Describing processes with the passive

What these are…

These are my first attempt at making business English ‘fun.’ They combine ridiculous stories set in a business context with pretty dry review material aimed at drilling the structures required without the distraction of absurdity.

The stories in these worksheets are centered on a fictional music company called the “Ohmpah express” (fun fact: Germans don’t know what ‘ohmpah music’ is). There are texts from the ‘website,’ a job description of a ‘fun manager,’ and a bit of stress with the ‘creative department.’

Through all of it, the passive voice is used, and the focus is very strongly on processes (though sometimes it’s just old-fashioned threats of violence, like in any modern workplace).

The worksheets

There are four worksheets in the series:

  1. Describing processes with the passive. This one introduces the Ohmpah Express and the passive in general. There’s more than a little absurdity, but no dialogue in the texts.
  2. How likely is it? Moving from the passive in general to modifying the passive with modals of likelihood, this worksheet also sets up a minor conflict in the offices of the Ohmpah Express. These texts include more dialogue. This is the worksheet with the most ‘shocking’ dialogue (a threat to stick a vodka bottle up someone’s behind).
  3. It has been done before. The present perfect tends to be difficult for German-speaking English learners. (In my experience.) So, this covers the present perfect in the passive, setting up the final and most complicated worksheet. In this worksheet, the shocking scene from worksheet two results in a meeting with Human Resources…
  4. Could have, would have, should have. After covering the passive, modal verbs, and the present perfect, what is there left to do? We can talk about what we would have done. That’s what this worksheet is. This worksheet includes German translation activities! (But you can just not print the last page)

How I teach with them

I don’t move through the worksheets methodically. Instead, I tend to warm up to the idea and to introduce the word ‘ohmpah music.’ (It’s a slang American word for German brass band music.)

Then, I cover the passive and why the passive is often used in describing processes (answer: it puts the product in the foreground, and often we don’t know who is doing the work.)

Then, I go through the worksheets, stopping often to laugh.

These worksheets are not enough!

Typically, one worksheet stretches across two lessons. (Some of the exercises are great for homework.) Then, after the ‘generic’ worksheet, I try to make up an intermediate worksheet using the students’ names and vocabulary. So, if I’m teaching a class in a car company that includes a Dieter, there might be exercises like these:

  • Make it passive: “Dieter painted the car the wrong color.”
  • Put the verb in parenthesis into passive: “The lunch Dieter had in the break room fridge ___________ (eat) by someone else.”

A few lessons later, these exercises can be cut into strips and put into an envelope along with other grammar review exercises as part of an envelope review.


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