“Mistakes Were Made.”

a project for Passive Voice

In groups of four or so, students play the role of a public relations (PR) team addressing a negative situation while trying to keep the blame away from their company, organization, or administration.  As they write up a press release, they’ll need to use Passive Voice to explain what happened or the results of an incident while drawing little to no attention to who or what caused it.

What Went Wrong?

First, teams, students select a particular field of science, management, or politics.  Then, each group brainstorms a list of things that could go wrong or mistakes that people in that field might make.  You might want to give students a bit of time to research real-world examples that they can draw inspiration from.  They’ll probably need to consider the following:

  • What were they (the PR team’s clients, company, or organization) trying to accomplish?  What was the intended goal?
  • Where did things go wrong?  What was the action or inaction that sparked the problem?
  • What were the direct and/or immediate negative results of the mistake? 
  • What are the long-term repercussions?  How does the problem affect people beyond those who were directly involved in the incident?
  • How would the public likely respond if they knew all the details of what happened?
  • What’s the worse that could happen to the people responsible?  What consequences might they be able to avoid?

The Press Release

The public is going to find out what happened eventually, or perhaps they’ve already begun to. The PR teams need to “control the narrative” by writing a press release that will soon be read aloud at a press conference.

Teams should write down an explanation of what happened.  But it’s important that they focus on the incident itself, not on who made the mistake.  For this students should use plenty of Passive Voice (though not every sentence in the press release should use Passive Voice).  For this variation, the original subject (from the Active Voice version of a sentence) should be discarded; the teams probably won’t include the word ‘by’ anywhere.  At the end, the PR teams might want to include what’s being done to resolve the issue.

Finally, one student from each group should verbally make the announcement in front of the rest of the class.

This project could last a week if you’d like to give students plenty of time to research real-world examples and have them write a longer press release with plenty of details, perhaps just under one page in length.

Alternately, the project could be done in a single session or over a single night’s homework, in which case the press release could just be one paragraph long.

Check out Insights’s Passive Forms Series to view our videos on Passive Voice and related topics.  In these videos, we share innovative teaching methods to make it easier for students to understand and remember grammar points.

Go beyond the videos with printouts, slideshows, bonus notes, and much more by joining with Insider Access or by downloading a Grammar Guidebook.  Visit our About Insider Access page to learn more!

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