Tag Archives: grammar

Lessons to go: Passive Quiz

Cavendish Banana

Cavendish Banana


The passive is a difficult structure for English language learners to understand and more so to put into use. One misunderstanding they have is in regards to who or what is doing or instigating the action in question. As Parrot (2010, p. 336) points out, learners can confuse the subject for the agent in a passive sentence e.g. “A man was attacked by three women.” Another issue is that they have trouble selecting appropriate verbs with which to construct the this pattern. For instance, as Carter, McCarthy, Mark, and O’Keeffe (2011, p. 367) explain, we cannot form the passive voice with intransitive verbs. The reason this is, Swan (2005, p. 386) says, is because “there is nothing to become the subject.” Swan also points out that there are also some transitive verbs not used in the passive, most of which are state verbs. Even once an understanding of the passive has been reached, learners still have trouble using it. Parrot (2010, p. 337) observes that many learners, even those with a good grasp of the passive, avoid using it all together. Conversely, one of the main problems I have witnessed after instructing students is that they over-use it, using it in sentences and expressions that are not typically expressed in the passive. With this in mind, the aim of this lesson is to present the present and past simple forms of the passive to students and give them a controlled opportunity to use it so that they can produce appropriate sentences.

Level: Pre-intermediate as first presentation of passive, intermediate and above as a review

Materials: Students’ notebooks and smart phones

Lesson Plan:

Begin the lesson by bringing attention to a sentence you have already written on the board:

Bananas are grown in Queensland.

Ask the students, ‘What is grown in Queensland?’ (Bananas) Then ask them, ‘Who grows the bananas?’ (Farmers) These questions could be answered and problem-solved in pairs/groups or as a whole class. Now ask, ‘How can we write a similar sentence but using farmers?’ Try to elicit from the whole class and write the following sentence below the first one:

Farmers grow bananas in Queensland.

Ask the class, ‘Why are farmers not written in the first sentence?’ (The main focus is bananas; it’s obvious who grows them.) Now bring attention to the form of the second sentence. Elicit the tense from the students: present simple. Underline the verb: grow. Then bring attention to the passive sentence and elicit what auxiliary verb is used: be. And what form the other verb is: past participle. Underline and label these verbs. (It is probably better to model the passive using irregular verbs because the past participle can easily be distinguished from the past simple verb.) You can now explain that the first sentence is a passive sentence and the second sentence is an active sentence because the subject (the agent) does the action.

Now give the students a chance to use this form. Explain to the class that you are going to have a quiz, explaining what a quiz is if the students do not already know. Divide the students into teams of 2-3 and ask them to create a team name and write them down the side of the board. Then bring their attention to the quiz question (sentence) you have written on the board:

Coffee is grown in Russia/Colombia/Canada.

Ask the class, ‘What is the correct answer?’ (Colombia) Write the following verbs on the board: grow, produce, sell. Task the students to write three present simple passive sentences using verbs from the board, providing three possible options at the end of the sentences. Explain that they can search for information on the internet using their smart phones. Elicit things the students can write about e.g. foods, electronic devices, cars etc. Monitor the students to make sure they are doing the task correctly but do not correct them as this will be part of the quiz. Once they have all completed their three sentences bring their attention to another sentence on the board:

The Mona Lisa was painted by Michaelangelo/Picasso/Di Vinci.

Ask them if they all know what the Mona Lisa is and what it is a painting of. Show them a picture on a phone if they do not. Then ask the class, ‘Who painted the Mona Lisa?’ Followed by the question, ‘Is this an active or passive sentence?’ (Passive) Elicit the position of the agent in a passive sentence and highlight the preposition needed before the agent (by). Now ask the students, ‘What is the tense of the sentence?’ (Past simple passive) Highlight the past form of the verb to be and the past participle. Then bring their attention to another list of verbs on the board: paint, invent, create, write. Instruct each team to write another three sentences in the past simple passive using the verbs on the board. Elicit things the students can write about e.g. paintings, inventions, books etc. Monitor and assist without directly correcting the sentences.

Once the students have completed their six sentences you can then start the quiz. Tell them they will receive one point for every correct answer they guess and one point for every correct sentence they write. The first team will read their first sentence and the three possible options. Give the other students about 30 seconds to decide on the answer. Collect answers from around the class. Now have the first team read out the original answer and give a point to any of the teams who had the correct answer. Then ask the class if the grammar of the sentence was correct. If the essential features of the passive were present, give the team a point on the board. Then move to the first question of the second team and repeat the steps. After all the questions have been read and answered, tally the scores and announce the winner. If you are running out of time, you can simply have three or four rounds of questions instead of six.


