About Cloze Texts

A cloze text is a type of reading exercise. It consists of a text from which a number of words have been removed and replaced with blank spaces. The task of students doing the exercise is to fill in the blank spaces with appropriate words.

In making a cloze text, words can be removed “mechanically” by taking out, say, every fifth or seventh one. The words to be removed could also be selected according to some grammatical category: all function words or all verb phrases could be removed for example. Mechanical removal may be the best method if a cloze text is to be used to test reading skills. Removal according to grammatical category may be best if the text is being used to supplement a grammar lesson. On the other hand, if the purpose is vocabulary development, new or difficult words can be removed.

If, as is often the case, no restrictions are placed on the words that can be put in the blank spaces, correction and discussion of the exercise can become problematic. If the only the exact words removed from the original text qualify as “correct” answers, then students whose “wrong” answers are, or seem to be, as good, semantically and grammatically, as the “right” answers will be confused and frustrated. As a result much of the pedagogical value of the exercise will be lost. If, on the other hand, all reasonable answers are counted as correct, then correction and explanation become time-consuming and tedious tasks. If a cloze text is used for purely diagnostic purposes this problem can be “solved” simply by not returning it, but in that case the text will have no pedagocial value. The best way to retain pedagogical value along with a fair and efficient mehod of correction and explanation is, it seems to me, to use a “multiple choice” style of cloze test in which the blanks must be filled with words chosen from an accompanying list.

Commonly, in on-line interactive exercises at any rate, a short list of choices is offered for each blank space. It seems to me preferable, however — especially when the main purpose of a cloze exercise is to develop vocabulary — to offer one long list of choices for an entire text. This method has at least two advantages: first the writer of the text avoids the difficulty of finding a list of choices all of which are plausible but only one of which is correct; second, the process of scanning a long list of words, thinking about what they mean, perhaps looking up some of them in a dictionary, and then deciding which one fits best in a particular blank space seems more conducive to vocabulary development than the process of looking at many short lists and making a choice that is often based on an almost automatic process of elimination.