Introduction: Young writers can use the colon after a statement that introduces a quotation, an explanation, an example, or a series. When writing reports and nonfiction pieces, student writers can use the colon as a way to organize information in lists as well as to emphasize important information. Teaching writers how to use this useful tool is time well spent. Of course, the colon can be helpful punctuation in any type of writing.
HOOK: To begin the lesson, choose some mentor text sentences that use the colon.
*Colon used to introduce a series:
“He had all sorts of clients: husbands and wives who wanted a divorce; people arguing about money or property rights; farmers quarreling over who owned a certain hog or horse.”
Alan Schroeder, Abe Lincoln: His Wit and Wisdom From A-Z.
(This use of the colon is sometimes difficult for young writers to master since they want to place the colon immediately after the verb. “My favorite subjects are: math, science, and Latin.” for example, is incorrect “My favorite subjects are challenging: math, science, and Latin.” is correct. The words before the colon must be able to stand alone.)
*Colon used to introduce an explanation:
“Dew is not precipitation: it does not fall down from clouds but forms directly on cool surfaces, such as a spider web in the early morning.”
Seymour Simon, Weather.
*Colon used to introduce a quotation:
“Finally, they said: ‘You should have your own art show. A one-man exhibition, right here in West Chester.’”
Jen Bryant: A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
*Colon used for emphasis:
After three days of deliberation, the jury returned the verdict: GUILTY!
From Diane’s notebook
PURPOSE: Writers, today we’re going to look at a useful mark of punctuation – the colon. We use colons mainly to help readers recognize that they are going to see important information: an explanation, a quotation, or a list. We’re going to practice using the colon to help us add details to our writing in a new way.
BRAINSTORM: In this case the brainstorming is tied closely to the hook. Post the example sentences on an anchor chart, and ask the class to add to the examples by examining mentor texts and/or classroom text books that use the colon. List the reason for the colon use in each example sentence: lists/series, explanation, quotation, emphasis, or example. Be prepared to discover that students may find other uses of the colon than the ones listed above (separating titles from subtitles, for instance). List these as well on the anchor chart, explaining that for the purpose of this lesson we will be saving these other uses for another time.
MODEL: Compose several sentences in front of the students using the colon to show emphasis, introduce a list/series, a quotation or an example.
I brought the following dishes to the picnic: potato salad, fruit compote, tortilla chips, and dips. (list/series)
He got what he worked for: he really earned that award. (explanation)
I live by the rule: “Treat others as you would be treated.” (quotation)
I have only one word for you, my dear: study! (emphasis)
The hurricane was very destructive: 300 families lost their homes. (example)
Students work with partners to use mentor texts as models for writing sentences with colons. Encourage them to write sentences that demonstrate the use of the colon in two different ways. Share student sentences whole group. Add to the anchor chart.
INDEPENDENT PRACTICE: Ask students to return to their writer’s notebook or a current draft to see if there are places where they can use a colon to signal important information to come. If they have no draft that works, ask them to try it out by writing a short piece in their writer’s notebook.
REFLECTION: After students have practiced the use of the colon ask them to reflect on one or more of the following questions:
How did the use of the colon make your writing better and/or easier to understand?
How could you use a colon in a narrative? An opinion piece? A poem?
What do you now know about using colons?
When is it most useful for you to use a colon?
Diane Esolen Dougherty and Lynne Dorfman
are the co-authors of Grammar Matters: Lessons,
Tips, & Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6.,
published by Stenhouse.
Look for a new Your Turn Lesson on grammar
and conventions the last Friday of each month.