How to teach FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze

Summary: Exam tips, self-study tips and stimulating classroom activities for the Cambridge First Certificate fill the gaps with one word task.

What students have to do in FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze tasks

After filling gaps with one of four choices in the Use of English Part One multiple choice cloze, in this part of the exam students have just over ten minutes to come up with their own ideas for one word to fit into each of the 12 gaps in a short text, with examples such as “The silverback gorilla is not generally thought ____ be aggressive, but there are examples of attacks”.

Contractions such as “can’t” are considered two words in FCE and so are never correct answers in this part of the exam. Students must put a word into every gap, even in the rare cases when the sentence would still be correct with just a blank. If students can think of two words that could go in a gap (e.g. both “though” and “although” seem to fit), they should only write one of them. As in all parts of the FCE exam, there are no half marks and any kind of mistake, including a spelling mistake, leads to no points for that question.  Students can write anything they like on the question sheet, having to make sure they transfer their answers to the separate answer sheet within the time limit.

What students should do to do well in FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze tasks

After they turn the page after finishing the Use of English Part One multiple choice cloze task, the first thing students should probably do is cross of the example gap (number zero) to make sure they don’t waste time guessing this one (something that is surprisingly easy to do!)

Context is less important in this task than in other Use of English tasks such as the word formation task in Part Three, as the gaps mostly have to be filled with grammar words like prepositions and auxiliary verbs and usually only word is possible in each gap. Nevertheless, it is still worth students reading through the whole text once for very general understanding before they start filling the gaps, for the few gaps that should be filled with words with more meaning like “must” and “not”, and to get in good habits for the rest of the test. There is also no reason not to read through the whole thing first, as most students have no problems with timing in this part of the FCE exam.

Students should then start filling in the gaps, perhaps starting with the easiest first. As with most of the Use of English paper, they should generally trust their feelings for the language and get used to filling gaps just from their sense of what sounds right. They should only change these answers that instinctively sound correct if they are absolutely sure that they have fallen into a trap, e.g. they suddenly remember a typical grammar mistake that they have committed. If students can think of two words that both seem okay in one gap, they should choose between them by which word they are most sure is the answer, which they are sure about the spelling of, which has a more general meaning and so is a safe bet, and/or which they have been taught is more common in the exam.

For any gaps that students have no instant ideas about, there are several stages that they can go through to work out or guess the answer. The first thing they should is underline the words that the word in gap needs to go together with, usually meaning just a few words directly before or after the gap. For example, if the sentence is “There is no need for the man to ______ given any help”, they only need to underline “to ______ given”. They should then think about what kind of word is missing from the gap, e.g. a verb in the “to ______ given” example. If they are having problems working out the part of speech which needs to go in the gap from the context, they should be able to run through a list of probable types so that they can guess what the missing word is most likely to be. The most common kinds of missing words are:

  • prepositions/ adverbs like “from” and “for”
  • linking words like “if” and “though”
  • determiners like “all” and “any”
  • auxiliary verbs like “had” and “would”
  • reference words like “this” and “it”
  • relative pronouns like “that” and “which”
  • question words like “which” and “when”
  • time expressions like “yet” and “last”

Almost all of those words are “grammar words”, with collocations with grammar words such as prepositions (e.g. putting “same” in the gap to go with “the” and “as”) being a much smaller second group. In the majority of cases only one word is an acceptable answer in a gap and there are very rarely more than two or three possibilities, so if students think they have come up with of lots of words that could go in one gap it might be a sign that they are on completely the wrong track.

If students know what kind of word it should be but can’t work out which one, they should again usually go with their first thoughts and what sounds right rather than thinking about it for too long. There are however some general tips you can give them on which of particular pairs of words are more likely to be correct when completely guessing, e.g. that “which” is probably a better guess that “that” because the latter is wrong in non-defining relative clauses.

If they still can’t think of a likely answer, they should just choose a word of the correct type at random, write it with a question mark on their question sheet, move onto the next question, transfer it with their other answers onto the answer sheet, and come back to it later if they have time.

If they have extra time when they have done the whole of the Use of English paper (including transferring their answers to the separate answer sheet), they should read through the text with the words that they have written in the gaps to make sure it makes sense and sounds right, again only changing their answers if they are absolutely certain about their new choice.

What students should do to prepare outside the classroom for FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze

Lots of reading is the best possible preparation to get the feel for the language used in Use of English, and that is even more so for the Part One and Part Two cloze tasks. As much as possible, this should be texts similar to those used in the exam, e.g. magazines rather than newspapers plus some (mainly high-level but graded) fiction. To make sure they notice and learn the right kind of language while they are reading, they could underline useful phrases and collocations in the same way as they probably already underline new words that they want to look up in a dictionary, copying these into a vocabulary notebook after every page, chapter or reading session.