This has proven to be an effective lesson by which to both teach and practise the passive. It also works at higher levels as a review. Its effectiveness hinges on the novelty and competitiveness of practising grammar through a quiz and also because of the verbs that have been given to the students. The latter point is extremely important with lower levels since it helps prevent students from writing passive sentences which do not resemble native language. Furthermore, the verbs provide direction in content, since the students will probably know some common collocations of the verbs i.e. paint a picture, grow fruits and vegetables.


Carter, R., McCarthy, M., Mark, G., & O’Keeffe, A. (2011). English Grammar Today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swan, M. (2005). Practical English Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This post by Peter Guylay. 

Peter has been working as an English language teacher for over ten years and has taught in Korea, China and his home country of Australia. He has an interest in Critical ELT and has also written for the English Australia Journal.

#AusELT chat summary “Getting Away from Grammar” with Daniel Midgley, 4 June 2015


Photo credit: @sandymillin #eltpics

An extremely lively, fast-paced and interesting chat with guest moderator Daniel Midgley, @talkrtr, Lecturer in ESL and Applied Linguistics at Edith Cowan University, WA, and known to many through the Talk the Talk Podcast.

@talkrtr kicked off by stating he is a fan of the lexical approach and included this link:


@SophiaKhan4 and @McIntyreShona agreed with this approach however @McIntyreShona said her colleagues weren’t great fans. @aparnajacob’s students demand grammar everyday so she was excited to discuss a new approach.

Throughout the chat @Penultimate_K asked a series of discussion questions (taken from Daniel’s guest blog post which you can read here) which started off with;

Ever tried to get away from grammar in your teaching? Do you teach in a way that puts something else in the foreground?

@cioccas answered that getting away from grammar requires variety. @McIntyreShona suggested that manipulating text is the way for students to control their own language expression.

What’s your language learning experience? Was grammar instruction helpful or did something else work better?

@McIntyreShona and @cioccas learned languages using a variety of approaches, @Penultimate_K was expected to parse and translate, @lukeealexander had grammar-centric experiences however @aparnajacob acquired language ‘naturally’.

Is it necessary to have a grammar focus in mind & design tasks accordingly? Or play it as we go and explain things as they occur?

@lukeealexander believes focus on form and meeting students’ needs is important to consider. @McIntyreShona shared that course books are only 50% of her curriculum. @MeredithMacAul1  uses texts for grammar analysis and then asks students to use the language in their writing. @SophiaKhan4 suggested shining spotlight on grammar when it comes up in a meaningful context. @leoselivan shared that there is grammar teaching in LA however the practice is more distributed. @talkrtr encourages people to use http://wordandphrase.info/  for access to lots of examples.

What’s the difference between the way you teach (or learn) and the way you’d like to?

@cioccas said that she likes to teach the way she learns but understands that others learn in different ways so tries a variety of approaches.

Tim Doner is ‘the world’s youngest hyperpolyglot’ what can we take away from his experience? http://ideas.ted.com/why-i-learned-20-languages-and-what-i-learned-about-myself-in-the-process/

@aparnajacob suggested osmosis which @Penultimate_K also added immersion. @andrea_rivett took away that language is communication and culture and that eavesdropping was ok. @SophiaKhan4’s take-away message was songs which can be repeated and enjoyed. @cioccas added that learning the way that makes sense for you will keep you interested.

Who wants to defend the grammatical approach? Does it still have any merit? Can you change @talkrtr’s mind on this?

@MeredithMacAul1 said that students need a foundation so why not teach some structure however let students experiment and produce? @aparnajacob shared this link which she had also passed on to her colleagues:

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/michael-swan/too-much-grammar-not-enough-grammar?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=%20bc-teachingenglish .

@leoselivan shared the following on avoiding grammar: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/sep/18/teach-grammar-rules?CMP=share_btn_tw.

Throughout the chat, it was discussed why teachers teach grammar. Reasons included that students expect it and consider it serious; knowledge of grammar leads to communication; course-books include it; and it’s convenient. However, it was also pointed out that when course-books include vocabulary and collocations, they often lead to a grammatical point. @aparnajacob summed up this discussion by stating that we miss the ‘scenic route to learning’ by allowing grammar and course-books to take precedence.

In summary, a focus on grammar is still widely used and by focussing on real-life language and contexts, lexical items can, and should, also be introduced. @lukeealexander shared that there were 4 systems in English – pronunciation, vocab, grammar and discourse, so give them equal time in class.

