Ideas for Teaching Comprehension Cloze

Cloze activities can help build vocabulary and improve reading comprehension.

Cloze, or fill-in-the-blank-in-a-sentence, items allow for almost infinite variety of language-learning activities appropriate for students of all ages and ability levels. The broad applicability of the approach requires careful definition of learning objectives during task construction to maintain focus. For example, when teaching the concept of nouns to young learners using cloze techniques, while different types of nouns should be explored, avoid isolating other parts of speech during the same task to avoid confusion.

1 Young Learners

When constructing cloze activities for young learners, focus on vocabulary-building as the main objective, choose concrete over abstract and try to think of imaginative multisensory ways for your students to express the answer. Have students, as a tactile example, find and hold up the appropriate flash card to a fill-in-the-blank question written on the whiteboard. Make sure to provide immediate feedback on whether a response is correct.

Vocabulary Builder

2 “Cloze Bingo”

“Cloze Bingo” is an example of a fun cloze-activity for young learners. Make a list of phrases such as “a blue ball” and “green tables,” etc. Create a set of bingo cards with the grids populated by “a blue **_” and “green** _” and distribute them to your students. When playing the game, hold up a picture of the object and ask your students to call out what it is. Have your students find the appropriate cloze on their cards to fill in the word.

3 Upper Primary

For upper-elementary and middle-school students, while continuing to build vocabulary, cloze activities can explicitly teach grammatical awareness and how to use context clues. Increasingly abstract concepts are appropriate. Instead of only single correct answers, also allow students to come up with words that fit. With this age group you can also use cloze passage dictation activities to explicitly practice the language skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking in an integrated fashion.

4 “Paired Cloze Dictation”

Pair up the students and have them take turns dictating to each other. Give one student a passage to read. Give the other student the same passage, but with cloze deletions. Have the first student read the passage out loud while the other student listens for the missing words. The listener may ask for clarification, but don’t allow the speaker to say the target words in isolation or spell them out.

Several variations of this activity adjust the difficulty level, including the length and complexity of the passage, the number and type of words deleted, the distance from speaker to listener, the level of background noise interference from other groups simultaneously engaged in the same task in the same room, whether or not the speaker knows the target words the listener needs, limiting the number of repetitions, etc. The communicative key is the two students actively negotiate with one another to transfer and confirm accurate meaning from speaker to listener.

5 Secondary and Adult

For secondary and older students, make the understanding of how language is put together to create meaning the primary focus. Use cloze activities to explore how grammar, clue words and other contextual markers all help to shape and inform understanding. For example, create a task using cloze deletions to investigate pronoun chains in a text. Another exercise could focus on the recognition of words associated with the four common types of context clues.

Cloze assessments correlate with other comprehension tests to measure reading ability and are easy to construct, so use them in a formative fashion on an ongoing basis to identify and provide targeted feedback about areas for improvement.

6 “Color Coding”

The following simplified example demonstrates a technique that can be applied to more complex language forms. Give your students highlighters. Use different colors to represent the parts of speech. Walk through an example sentence and then have the students highlight the nouns, verb and adjectives with different colors.

Next, give them cloze sentences that isolate a targeted part of speech. For example:

“The ___ ball bounced to the girl.”

Have the students color code the parts of speech they recognize. Ask questions about the sentence. “What part of speech is missing from the sentence? Can you think of a word to fill the blank?”

Matthew Spira has over nine years of experience as an ESL teacher/tutor specializing in bilingual early childhood literacy development. Before teaching, he spent seven years in the call-center industry as a line supervisor, operations manager and workforce planning, forecasting and analysis manager. Spira holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara.