Closing in on Cloze Passage

19 Dec 2016

The comprehension cloze section continues to baffle and frustrate many students. It is a test of not only the student's grammar and vocabulary but his comprehension skills as well. It requires students to merge their prior knowledge with the contextual clues and come up with the correct answer. Educational researcher Robert J. Marzano states, "Knowing what words mean and how they interconnect creates networks of knowledge that allow students to connect new information to previously learned information".

Students who have a limited vocabulary will struggle to score in close passages. Clearly, it is an uphill task for teachers to help such students score in this section.

Most of us have encouraged and modelled the use of the contextual clues to answer cloze passage blanks. However, it is often difficult for weak users of the English language to know how to use these clues effectively. Contextual clues have been defined by Harris and Hodges (1995) as a reading strategy used to determine the meaning of an unknown word by getting help from the words, phrases, sentences, or illustration surrounding it that offers direct or indirect suggestions about its meaning.

Research has proven that by highlighting to students the various types of contextual clues available, modelling the use of these clues as well as allowing students sufficient time to practise using them, their cloze passage scores can be improved significantly.

Let us explore the contextual clues that students need to know to best represent themselves in an exam situation. You may identify some of these clues that your students need to work on. This list of clues may not be exhaustive but it is certainly an excellent starting point.

  1. Synonym Clues

    My friend is very funny. He has a great sense of _____________.
    The word 'funny' acts as a synonym clue to the answer: humour 

    The ugly dwarf's face was _____________ to look at.
    The word 'ugly' is a synonym to the answer: hideous/scary/awful/revolting/horrid 

  2. Antonym Clues

    Katy became _____________ when she heard the news. Before that she was very depressed
    The word 'depressed' is an antonym clue that tells us the answer must be opposite in meaning: delighted/joyful/thrilled/ecstatic

    The twins have very different personalities. Jemima is timid whereas Yaeli is _____________.
    The highlighted phrase is an antonym clue to the answer: brave/bold/confident

  3. Explanation or Definition Clue

    The prisoner-of-war looked _____________, almost like a skeleton!
    The phrase 'like a skeleton' is an explanation or definition of the answer: emaciated

    Having access to clean water will _____________ the living conditions in the village. 
    The phrase 'Having access to clean water' is an explanation clue for the answer: improve

  4. Example Clue

    As she was gaining too much weight, her doctor told her to eat _____________ foods such as vegetables and fruits.
    The phrase 'vegetables and fruits' serves as examples for the answer: nutritious/healthy

    Only certain _____________ such as Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds that have a stable temperament are chosen to be guide dogs for the blind.
    The highlighted phrase serves as an example referent for the answer: breeds

  5. Collocation Clue

    Good sleeping _____________ are important for a good night's sleep.
    The highlighted phrase is a collocation clue for the answer: habits

    Once upon a time, there lived a young man. He led a happy _____________, except for one problem.
    The highlighted phrase is a collocation clue for the answer: life

  6. Pronoun Reference

    Because of _____________ large colony, army ants must migrate to find food.
    The words 'army ants' tell us that the large colony belongs to them and therefore it is the pronoun referent to the answer -- the possessive pronoun 'their' 

    Christopher Reeve acted as Superman in four movies. Unfortunately, _____________ was paralysed in a horse-riding accident.
    'Christopher Reeve' is the pronoun referent for the answer 'he'

The above information is contributed by Chitra Pillay, Adjunct Lecturer at Marshall Cavendish Institute



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