Inventions Who & When?! – Passive Voice Activity

Inventions Who & When?‏‎! is a simple activity to help your students practice using the passive voice‏‎. It is very flexible and can be used with all ages and levels who are familiar with the passive voice.

There are a number of variations on the activity at the end of this article, plus it can be adapted and developed in many different ways to suit your class. This means it’s very flexible and so with a little thought you can add variations and make this suitable for most classes.


The general idea of Passive Quiz is to get your students answering quiz questions in the passive voice. To start this off, you can ask them the right kind of questions such as

When was/were X invented?

so the answer needs to be in the passive form. For example:

Q: When was the bread slicing machine invented?
A: It was invented in 1928.

Q: When was the first video game console invented?
A: It was invented in 1972.

Prepare a list of inventions and dates and put them on flashcards‏‎ with a picture on one side and the date of the invention on the other.

  • matches – 1827
  • telescope – 1609
  • bicycle – 1818
  • sliced bread machine – 1928
  • bikini – 1946

NB a good list of inventions and dates can be found in the links at the bottom of this article.

Revising the Passive in Class

Before beginning the game you might want to revise the grammar of the passive voice in class to remind the students. As an example use something like this:


Christopher Cockerell invented the hovercraft in 1952.


The hovercraft was invented in 1952 by Christopher Cockerell.

Go through several questions with them giving the students plenty of opportunities to create the passive form. And stress here that if they don’t know who did something, they can leave out the inventor and just give the date:

The hovercraft was invented in 1952.

Likewise, if they know the inventor but not the year they can answer:

The hovercraft was invented by Christopher Cockerell.

In other words, here you are giving the students the language they will need for the game.

Playing the Game

Once the students are confident in the use of the passive in this context, you can divide them into small groups and have them sit in different areas of the classroom.

Go through the rules of the game and make sure the whole class understands (you may want to write up the scoring system on the board‏‎):

  1. You will ask a question and the first student with their hand up will answer it IN THE PASSIVE VOICE.
  2. If they get the year right within 10 years, they get 2 points for their team.
  3. If they get the year exactly right, they get 5 points for their team.
  4. If they get the inventor right, they get 5 points for their team.
  5. If they get the year or inventor wrong, they lose 2 point from their team.

This last point is to encourage students to consider before they speak rather than throw up their hands willy nilly.

Ask the first couple of questions as examples till the class understands the way the scoring works.

Encourage the groups to confer amongst themselves to try and find the right answer. If a group thinks they know, let them answer; if they are correct move on, if not then throw the question back out to the class. Each team must guess until the right answer is found!

Now simply ask the questions, keeping score on the board.

Example Question

T: When was bread slicing machine invented?
Team A: It was invented in 1850.
T: Sorry, far too early! Your team loses a point.
Team B: It was invented in 1950.
T: Sorry, a little bit late. Your team loses a point.
Team C: It was invented in 1925.
T: Very good! It was invented in 1928 so you win 2 points.

Variations on a Theme

There are a lot of variations on this game and you can adjust it for different levels and classes. Above all, once the students are familiar with the game you can involve them a lot more in it.

More Student Involvement

Get the students to prepare questions to ask the other teams.

If you have a CALL‏‎ class having students find the questions is ideal as they can use the internet to research inventions. If not, you may be able to provide a simple list from which the students have to prepare questions or an encyclopedia for each team to use in research.

Simpler Version

If the class is of a lower level, you can simplify the game by using true/false questions:

Q: The hovercraft was invented in 1988 – true or false?
A: False! It was invented before that!

This is useful with smaller classes and is better with 1-to-1 interaction between the teacher and students. Before using this method you might want to give the student a pattern which they can follow for their answer.

Multiple Choice Questions

If you want the class to write the answers, give them multiple choice questions (again along with the pattern for their answers):

Bread Slicing Machine

a) 1728
b) 1828
b) 1928

And the students need to write:

Sliced bread was invented in 1928.

Similarly, you can do the same with the inventors:


a) Antonio Meucci
b) Christopher Cockerell
b) Tim Berners Lee

The hovercraft was invented by Christopher Cockerell.


If you are using the game with flashcards then you can add a little more vocabulary‏‎ practice by getting the students to name the object. This can be extended so that students come up and pick a flashcard at random and it is they who have to ask the question:

Who invented the telephone?

When was the telephone invented?

More Passives

Once the students are familiar with the game, you can introduce more passive verbs and constructions, not just invented:

Penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming.
The Parthenon was begun in 447 BCE and was finished in 432 BCE.
President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth.
The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

Country Specific

You can introduce questions about a specific country such as your own. Suppose you are an American teacher then you could create questions to elicit these answers:

The Whitehouse was built between 1792 and 1800.
President Obama was inaugurated in 2009.

With these as a template, your students can create questions about their own country to ask the others in the class. This often works well with a class containing many different nationalities.

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Posted in Lesson Plans & Activities.

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