Common Core Standards: ELA
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L.9-10.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
- Use a semicolon (and perhaps a conjunctive adverb) to link two or more closely related independent clauses.
- Use a colon to introduce a list or quotation.
- Spell correctly.
By grades nine and ten, the rule that a capital letter begins a sentence and a punctuation mark ends a sentence are second nature, and students are generally ready to move on to more exciting punctuation frontiers: the colon and the semicolon.
Most students know how to find the colon and semicolon on a keyboard, since both marks are indispensable elements of emoticons like :) or ;) . They may, however, be less familiar with their uses in sentences. (A quick guide to memory: the semicolon is winking, but the colon is not.) This Common Core Standard asks students to use semicolons to link related sentences, with and without the help of conjunctive adverbs like “however,” “therefore,” or “subsequently.” Colons, meanwhile, introduce lists or quotations.
And, as always, this second core standard for language reminds students that, yes, spelling counts.
Sample Activities For Use in Class
Semicolons: They’re Not Just For Winking Anymore
Have students work independently or in pairs to create several complete, closely-related sentence pairs. For example:
Herman left his baseball mitt in his mother’s car.
He sat in the dugout for the entire game trying to blow the world’s biggest bubblegum bubble.
Dottie wanted to win the first-ever women’s Olympic ski-jumping medal.
She worked out seven days a week and practiced jumping every day but Sunday.
Once students have their sentence pairs, have students first connect each pair with a semicolon, like so:
Herman left his baseball mitt in his mother’s car; he sat in the dugout for the entire game trying to blow the world’s biggest bubblegum bubble.
Dottie wanted to win the first-ever women’s Olympic ski-jumping medal; she worked out seven days a week and practiced jumping every day but Sunday.
Have each student or group read one of their now-combined-with-a-semicolon sentences aloud or write it on the board. Discuss whether the semicolon is used correctly and, if not, what needs to change to make the semicolon correct. Remind students not to turn either sentence into a dependent clause. The semicolon joins two complete sentences, not a complete sentence to an incomplete one. (That’s what the comma is for.)
Once students have joined together their complete sentences and shared them with the class, have them practice adding conjunctive adverbs after the semicolon to make the relationship between the two sentences clearer. For example:
Herman left his baseball mitt in his mother’s car; consequently, he sat in the dugout for the entire game trying to blow the world’s biggest bubblegum bubble.
Dottie wanted to win the first-ever women’s Olympic ski-jumping medal; therefore, she worked out seven days a week and practiced jumping every day but Sunday.
Re-group and discuss as above. Try swapping out conjunctive adverbs to make more or less coherent sentences.
Introduction to Colons
The Common Core Standards suggest focusing on two primary colon uses: to introduce a list, or to introduce a quotation. Therefore, students should begin by creating lists. They can create them off the top of their heads, based on flashcards or objects drawn out of a bag, or in any manner you prefer. Have students arrange their lists into a sentence, with a colon to introduce the list. For example:
I went to the store to buy three things: cheese, lettuce, and a goat.
Jamie knows what it takes to succeed in college: dedication, perseverance, and a way to back up all your files.
The colon specifically introduces lists (or quotations) that begin immediately after an independent clause, also known as a “complete sentence.” Therefore, lists (or quotations) should follow clauses like the ones used above. Colons should not appear in sentences like “I went to the store to buy: cheese, lettuce, and a goat.”
Quiz 1 QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
Quiz 2 QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
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