Cloze activities were originally developed for reading instruction, but over the years they have proven so valuable and easy to design that they are now commonplace in many subject areas and serve as a popular assessment tool for teachers everywhere. The concept of the cloze procedure is simple. Words are removed from a reading passage by the teacher and presented as blanks which the students must fill in. Selecting which words to remove can be done in a variety of ways. Online cloze generators generally remove every 5th or 10th word, depending on the length of the text. However, most teachers prefer to select the words according to the objectives of the lesson or the particular content being learned. Removing keywords from a passage is a strategy for drawing the learner’s attention to them and forcing them to consider their meaning.
Cloze activities have earned a special place in the hearts of language teachers because of their incredible versatility. Although they began as a reading task, the listening cloze is an innovation that features heavily in language learning. The procedure for preparing a listening cloze is the same as that of a regular cloze. However, rather than have the students use the context of the surrounding words to fill in the blanks, the teacher reads or plays a recording of the passage. Although the emphasis of the task has shifted away from reading, students may still use the context of the passage to help them determine whether or not they have heard correctly. The most common form of the listening cloze involves playing a song and providing students with an incomplete set of lyrics.
Another popular variation of the listening cloze requires teachers to prepare A and B versions of two reading passages. The first passage on Student A’s worksheet is complete, while Student B’s is missing a number of words. Student A reads the passage slowly, and Student B fills in the missing words. The situation is reversed for the second passage, and Student B reads while Student A writes the words. Many language teachers favor this variation, as the students have an opportunity to practice their reading and pronunciation skills in addition to listening.
Grammar-based lessons regularly use the cloze format to reinforce the particular concept being taught. Irregular verbs are often tested this way, as are prepositions (sometimes with the aid of pictures). A learner’s understanding of pronouns can be tested with a cloze passage by retaining the original noun and removing all subsequent pronouns referring to it (e.g. The dog licked ____ paw and looked at the policeman, but _____ was too busy driving to notice).
During my years in the classroom teaching languages, I’ve seen many interesting and creative variations of the cloze. Of these, there are a couple that stand out as particularly innovative. I remember once observing a lesson where the teacher prepared a video cloze in which students watched someone making an origami crane. Each student had a sheet containing instructions (with some of the words removed) and a piece of origami paper. The video itself contained no speaking, but each step was demonstrated clearly and repeated several times. Students watched the video, then made the appropriate folds on their origami paper. After each step, they paused to fill in the missing words on the instruction sheet. It took quite some time to finish, but the students were completely engaged throughout the task.
Another teacher once shared with me something called a “picture cloze”, which she used for learners who were just beginning to read and write. Each student received a large laminated picture (often of a house or a classroom) and a set of small cards with a word printed on one side and a picture on the other. During the activity, students were allowed to look at only the side of the card with the printed word. The teacher would read a passage that explained where to place each card on the laminated picture (e.g., The ball is in the box). In this variation, instead of filling in blanks by hand, the students placed word cards in the correct locations.
The best thing about this version of the cloze is revealing the answers. When the students are finished placing their cards, the teacher reads the passage again, this time showing the correct picture card for each blank. To this point the students have only been allowed to look at the side of the card with the word printed on it, but now they can turn it over to see if it matches the teacher’s picture. The reactions of the students as they turn their cards is really fun to watch. In many years of teaching and observing other teachers, this remains the best way I’ve encountered of helping young students to recognize the written form of the new words they are learning.
As you can see, there are many possibilities for using the cloze procedure in language teaching and learning. Although it was originally developed as a reading task, there are variations of the cloze that target each of the language skills. If you haven’t already incorporated cloze tasks into your lessons, please try some of the suggestions described above. Of course, if you are a user of Poodll Net, you can try a variety of cloze-type tasks that are easy to create and completely auto-graded including: Drag Text, Fill in the Blanks and Mark the Words.