From this Twitter-chat two ideas for future chats were put forward: @cioccas suggested ‘Getting away from course books’ and @andrea_rivett suggested ‘reflective teaching’.

Thank you to guest moderator, Daniel Midgley ( @talkrtr )for joining the chat and for providing us with this  thought-provoking discussion. For more food-for-thought, check out Daniel’s Talk the Talk Podcast.

This post by @andrea_rivett

Getting away from grammar – Upcoming Twitter chat Thurs 4th June

Our next Twitter chat will take place on Thursday 4th June 2015 at 6.30pm Perth time [click here to check the time elsewhere in the world] and will be on the topic of ‘Getting away from grammar’. We are privileged to have this chat guest-moderated by Daniel Midgley, Lecturer in ESL and Applied Linguistics at Edith Cowan University, WA, and known to many of you through the Talk the Talk Podcast.  Daniel has put together this blog post for your pre-chat reading and has posed a few questions for us to discuss on Thursday. Enjoy!

grammar-389907_1280Getting away from grammar

Guest post by Daniel Midgley

English language teaching is notable for its variety. There are so many ways to go!

  • Our teaching can take a lexical bent, where the focus is on words and phrases
  • We can focus on the situations our students will find themselves in,
  • We can use a functional approach by working on the kinds of speech acts our students need to perform, like requests, introductions, compliments, and so on
  • Or we can work on the skills of language — reading, writing, listening, and speaking — along with the strategies that helps students acquire these skills.

And yet, despite this variety, we always seem to come back to the same thing… grammar.

Grammar is important — it helps us say things we haven’t heard yet — but sometimes it seems that as teachers we revert to a grammatical approach as some kind of default. We like teaching grammar because it makes us feel like real teachers, especially if we’re new. Our students like it because they feel like they’re getting what they should. And employers like it because grammar is what teachers are “supposed” to teach. Open an ESL textbook, and there it is — grammar. Sometimes it seems like a bit of a stuck record.

And teaching grammar might not even be the best approach. It’s so unlike the way we learn a first language. When we’re young, we learn from hearing words, phrases, and sentences in context. We repeat them over and over, we try out new things, and no one minds if we walk around talking rubbish. But when we get older, teachers say essentially, “Here, let me show you how to perform morphological and syntactic manipulations in a way that’s as unlike learning your first language as possible.” Then we wonder why learning a language is so difficult.

I noted this article with some interest. It’s hyperpolyglot Tim Doner, talking about his experience learning languages.

I began my language education at age thirteen. I became interested in the Middle East and started studying Hebrew on my own. For reasons I still don’t quite understand, I was soon hooked on the Israeli funk group Hadag Nachash, and would listen to the same album every single morning. At the end of a month, I had memorized about twenty of their songs by heart — even though I had no clue what they meant. But once I learned the translations it was almost as if I had downloaded a dictionary into my head; I now knew several hundred Hebrew words and phrases — and I’d never had to open a textbook.

I decided to experiment. I spent hours walking around my New York City neighborhood, visiting Israeli cafés to eavesdrop on people’s conversations. Sometimes, I would even get up the courage to introduce myself, rearranging all of the song lyrics in my head into new, awkward and occasionally correct sentences. As it turned out, I was on to something.

Notice how, rather than studying grammar, his approach seems to focus on input, input, and more input. Words and phrases come first, and then his brain does the work of inducing the grammar in the background.

Of course, this is one person’s anecdotal experience, but is there anything here we can use? Or is this just a guy with an unusual aptitude for language acquisition?

Here are some discussion questions, just for starters:

  • Have you managed to get away from grammar in your teaching? Do you teach in a way that puts something else in the foreground? If so, what else is taking the place of prominence?
  • What’s your language learning experience? Was the grammar instruction you received helpful, or was there something else that worked better?
  • Is it necessary to have a grammar focus in mind, and to design tasks with that in mind? Or can we play it as we go, explaining the things that come up naturally?
  • What’s the difference between the way you teach (or learn) and the way you’d like to?
  • What, if anything, can we take away from Tim Doner’s experience?
  • What research are you aware of on this topic?
  • Or can the grammatical approach be defended? Change my view!

Thanks for reading, and I’m looking forward to discussing these issues with you as part of our #AusELT Twitter chat!

Daniel Midgley teaches applied linguistics and language acquisition at Edith Cowan University and the University of Western Australia. He started teaching EAL/D back in the days when it was ESL. He is also a presenter for Talk the Talk on RTRFM 92.1 in Perth (www.talkthetalkpodcast.com).