3 – The Cloze Algorithm

Cloze Gaps (Meaningful Input)
Cloze tests are generally considered a simple and reliable way to measure language proficiency. But cloze-type activities also employ the “generation effect” (Brown, et. Al., 2014). That is, when learners make the extra effort to generate the answer for the blank, they tend to have a better memory for the target word. For cloze listening activities, the cloze may also cause learners to more actively attend to the text.

When doing a cloze activity, teachers should remind students that they don’t need to fully hear the words to fill in the blanks. They can use context clues, such as grammatical or semantic hints to guess the correct answers.

For our mock class, after students finish the dictation gap with the John Wooden quotes, we will do a short cloze activity with a graded story about Coach Wooden, “A Coach for Life,” ReadOasis Step 2. The story has about 250 words, and there are 15 blanks. There are 4 questions about the story after the text, and there is one simple opinion question. Before listening, pairs answer a warm up question: “What sports do you like?”

After pairs answer this question, the teacher can ask pairs for a summary of their answers. This is a good communicative and meaningful opener before the teacher plays the audio and the students listen and fill in the blanks.

For our class of 10 students, we make 2 groups of 3, and 1 group of 4. In our ideal classroom, we have many mobile whiteboards. Each group gets a mobile whiteboard, and the groups write down their answers on the boards. When the groups finish writing down their answers, the teacher calls on groups to share their answers with the class.

After the blanks are done, students can write down any new words on their word cards. If the text is graded at the right level for students, students might meet 5-8 new words in this text of 250 words, ranging between 98%-96% vocabulary coverage. Since this activity is working in the meaningful input strand, that’s a good level of difficulty. If the activity were working in the language focus strand where intensive reading is the focus, then an outer limit of 90% coverage would be acceptable. After taking a few minutes to put new words on cards, the groups answer the questions at the end of the text. Then the teacher calls the class back together, checks then answers, and it’s done.

A Few Key Points about Cloze Activities
This activity may take about 20-30 minutes. The length is about right, not too long. The number of cloze items is only 15, a good number that doesn’t overdo the cloze principle. We see an appropriate number of follow up questions, and thus we avoid the problem of using too many questions, which takes away from the real communicative function of the text.

Traditional reading texts may have 1 page of reading and 5 pages of activities. This seems like overkill, and it causes us to forget the communicative purpose of the text. It seems better to spend more time on stories and meaningful input than doing boring activities after reading a text. That is, instead of doing 5 pages of activities, it seems better to do 5 stories!

When checking their answers, students may tend to use their native language. Though some teachers may accept this, it seems like a wasted opportunity. Rather, we can have students to “negotiate for meaning,” while using the target language. That is, students can learn interactive questions for checking cloze questions with each other. In some classes, we may need to remind students to use the English questions every time we do this activity

Interactive Questions for Cloze Activities

  1. (1) What did you get for number X? What’s #X?
  2. (2) Number X is WORD
  3. (3) How do you spell WORD?
  4. (4) Pardon me. Could you repeat that?
  5. (5) What does WORD mean?

Dr. Joseph Poulshock

Dr. Joseph Poulshock works as Professor of English Linguistics in the Faculty of International Communication at Senshu University.