The colon (:) is a sophisticated punctuation device, which is used to introduce information. Most commonly colons are used before a list or further explanation.


Explicit teaching

It is important to clarify when a colon can be used. Two helpful rules include:

  • replacing the colon with “that is” as a test to see if the colon is needed. If the sentence’s meaning is clear then the colon use is correct.
  • when using the colon to list using the phrase “the following” or a similar phrase helps to prepare the reader for the listing ideas.

General strategies

For students to gain a better understanding of when and how to use hyphens in their writing, they need to be exposed to the use in a genuine context, specific to your KLA. This can be achieved by identifying examples of this punctuation in your current class texts, then discussing the impact it has on the writing. Where possible, provide students with an opportunity to practice using this in their writing.

For more targeted punctuation lessons the following strategies may be used: investigation groups where students complete inquiry based tasks to discover meaning; creating story boards or scripts to incorporate content and punctuation skills; punctuation corrections/editing; or graphic organisers such as the frayer model (PDF 65.19KB) to show characteristics of the punctuation.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: in your lesson(s)

With a text you are using in class, have students identify when a colon has been used. Discuss why they have used a semicolon and then see if the students can write a similar sentence.

An example from the text might be:

'There are a number of factors that can contribute to erosion including: rainfall, wind and human impact'. The student could then write: 'Human impact on erosion is often the result of poor land management including: deforestation, infrastructure and over-grazing animals'.

Activity 2: punctuation experts

Students, in groups of 5, are given a punctuation device to become the ‘expert’ of. They are broken into the ‘expert’ groups and are required to come up with a resource pack to teach their original group. Within this pack they are to cover: definition, rule, examples and non-examples, and a short practice activity.

Note: clear guidelines need to be set for the group work and roll cards might need to be implemented. Strict timelines need to be expressed and adhered to.

Punctuation devices: semicolon, colon, dashes, commas, hyphens.


Australian curriculum

ACELA1544: Text structure and organisation: Understand the use of punctuation conventions, including colons, semicolons, dashes and brackets in formal and informal texts.

NSW syllabus

EN4-3B: Outcome 3: uses and describes language forms, features and structures of texts appropriate to a range of purposes, audiences and contexts  (EN4-3B) - Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features: understand the use of punctuation conventions, including colons, semicolons, dashes and brackets in formal and informal texts

NSW literacy continuum

WRIC14M9: Aspects of writing, Cluster 14, Marker 9: Uses a range of complex punctuation to support clarity and precision of meaning.

Teacher resources

Student resources

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