" (from Grammar Alive!).

  3. Once students understand the basic concept, share the Active and Passive Voice Web page from the Purdue OWL and explain the basic characteristics of active and passive voice. Alternatively, you can use information from your class grammar text.

  4. Explain the class activity: students will explore Websites and note the verbs that are used. After collecting a dozen references to verbs in context, students identify whether the verbs are active or passive voice. Explain that after gathering the information students will work in small groups to draw conclusions about when and how the verbs are used. Suggested Websites include:

  5. Hand out Verb Observation Chart, or demonstrate the Interactive Verb Observation Chart, showing students how to add items to the chart as well as how to print and save their work:

    1. On the first screen, type your name and the name of the Website you're examining.

    2. Click Next to move to the chart screen and enter your information.

    3. Enter the details on the site: for the Row label, indicate the title of the page your example came from. In the columns include the subject, the verb, and voice (active or passive).

    4. Demonstrate that writing is not limited to the size of the box shown on screen. Answers will scroll.

    5. When you've finished writing your responses, click Finish at the top of the screen.

    6. In the next window, click Print. Your answers will be displayed in a Web browser window.

    7. To print answers, choose the Print command from the File menu. To save your answers, choose the Save As... command from the File menu. Students can open the file later in a Web editor or a word processor that imports HTML (such as Microsoft Word or AppleWorks).

    8. Show students that the instructions for using the tool are available by clicking Instructions at the top of the screen.

    9. Demonstrate how to move between the chart window and the Web page students are analyzing.

    10. Show students how to copy a sentence from the Web page and paste it into the appropriate row and column on the chart.
  6. Once students understand the activity, share the URLs for the Websites you've chosen for the activity. Depending upon the amount of time spent defining the terms and introducing the activity, you may choose to have students explore Websites at home or complete the following steps during the next class session.

  7. Monitor students as they browse the Websites, answering any questions.

  8. Once students have identified twelve verbs from the page(s) they're exploring, divide students into small groups to explore their findings.

  9. Ask students to share their findings and use the collected information to draw conclusions about when writers choose active voice and when they use passive voice.

  10. After you're satisfied that students have had enough time to explore their findings, gather as a group and ask students to share their conclusions. Ask students to support their conclusions with specific details from the sites. Look at the sites as a group if desired.

  11. Once the minilesson is complete, ask students to explore the pieces that they are writing, checking for active and passive voice. Ask them to revise as necessary, based on whether the verbs are appropriate for the particular sentence. Students may work during their in-class writing time or complete the revisions as homework.

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  • Invite students to search for examples of passive voice in environmental literature (texts they find in their community or see and read every day). You might encourage students to check billboards, newsletters, church bulletins, pamphlets, and brochures that they find in their daily activities. Some texts will rely almost exclusively on active voice, such as instructions for shipping overnight packages in a brochure at the post office. It's likely that students will find some examples of passive voice, however, if they are observant. Passive voice is frequently used in park brochures, for instance (e.g., the rock paintings were discovered by settlers in the 1850s; . . . They were probably created by Native Americans for religious ceremonies). Take advantage of the opportunity to explore why a writer has chosen active over passive voice, and vice versa.

  • Students can explore a collection of documents that show how style changes over time. Ask students to compare the use of active and passive voice in historical documents (primary and secondary). As they explore the reasons for the verb choice in documents, you can explore the ways that changing social and cultural attitudes can affect the way that a sentence is written (Are passive sentences more likely to be used to distance a group from responsibility for an action?).

  • Comparative document study can provide interesting insight on the use of active and passive voice. Numerous online collections can provide a group of documents on the same topic with differing perspectives, including Hot Paper Topics: School Vouchers and School Choice, from St. Ambrose University's O'Keefe Library, Investigative Reporters and Editors' In the News, and the African American Odyssey from the Library of Congress. Connect the exploration to genre study by considering how the genre combines with the audience and purpose to influence the choices in the document.

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  • Monitor student progress during the minilesson and as students work on their own drafts through anecdotal notetaking and kidwatching.

  • Ask students to share their revised writing with the class and comment on the details they've added. You might ask students to share "before" and "after" passages to make the revisions more dramatic.

  • Comment on the changes to student passages by responding in writing or during individual or group conferences.

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