Thoughts on Diagramming Gap Fills

Gap fill tasks are useful at certain stages of learning. They help by contextualizing the language, and if they are well designed they can also help with systematization of language such as verb forms.

The example below is from the workbook of Oxford’s 4th edition of English File.

Tense Gap Fill English File

This task is designed to help learners integrate their understanding of the Past Simple, Past Continuous, Past Perfect Simple and Continuous. As such it works quite well. It does not tell us anything about how they can use these forms themselves, and we should remember that.

We can though develop the utility of this task by adding a stage, and that is text diagramming.

Once the learners have done the task and you have checked it, or while you are checking it you can diagram the verb use of the text to reinforce the aim of the task – to help the learners understand how the verb forms are used to express different ideas and why we choose which form to use. This will reinforce the central verb use rules of ‘we use the simplest form necessary‘, and its corollary: ‘we have to have a specific reason to use anything other than the present or past simple‘.

The diagram for the text above could look like this:

Tense Gap Fill English File Diagram Video

Drawing such a diagram helps consolidate a number of points;

  • The Past Simple is the most common ‘past’ form.
  • The Past Continuous and Past Perfect are used for specific purposes

    The diagram could be drawn as a class with the students after the gap fill is checked, or as the gap fill is checked, or by the students themselves as they do the task. Of course, non-gap filled texts can also be diagrammed in the same way.