1. In writing assignments, you can encourage students to keep the topic of an essay in the subject position as much as possible (Robinson, 2000). Then, if students make structural errors with the verbs, you can discuss with them which subjects should have passive verbs. This will provide students with authentic practice in both context and structure of passive voice sentences.
2. In course assignments, you can increase students’ exposure to passive voice structures by incorporating them into exercises in ways where they might naturally appear and where their meaning is absolutely clear.
An example would be a guided-sentence exercise in which students must first find correct information needed to complete passive voice sentences and then rewrite the completed sentences in their notebooks. Here is a social studies example.
Directions: Complete the following sentences by writing the name of the correct inventor in each of the spaces below. Then rewrite the complete sentences neatly in your notebook.
A. The first effective polio vaccine was developed by…
B. The first artificial heart was built by…
C. The telephone was invented by…
D. The windshield wiper was invented by…
If the students find the correct information, then the sentences in their notebooks should look like these:
A. The first effective polio vaccine was developed by Jonas Salk.
B. The first artificial heart was built by Robert Jarvik.
C. The telephone was invented by Alexander G. Bell.
D. The windshield wiper was invented by Mary Anderson.
With this kind of exercise, students have the opportunity to learn content while producing copious amounts of correct passive voice sentences with expressed agents in appropriate contexts.
3. For reinforcing the distinction between active and passive, you can develop inductive exercises related to specific assignments that force students to choose between active and passive sentences. For example, an exercise related to John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest by Robert Holdstock (1985) might contain contrasts like these:
Directions: Choose a statement from each pair that describes correctly the events that occurred in Part 2 of The Emerald Forest. Only one statement from each pair is correct.
A. Mr. Markham drove to work every day in a Jeep Rover.
B. Mr. Markham was driven to work every day in a Jeep Rover.
A. The police called after little Tommy had disappeared from the construction site.
B. The police were called after little Tommy had disappeared from the construction site.
A. At the Grey’s Landing Mission, Mr. Markham asked about an Indian tribe called the Invisible People.
B. At the Grey’s Landing Mission, Mr. Markham was asked about an Indian tribe called the Invisible People.
A. At the Grey’s Landing mission, the Indians taught Christian religion and Portuguese language.
B. At the Grey’s Landing mission, the Indians were taught Christian religion and Portuguese language.
A. During the night, the Fierce People attacked.
B. During the night, the Fierce People were attacked.
4. Ronald V. White (1978), in his article "Teaching the Passive," writes that the passive voice is often “treated as a transformation exercise, the student being required to rewrite active statements as passive ones. The result can be a confusion of forms, with a combination of elements which are neither active nor passive.” He further asserts that an important function of the passive voice construction, “as a means of describing a sequentially ordered process, may not be obvious to the student as a result of such practice exercises” (p. 188).
White suggests exposing students to descriptions of industrial and agricultural production processes from beginning to end. In such instances, writers naturally tend to use passive voice to keep the product in the subject position of a sentence while adding the new information in the remaining part of the sentence. For example:
Tuna are caught in large nets.
Then they are transported to a cannery.
Then they are offloaded onto conveyors.
And then they are cleaned.
After that, they are washed.
White suggests several accompanying activities such as multiple readings, answering questions, and the creation of flow-charts in order to help students to focus on form, content, and flow of information.