Some grammar study can also be useful for Use of English Part Two. Words that students will need to know the difference between, studying them if they aren’t sure, include:

Prepositions/ Adverbs

  • at/ in
  • in/ into
  • as/ like
  • by/ until
  • ago/ before

Linking words

  • because/ so
  • although/ but
  • although/ despite


  • all/ every
  • few/ little
  • any/ some
  • a/ the
  • it’s/ its
  • another/ other
  • so/ such

Auxiliary verbs

  • will/ would
  • it/ this
  • them/ themselves
  • anything/ everything

Reference words

  • that/ which

Question words

  • what/ which

Time expressions

  • during/ while
  • during/ for
  • for/ since

There is also no substitute for loads of timed exam practice. After doing a paper and checking their answers, students should make sure that they understand why their wrong answers are incorrect (from a detailed answer key, by researching in a grammar book or on the internet, or by asking someone). They then probably need to memorise useful phrases or sentences, especially ones which they got wrong or only got right by guesswork. Luckily, this memorisation is especially easy with this task, as students can simply fill their vocabulary notepads with lists of phrases or sentences with blanks on the left hand side page and the missing words on the right, testing themselves on their memory of those missing words. They can also make up similar blanked example sentences for any other useful phrases they come across and want to memorise, e.g. when looking at writing model answers or studying grammar.

If students are having problems with choosing which language is likely to be worth learning from sources other than past papers, tips include only using an intermediate-level monolingual dictionary (possible to spot by their medium thickness) and/ or to get a specific FCE grammar book.

Classroom activities for FCE Use of English Part One open cloze

The most important thing in the classroom is to always do exam practice properly, including forcing students to quickly read through text first with pens down and doing all tasks timed. Although students comparing answers in pairs before looking at the key can be useful, I’d never actually do these tasks in pairs, because it will teach students to doubt those instinctive feelings for the language. When checking their answers, students should be strongly encouraged to ask why their own wrong answers aren’t possible in the gaps.

Easy ways to start tackling Use of English Part Two open cloze

The best way of making this task manageable when students first come across it is to give them a version that has been reduced down to one language point such as determiners, preferably a language point which have just studied in another way. It’s best to make what they have to fill in the gaps of just one single text (as in the exam) if possible, but using several long gapped sentences is also okay.

Another way of having a really easy start is to give students a text that they have just seen in full, e.g. a writing model answer or reading text, but this time with gaps in it. This can be combined with the idea above of testing just one language point such as prepositions.

After getting students to do an exam task, it can be useful to give them mixed up answers to check their answers with and put into the gaps that they weren’t sure about. This can also be a good way of introducing words which are often the answers in the exam, by giving them a fuller list of words to choose and check their answers from, for example all the answers from the answer key of one or two exam practice books.

An even easier start, but one which is also useful practice, is to give them a whole text with all the correct answers in and simply get them to underline the words around the gap that make that word necessary, maybe also identifying the parts of speech of both the underlined words and the word in the gap. For example, if one sentence is “We are worried ____ the local environment” they can underline just “worried” and the gap, and maybe write “adjective” and “preposition” above that line.

A slightly more challenging starter task is to give them a text with wrong answers in all the gaps, asking them to correct the answers and then discuss why those answers are not possible. If you want this to still be an easy start, make sure most of the wrong answers are fairly obvious mistakes.

FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze games

Students challenging each other

Students setting tasks for each other is a great way of getting them to really analyse the task that they will have to go through in the exam.  One approach is to give them a complete short text and get them to make exam tasks from it, e.g. give them an exam text with answers written out again with no gaps as a Word document on laptops. They work in twos or threes to try to create tasks by finding words that can’t be replaced by anything else and taking them out to make 12 gaps. They pass the tasks that they have made onto other groups, who get one point for any correct word that they can find. The team who created the task loses one point if any other team finds two or more words that could fit in one of the gaps that they made.

The opposite way of approaching tasks where students challenge each other is to give them the words that should go in the gaps so that they can create sentences around them to test other teams with, making sure each gap can only be filled by that one word. You can give them phrases that they should make sentences out of (e.g. “have a good time”, maybe taken from real exam tasks), they can be given the first and last words of the sentence that they should write (“I _________________on ___________ own”), or they can be given just the single words to go in the gaps (“a”) and be left to entirely come up with their own ideas of example sentences to test the other teams with.

FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze card games

If you are going to give them just single words from gaps in exam tasks, this can be turned into card games. One card game is a version of setting each other exam-style questions as explained above. Make a pack of cards with different words on each of the cards, with one pack per group of three or four students. Students deal out all the cards and then take turns making a gapped sentence with the word from one of their cards missing from it. If at least one of their partners gets the answer wrong and their partners then agree that the word on their card was in fact the only possible correct answer in that gap, they can discard that card and get one point.

Perhaps as a continuation if they get stuck with that quite tricky setting each other questions game, students can also just try to create sentences where the word on one of their cards is the only possible one in the gap. They lay one of their cards face up on the table and tell their partners their example sentence with it, and if they all agree that it is correct and that it is the only word that fits, they can leave it there and score a point. To make this last game possible with all common Use of English Part Two words, some cards will actually have to have two or more expressions that basically mean the same thing (e.g. “nevertheless” and “nonetheless”) on them.

FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze races

Coming up with example sentences can also be done as a team race. The teacher shouts out a word that comes from a real gap in an exam task and teams rush to come up with and shout out a sentence where only that word fits the gap, for example shouting out “The bread rolls are beep/ blank/ lalala produced as we speak” if the teacher gives them the word “being”. If no other team challenges them on the accuracy of that sentence or whether only that word fits the gap, the first team to shout out a sentence scores one point. The teacher can then comment on that sentence (without that affecting the score), or all teacher comments can be left until the end of the game.

If another team makes an accusation of the sentence being wrong or having more than one possible answer in the gap,  the challenger gets a point if the accusation is correct and the other teams continue racing to come up with a correct sentence. If the challenge is incorrect (either because the sentence is perfect or because the sentence is wrong in a different way to what they allege), then the group who came up with the sentence gets an additional point. For the “only one word possible in the gap” part of this game to work, you may have to shout out pairs of words which are almost the same like “though and although”, or you can stick to words which have a more unique role like “be”.

A similar game can also be played with groups coming up with as many correct example sentences as they can within a time limit (e.g. three minutes). Their sentences are then passed to another group, who can cross off any sentences which are not correct or in which other words could go into the gap, with perhaps points for accusations as explained above.

To make it more challenging and more like real exam questions, you can give students the first and last words of the sentences that they should make as well as the word that should go in the gap, e.g. “We ____________ being ____________ place”.

Students can also be asked to come up with example sentences that illustrate a particular use of a word, e.g. “at” just for points in time or space.

FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze disappearing text games

Give students three or four sentences from an exam text with the gaps filled and the text rewritten so that they can’t see where the gaps used to be. The text can be put up on the board, in a table on a worksheet with one word in each box, or on laptops as a Word document. The text will be made to disappear one word at a time with use of the eraser, scraps of paper placed on top of each word, or the delete button on their computers. This game can also sometimes work with just a printed text and a very heavy black marker pen or Tippex pen.

In the easiest game, students just delete the text one word at a time, trying to remember the whole text, including the deleted words, each time. The extract that they remember will obviously need to be shorter than a whole exam text, but if you want to then go on to give them the real text it may as well be the whole thing, making the bit they (probably) remember an easy start to a more realistic exam task.

There is also a more challenging version of this game, one which also teaches more about the exam. Students are only allowed to delete words to make gaps if they can find somewhere in the text in which no other words could go. For example, if one sentence in their text is “The sunlight shining through the window hits you like a slap in the face”, they can delete “like” but not “face”. They can be asked to remember the whole text each time as suggested above, or the whole challenge can be just finding words which can be deleted for points. You can also have points for challenging people for deleting the wrong words (with points off for bad accusations). If you aren’t including the memorising bit, you can use an entire exam text (rewritten with the words in the gaps left in the same as the rest of the text) rather than just a few sentences.  

FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze longer and longer examples game

Put students into pairs and give them different exam texts or example sentences. They should take turns reading out words around the gap, starting at just one word and making what they read out longer and longer one word at a time until their partner gets the right answer. For example, if the sentence is “I need it back _____________ Friday at the latest” they can read out to their partner “blank Friday”, “back blank Friday”, then “it back blank Friday”, etc. To make them think more carefully about what kinds of words are useful to work out what goes in the gaps, you can ask them to give their partner the most useful words first, giving them points for their partner getting the answer quickly. Alternatively, you can ask them to give the least useful words first, giving one point for each time their partner guesses wrongly. 

FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze hangman games

These games are kind of the opposite of the others in this article, as this time the job of students is to guess what goes around the gap rather than what goes in the gap. As there are almost infinitive numbers of sentences that could go around a typical word for a gap such as “it”, it’s obviously necessary to turn this into a game, and the most suitable games are both based on the old spelling game Hangman.

