Cloze Encounters: 10 Clever Cloze Activities for the ESL Classroom

Ready to cloze the gap?

As seasoned EFL teachers know, when well-thought out, a cloze activity is not only worthwhile for learners, but can also be quite fun!

At its very worst, a cloze activity is a humdrum gap-fill worksheet, sometimes used as a filler when the teacher is out of ideas for ESL activities. A poorly planned cloze can indeed be a waste of a learner’s time.

That’s why gaps should always be selected with a specific learning aim in mind.

With a simple tweak here or there they can become a teacher’s go-to resource for comprehension exercises.

10 Clever Cloze Activities for Any English Classroom

For a fun, digital version of a cloze activity that uses authentic language, check out FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

1. Zero Prep Coursebook Cloze

We teachers often complain that our schools force poor quality textbooks on us that bore our students and stifle our creativity. What if I told you that with just a little bottle of correction fluid there’s a way to keep your Director of Studies happy and inject some fun into the dull coursebook?

The next time you have to use a text from your coursebook, make a photocopy of it first. This is where your correction fluid comes in. Select the words you want focus on, and go crazy removing them from the printed copies! Remember to only gap out words of a certain type with a specific aim in mind (for example, verbs in the past participle) and draw lines under the missing words so it’s easy for your students to see what they’re expected to do.

Then, provide your students with the word bank in whatever way you’d like. You could write it on the board, shout a new word every 30 seconds or simply give them a list. While this isn’t the most exciting cloze activity, it sure beats reading the text out of the book, unadapted.

2. Running Dictation

A favorite of students young and old, the running dictation exercise can be used in nearly every lesson without your students tiring of it. All you need is a gap-fill worksheet. It could be a worksheet you have got from a site like Busy Teacher, or one you’ve created yourself with a reading from the textbook. What makes this activity fun is the element of competition.

First, post the intact text on a distant wall, or even outside the classroom. Then, give each pair of students one gapped worksheet. Designate one student the writer and the other the runner. The runner must do exactly that—run to the complete text, read it silently and run back to dictate to his or her partner the words to fill the gaps with.

After a minute or so, get the students to switch roles and keep them switching every minute or two throughout the activity. The value of this exercise is that it integrates all four language skills. Reading, listening, speaking and writing all take place in the same exercise.

Remember: Proper setup and modeling are vital to this activity, and if you’re working with children or teenagers, strong classroom management skills are also a must, as the noise level can get quickly out of hand if you aren’t careful.

One last tip for a successful running dictation: No matter the age or level of the students, review the alphabet (especially tricky vowels) beforehand so that the runner can feel confident spelling out unknown vocabulary to their partner.

3. Words Around the World

Another pair work activity, this one should actually be called “words around the classroom” if you want to get technical. Give pairs a few minutes with a worksheet to complete the gaps as best as they can without a word bank. While they’re working, tape tiny bits of paper with the answers around the room. Each piece of paper should have only one answer written on it.

After a reasonable effort, allow the pairs to circulate about the classroom searching for the words and to continue completing their gap-fill. Finally, when your students have done their best, elicit and board all of the words that they found around the room to make sure that all students have the same complete word bank. Finally, give them a final few minutes to finish before checking answers.

4. Karaoke Cloze 

All students love music lessons, and cloze activities can work with any type of text, including song lyrics! A few things I’ve learned about created gap-fills for a song lesson are the following:

  • The lesson always goes better when you choose the song based on what your students want to listen to. Does this mean a lot of pop princesses and boy bands? Well…yes. But it also means the students are engaged in the lesson. I like to let my students pick the artist the week before, and then I choose a suitable song.
  • Don’t do the work if it’s already been done for you! There are lots of resources online for finding song worksheets. There are even websites like Lyrics Training that let the students type what they hear.
  • A song lesson can be used for more than one aim. You can learn the vocabulary of course, but you can also analyze the grammar, correct the spelling, dictate or rewrite the entire song!

5. Disappearing Words

Is this really a cloze activity? Well, some might disagree since the students start with the intact text and finish with the gaps, but it’s a good activity, so here we go!

First, board the full text that you want the students to read. This works best on an old-fashioned chalkboard or whiteboard. The text shouldn’t be too long, perhaps only 100 words.

Next, the students should form a line or a circle. The first student reads the first line, the second reads the second line and so on until they reach the end of the text. Then, erase the first word and ask the students if they remember what it was. They will. Erase the last word. Again, they’ll remember it.

The students should now read the entire text again, student by student, line by line, as if there were no words missing. When finished, erase a few more random words, and continue. You get the picture, right?

Keep erasing words. By the end, when there’s just a blank whiteboard, your students will be in hysterics, but they’ll have the text nearly memorized. Now you can ask them to write it down and do any comprehension tasks you like.

6. Info Gap Cloze

This is another pair activity and probably one of the most beneficial cloze activities for your students. An info gap will keep them occupied, interested and mentally engaged while challenging them on all four language skills. The key to this activity is that each student has a different version of the text with different words gapped out. They have to work together to complete their own texts. It’s great for practicing question formation!

For example:

Jack has this sentence : The________opened in 1889.

While Jen has this one: The Eiffel Tower opened in________.

Jack could ask: “What opened in 1889?”

Jen now has the answer to her gap, and she also provides the answer for Jack’s gap.

7. Word Grab

This activity is great for listening comprehension. Give each student one worksheet to complete individually. Provide pairs with only one word bank on slips of paper, one word to one slip. The students should then spread the set of words out in front of them. They aren’t allowed to touch the words.

Next, the teacher reads the text at a reasonable pace. When you reach the end of a gap, stop. The student then have to race their partner to grab the word that you just read. Those who are truly comprehending the text will be fastest, because they’ll be guessing from context which word is going to be next. The student who grabs the word first can keep it. Both students should write the word into the gap in their worksheet. The student with the most slips of paper at the end of the activity wins!

For an added fun factor, have the students use chopsticks (or pencils held like chopsticks) to grab the words!

8. Stop!

This is another activity that practices listening comprehension.

First, give your students the gap-fill. Then, begin to read the text. When you reach a gap, say either the correct word or a word that makes no sense in the context. If students believe the word is correct, they should write it in. However, if you read something like, “I really enjoy swimming in the grass,” then they should stop you. Whether they stop you with shouts, a stamping foot, a hand-held stop sign or by ringing a bell is up to you.

9. Board Race

This is a competitive way of checking answers after students have completed a simple cloze worksheet and you fear that their energy level has fallen to a dangerous low.

Each pair completes the cloze first. Next, the teacher reads off “Question number…..7!” Students race to the board to scribble their answer to number 7. Elicit the answers out of order so the students are kept on their toes. Students or pairs with a correct answer get a point. A possible extra point goes the student who writes the correct answer fastest. Gamification at its finest.

10. Mad Libs

A childhood road trip favorite turned into an ESL activity? Definitely!

Take any text, select the words you want to work on, gap them out and then get the students to complete a “Mad Libs” style worksheet. After completing their worksheet, give them the gap-fill and have them transfer their answers into the text. Ask your students to read their texts aloud to each other and watch as hilarity ensues. Finally, give the real version of the text out. Extra points can go to any groups who actually guessed some of the words correctly!

Cloze activities are often thought of as an uncreative source of busywork. But, as you can see, they don’t have to be!

No matter which of these activities you try, remember that the most important thing is to carefully select the gaps according to the aim of your lesson. Try them all and see which work best with your particular class.

You’re sure to find a few that will become your students’ new favorites.

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