Author: British Council | Published on 2 January 2023


Stage 1: Present examples

Write these sentences on the board with the underlined part and ask: “What do you notice about the underlined (bold) part of the sentences?”

a. To make this dish you need the following ingredients: potatoes, peas, corn, butter, salt and pepper.

b. She said: “Wait here.”

c. At last, he told us what was wrong: he was tired.

To help learners:

  • ask focussed questions (e.g. What can you see in each sentence? What can you see in sentence a? What does the second part of sentence c do?) Use L1 if necessary.  

Next, write these sentences on the board and ask: “What do you notice about the underlined part of the sentences?”

d. Florence likes science; her sister prefers maths.

e. Kima had a big meal; however, he is already hungry again.

To help learners:

  • ask focused questions (e.g. What can you see in each sentence? Can you make two separate sentences in each example?) Use L1 if necessary.   

Stage 2: Take feedback

Ask learners to share their feedback on what they noticed in the examples. Some key points you might want to share with them include:

We use a colon:

  • to introduce a list (1a).
  • before someone speaks (1b).
  • to break the second half of a sentence when it explains or expands the first half (1c).

We use a semi-colon:

  • when both parts of the sentence are equal (1d).
  • to replace a full stop before words like ‘however’, ‘therefore’, ‘nevertheless’ etc (1e).
  • When we speak, we pause when we have a semi-colon or colon. Traditionally, we count to 1 for a comma, 2 for a semi-colon, 3 for a colon and 4 for a full stop.

Stage 3: Use the grammar

a. Colon or semi-colon?

Write the following sentences on the board but without the colon or semi-colon. Ask your learners to decide where to put a colon or semi-colon.

  1. People who have to wear a uniform for work include: policemen, firefighters, nurses and soldiers. 
  2. Rejoice didn’t get enough sleep; therefore, she was very tired.
  3. The teacher said: “Don’t forget to do your homework.”
  4. Babou enjoys watching TV; his brother prefers reading.
  5. Finally, we knew what had happened: he had missed the bus. 

b. Is it correct?

Write up some sentences with colons and semi-colons. Some are correct and some are wrong. Say: “Which of the sentences are right and which are wrong? Correct the ones that are wrong.”

  1. We knew who would win the game: the Chiefs.
  2. He visited three cities; Abuja, Ibadan and Lagos.
  3. She made too many mistakes; she failed the test.
  4. Let’s go to the library: there are some books I’d like to borrow.
  5. My mother bought a few items at the market; a chicken, some onions, okra and a lemon. 


Comma: the punctuation mark , which is used to separate parts of a sentence or items

Expand: to express at length or in greater detail

Full stop: a punctuation mark used at the end of a sentence

See also