In the game that is most similar to the original Hangman spelling game, give students the whole of or part of an example sentence blanked out letter by letter and with just the word from the original gap written in the middle, e.g. “_ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _    just  _ _    _ _ _ _” for the exam phrase “we arrived ______ in time”.  Students try to guess the phrase or sentence letter by letter. You can take points off for wrong guesses as in the original Hangman game, or you can give points for right guesses and put in clues when they guess wrongly. With the latter approach, you can also get them to guess specific letters in specific gaps rather than just shouting out random parts of the alphabet. The clues when they guess wrongly both keep scoring in the game meaningful (as that leaves fewer points that they can get by the end of the game) and stops them getting stuck.

With the giving points for correct guesses version, you can also get students guessing whole words to fill in a text with one gap for each word rather than each letter (“_______ ___________ just ______ _______”). Again, you can get students to guess particular gaps or just let them shout out words that they think must be in there somewhere. This version can also be played with an entire exam text, meaning just twelve words are given and the rest of the text is blank, making it kind of like the opposite of the disappearing text games mentioned above.

FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze many chances to guess games

Give put Student A and Student B worksheets listed by missing word and with at least three examples for each word, e.g. “I need to buy ____ least ten”, “Why don’t we meet ____ 10 o’clock?” and “What time will you arrive ____ the station?” for “at”. Students take turns reading out examples one by one (saying something like “blank”, “beep”, “tralala” or “dot dot dot” to represent the gaps) until their partner gets the right answer, with only one guess allowed per clue. If the student who is speaking runs out of examples before their partners get the right missing word, they should make up their own blanked example sentences to help them.

The examples that you put on the worksheets should obviously be things that students might need to several guesses to get right, such as prepositions and determiners. The example sentences can also be ones which are suitable for other parts of the exam such as comparing and speculating phrases for Speaking Part Two.

As students usually end up needing to make a few example sentences for each other in this game, this can be used as a lead-in to the challenging each other games explained above.

More challenging practice of FCE Use of English Part Two

Although it obviously isn’t a priority with students who are struggling and/ or lack confidence, it can be worthwhile to push the task above the actual level of what they are asked to do in the exam in order to teach things that they can then take back to the exam tasks. For example, many of the tasks below force students to try to make sense of the text as well, in a way that is sometimes necessary in exam tasks. Doing something even more difficult also makes the real exam cloze seem like a nice easy task when they go back to it!

One way of making the exam open cloze tasks more challenging is to give a text with no gaps, e.g. a real exam task typed out so that the words are missing but there is no space between the words before and after (rather than with numbered gaps as in the exam).  Students read through the text to find places where there seem to be words missing, trying to identify first the place where words need to go and then the missing words.

Something similar can be done with wrong words rather than missing words where the gaps would be. A fairly easy version of this is to mix up the correct answers (i.e. put the right answers in the wrong gaps) and type up the text so that it looks like one continuous text. Students must then identify which words don’t fit the text in the places they are, then swap all the words around. This can be made easier by getting them to just swap pairs of words over, so that they know if they think that the word “at” should go where “being” is, then “being” must go where they have just taken “at” from.

For the ultimate challenging task, the gaps can be filled with common wrong answers, e.g. putting “the same than” into the text. As in the variations above, the teacher then needs to type up the text so that it just looks like one continuous text like those in the reading paper. Students must identify wrong words and replace them with the right answers.

Finally, you could keep the gapped format of the exam but simply make a more challenging task, e.g. one designed to elicit loads of common errors. As should be the case in any task you create, try to ensure that the kinds of words which they need to put in the gaps are similar to those in the actual exam (e.g. the right proportion of auxiliary verbs), as this will help students practise choosing the right kinds of words to guess with when they have no idea.  If you find it too difficult to create a whole single text to introduce all the points that you want to cover, try to still make a few examples that could be wrong due to meaning as well as because of grammar.

This idea of tasks with more challenging gaps can also be combined with the putting wrong answers in idea that is suggested in the easy start section near the beginning of this article, this time making sure most or all of the gaps are filled with words which students have problems telling the difference between like “at” and “in”.

Other uses of FCE Use of English Part Two open cloze

Open cloze is a great way of presenting and practising grammar and useful phrases for the speaking and writing papers, for example giving students thirty gapped phrases which are useful for FCE informal emails or fifteen useful sentences in the passive voice to fill in. To make this good Use of English practice at the same time, you should try to limit the gaps mainly to grammar words that are likely to be in gaps in the exam open cloze tasks, such as “that” and “when”.

After doing the cloze tasks, it’s probably best if you then test students on their memory and understanding of those example sentences in some other way. For example, you can give students just the words from the gaps and a description of the kind of sentence they should produce, getting them to remember or come up with their own ideas for example sentences using them, then looking back at the original sentences to compare.

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Written by Alex Case for

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