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Completion Puzzles in the Language Classroom

I don’t mean to fool, frustrate or fuzzle—

But you are invited to complete this __________; 

You don’t have to applaud or even say thanks—  

Just pick up a pen and fill in the __________. 


The last time in this blog, I talked about Scrambles—puzzles in which pieces have to be put in order. Another very useful kind of puzzle for the language classroom is completion puzzles. Simply put, pieces of language are missing, and the students have to supply them. 


There is a common classroom activity that I’ll bet you never thought of as a puzzle: fill-in-the-blank exercises. This and crossword puzzles are two common examples of what I mean by completion puzzles. (Hopefully that makes sense now that I’ve given them this classification.) 


That being said, there may be a lot more that you can do with these activities than you have considered. I will talk about these things as they relate to fill-in-the-blank exercises, but most of what will be said can be applied to crossword puzzles as well. Read on! 


For a step-by-step guide to the nuts and bolts of making your own really nice-looking, creative crossword puzzles, see this page in the “For Teachers” section of my website. 


Fill-in-the-blank exercises are also sometimes called cloze exercises—or just clozes. (Cloze is such an uncommon word that my spellchecker doesn’t recognize it. But I like to use arcane jargon when I can—it makes me feel … special.) So if I say cloze, you know that I really mean fill-in-the-blank. And if I say fill-in-the-blank, you know that … Oh, you get it. 


Cloze exercises are versatile, easy to make, and easy to level for classes of varying English proficiency. The basics are probably obvious—and old hat—to most teachers. You will likely start by making a document on your computer of whatever text or passage you want to work with. 


Yesterday — All my troubles seemed so far away … 


From there it’s a simple matter of choosing which words to replace with blank underlines—most likely the words you want your students to be thinking about most deeply. 


Yesterday — All __________ troubles seemed so far __________ … 


And you’re done. There you have your fill-in-the-blank exercise. What more is there to say? 




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Giving your students the same kind of exercise too often can get old, no matter how well designed the exercise is. But using a variety of the ideas that follow will keep your fill-in-the-blank exercises fresh for your students! 


1. Instead of methodically blanking out carefully selected words, try this for fun: Take a printed copy of the text you want to use. Tape a few narrow strips of white paper randomly across the page. Now make copies of this. When you hand it out to your students you can apologize: “I’m so sorry! I made copies of the text I wanted to read with you, but the copy machine went crazy! Well, you can write in the parts that are missing.” The students will get the joke, and now that you have set a light mood, they can delve into the challenge starting with a smile. 


(A tip of the hat to Tim Murphey for this idea.) 


Murphey JPEG


2. Take a text that includes specific information. Blank out some of that information, and invite students to fill in the blanks with their own ideas—serious or silly. As long as their answers make semantic sense, it’s all good! 


_______________ National Park is in the country of _______________. The park has an abundance of wildlife, including _______________ and _______________. The highest mountain in the park is _______________ meters high, and _______________ grows in profusion on its slopes. 


After everyone has had time to let their imaginations run wild, have some of the students share their answers. Then present them with the original text. Their personal investment in the text will be super-charged, and their interest in the content of the passage will have soared. 


(A grateful bow to Ken Wilson for this idea.)


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LEVELING (tailoring the level of difficulty for your students)  


It’s easy-peasy to prepare several versions of the same text for a range of student levels.


1. Perhaps the most obvious thing you can do to make any given text harder or easier is by blanking out more or fewer words. 


Notice from the first glance how much less daunting this is: 

Yesterday — All __________ troubles seemed so far __________ … 

than this: 

__________ — All __________ troubles __________ so far __________ … 


2. Of course you can choose easier or harder words to blank out. For lower level students, blank out more common and more obvious words, since these will be easier to guess or divine. 


3. You can also make a cloze task easier by giving some of the letters of the words as hints:  


The four seasons are  s__________,  s__mm____,  a______mn  and  w____t__r. 


4. The lengths of the blanks can be uniform, or they can reflect how long the actual words are. Which of these would be an easier challenge for the sentence “I saw a monkey climbing a tree at the zoo”? 


I saw a monkey ____________ a tree ____________ the zoo. 


I saw a monkey ____________ a tree ___ the zoo. 


5. A word bank from which to draw answers greatly simplifies the students’ task. Even if a student can come up with the correct word for a blank on their own, seeing it in the word bank will confirm their answer. 


6. There may be times when you want to color-code your blanks. For example, giving blue underlines for nouns, red for verbs, etc. can bring attention to parts of speech. 


Or if the students are looking for rhyming words in a song or a poem, words that rhyme can be the same color: 


     Is it the way that he runs scared? — Or that he’s socially ________________?

     Or that he only likes to tinkle in the woods

     Are you holding back your fondness — Due to his unmanly ________________

     Or the way he covers up that he’s the honest ________________


For cloze exercises including this one, crossword puzzles and much, much more based on the movie Frozen, see the “Using Disney’s Frozen in the Classroom.” section of my website. 


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How do your students know what words to write in the blanks? Here are three possibilities. If you’ve been using just one, now is the time to try something new! 


1. Prior knowledge: The students draw on their own lexical and grammar knowledge. 


_____________ are the largest animals ___ the world, but __________, which live in the sea, _____ even bigger.  


2.  Dictation: The students fill in the blanks while listening to the teacher’s reading or an audio recording of the text. This is more of a listening exercise, but as long as the students understand the text, it can also be excellent input, especially as reinforcement of previously learned language. And now you can challenge your students with as many blanks as you want. 


Sometimes, if the passage isn’t too long, and there aren’t too many blanks, I have my students just listen to the entire passage, then challenge them to see how much they can remember and fill in as many blanks as they can after hearing it. Then I have them check their answers and fill in any they missed when I replay it. 


By the way, this is a great way to help your students get to know the lyrics of popular songs. (Think, “Let it Go.”)  


3. Images: Use images as rebuses to cue the target language. 

rebuses - screen shot


So there you go. That should keep you busy until next time.
And what is up next? Matching Puzzles. I love matching puzzles—and so do my students! 

See you then!

Alan Miesch

Alan Miesch

After years as a ‘professional dabbler’, Alan Miesch found himself drawn into teaching English to non-native English learners. He has experience in a wide range of milieus, both in the United States and Japan, teaching young children, teens, and adults. He is now the proprietor and sole teacher at a private English classroom in Numazu, Japan.
Alan Miesch

One Response to Completion Puzzles in the Language Classroom

  1. Timothy Andersen

    These exercises are great, Alan. It’s such a simple idea and yet you can customize it in so many ways to match all the various level students, as well as to make it new and interesting.

    “Leverage” is something I read about recently in respect to personal success and efficiency, and it’s been on my mind a lot these days. This is definitely something that has leverage in that by putting in only a little time and effort you gain a large amount of quality material that can hold you over for a long time. Thanks!!

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