Friday, November 28, 2008

Why I Like Cloze Exercises

Over the many years I taught ESOL, one type of exercise that I decided should become a staple kind of classroom language learning activity was the cloze procedure or cloze activity. Nobody seems to really know where the name cloze comes from, but in spite of that, it can play a very important role in any language classroom. Actually, there are two main types of cloze, the pure cloze and the modified cloze*.

The Pure Cloze: The most important use of pure cloze exercises is to test your students’ overall mastery of the language (whole language). As you’ll see, a blank may replace any kind of word; generally, it’s the competence and comprehension that your students have which will allow them to figure out what possible item can go in each blank. You’ll get more bang for your buck by using a pure cloze activity with high-intermediate and advanced students, but you might want to try simplified ones with lower level students as well.

To create one, take any passage that’s as close to 350 words in length as you can get. Leave the first and last sentences intact. Beginning with the second sentence, take out every fifth to ninth word and replace it with a blank. Make all your blanks equal in length. Only a single word is acceptable for each blank, and keep in mind that a contraction is a single word, too. If the blank falls where there’s a date, number, proper noun, or otherwise unreconstructible word, then the next word should be replaced by the blank instead. The words that are omitted should be words that your students already know.

By the way, it’s a more difficult exercise if every fifth word is omitted than if every ninth word is omitted. You’ll probably prefer to eliminate every seventh or ninth word, at least at the beginning.

As far as correcting cloze exercises that students have completed, there are two lines of thought on the subject. Some people insist that only the exact word that was eliminated should be accepted as the correct answer. Others, however, argue that any word that completes the idea appropriately should be accepted.

Just in case you’d like to know, here’s the thinking on the two methods of correction. Accepting any appropriate word while correcting a cloze seems only fair way to go with, at least on the surface. Why shouldn’t teachers accept any answer that works? Why should students be penalized for not being able to read the mind of the person who wrote the text? Well, here’s why:

1. Accepting any appropriate word makes it much harder to correct because the teacher needs to keep in mind the entire context while trying to focus on each answer. It’s also harder to correct when there are very large groups doing the activity.

2. Correcting in this way takes a lot more time.

3. Using this method is only slightly more statistically reliable, so you be the judge.

The Modified Cloze: This form of the cloze can be used with students at any level and, instead of dealing with whole language competence, a modified cloze zeroes in on one particular discrete point of language that you’ve chosen to concentrate on.

To create one, write your own sentences or passages and make sure they contain the discrete point you’ve chosen to work on. The length of the sentences or the whole passage depends on your knowledge of what your students can handle. If you’re dealing with prepositions or articles or the like, eliminate whatever words are being targeted and keep the blanks equal in length throughout. If you’re dealing with verbs, draw in each blank and write the verb to be used in parentheses before or after the blank. The students will quickly learn that they’re to use the verbs in parentheses to fill in the blanks.

And as for correcting this kind of cloze, you should apply the rule of thumb that any appropriate words or verb forms that work to complete the sentences are acceptable.

Grammar textbook series have incorporated cloze activities more and more over the years because they’ve proven to be so effective, but personalizing them yourself can prove much more meaningful to your students if you choose topics or even students in your classes that they can all relate to. And nothing makes a language activity more impressive or effective than one that’s meaningful to your students!

Another wonderful thing about cloze activities is that they offer some very good reading comprehension practice. Students really need to understand what they’re reading in order to fill in those blanks appropriately. So go ahead. Make up your own cloze procedures, and see what happens.

*Richard Firsten with Patricia Killian. The ELT Grammar Book: A Teacher-Friendly Reference Guide. Alta Book Center Publishers. 2002


Anonymous Ismael Tohari said...

Thanks a lot for this informative and interesting article! I love it!

I feel that such exercise helps students in problem-solving i.e they have more than one choice but they have to decide which is the best. In problem -solving exercises they come up with different solutions but at the the end they have to make up their minds and choose the most appropriate solution for the problem in place.

November 28, 2008 6:10 PM  
Anonymous Grammar Guy said...

Nice of you to write another comment, Ismael! : )

Yes, there's certainly an element of problem solving involved in cloze procedures, at least in finding, as you say, the most appropriate solution to make an idea coherent and logical.

I do hope you'll try to create some simple cloze activities at first, see how they go, and then perhaps develop more sophisticated ones. And, of course, if you go for a pure cloze procedure, choose something you feel your students will be able to handle.

Good luck with them, Ismael, and thanks again for commenting!

November 28, 2008 9:17 PM  
Anonymous saralucy ESL Teacher said...

Love the idea of "Grammar Guy" - grammar geeks unite! Thanks for the clear instructions on creating a cloze - I'd never thought about it properly and could definitely improve what I do for my students. Thanks!

December 1, 2008 6:33 PM  
Anonymous Grammar Guy said...

You're very welcome, SaraLucy. I'll be following up with something even more effective and interesting in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

I hope you'll surf through my previous pieces and find things that interest you.

Thanks for leaving your comments!

December 2, 2008 8:24 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home