Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Power Up: English ACT Prep, Week 3

Patricia McDaniels-Gomez, Michell Eike, Kelsey Willems | Published: October 24th, 2023 by K20 Center


In this English ACT prep activity, students focus on punctuation conventions. First, students identify "grammar fails" with some poor grammar depicted in real-world examples. Then, students review eight of the most prevalent punctuation standards through a "What Do You Meme?" and Padlet activity. Then, students apply their understanding by reading a passage and answering questions. This is the third activity in a 10-week "Power Up" series for ACT prep.

Essential Question

  • How can I increase my ACT score?

Learning Objectives

  • Apply proper use of apostrophes, commas, colons, and semicolons in real-world scenarios.

  • Identify when these rules are broken.

Materials List

  • Activity Slides (attached) 

  • Skill Sets Check handout (attached, 1 per student)

  • What Do You Meme handout (optional; attached, 1 per student)

  • Anita Garibaldi Passage handout (attached, 1 per student)

  • Goal Setting Handout (from Week 1)

  • Pen and paper


5 Minute(s)

Use the attached Activity Slides to facilitate the activity. 

As students enter the classroom, display slide 3 and use the Bell Ringer strategy to begin.

Have students find a partner or assign partners and direct them to get out a piece of paper. Ask students to discuss and then write down the “grammar fails” about the real-world examples on the following slides.

Show slide 4. Give students time to write down their observations, then ask for a volunteer to share the grammar fail about each image. Ensure students notice that in example 1 the commas are missing from the list. It should read, “Rachael Ray finds inspiration in cooking, her family, and her dog.” In example 2, a comma is needed to reduce ambiguity and should read, “Unable to eat, Diarrhea.” Be sure students correctly identify the missing commas before moving to the next slide.

Repeat this for slide 5, emphasizing the error for each example:

  • Example 3: This is a misuse of a possessive apostrophe. “Signs” should be plural, not possessive.

  • Example 4: This is missing the introductory comma after “man.”

Transition through slides 6-7 to introduce students to the lesson’s essential question and learning objectives to the extent you feel necessary.

Show slide 8 and emphasize to students that punctuation, the topic of today’s activity, makes up one of the largest percentages of questions on the English portion of the ACT.


15 Minute(s)

Pass out a copy of the attached Skill Sets Check handout to every student and have them try to correct the non-example sentences on the chart by making marks on the sample sentences. For example, they can draw a line through the comma for the sentence: “Randy likes, cake.” Explain that the blank column will be used in the next phase of the activity where they will create more sentences that break the punctuation rules. As students work through marking the sentences, go through slides 9-11 to show students how to correct the sentences. Students will be exploring each rule in more depth later on so just take 1-2 minutes for this activity.  

Transition to slide 12 and introduce the What Do You Meme? strategy. Preview the activity by explaining to students that they will work independently to create a meme that breaks their assigned rule from their handout, then they will post their meme in Padlet. Lastly, they will write non-examples of each rule in the space provided on their handout. Then they will correct as they did before with the provided sample sentences. Tell students they will choose one of the meme templates provided, as shown on slide 12. Explain that Template 1 should be written as a compare/contrast scenario, and Template 2 can be more of an example sentence.

Display slide 13. Next, assign students a punctuation rule from the handout by numbering them off 1-7. For example, have the first student create a meme with extra commas. The next student would create a meme for the second rule: items in a series. Direct them to select a template and go to the corresponding link on the slide, both from, to generate their own original meme. Give them time to create their own memes and rationale (the text illustrating how the rule is broken).

Move to slide 14 to provide steps for how to get their meme from imgflip to Padlet. Transition to slide 15 after all students have accessed Padlet. Direct students to follow the directions on the slide and upload their meme to Padlet, add their class period where it says “subject,” and write their rationale for how they broke their rule in the “caption.” Using the Padlet that you created, show them the different columns and explain that each column represents one of the rules they were assigned. Ask students to move their uploaded meme to the correct column.

Display slide 16 and remind students to add their non-example sentence to their Skill Sets Check handout in the “examples” column next to their assigned rule and then have them fix the non-example by marking out or adding the correct punctuation as needed. As a class, review a few of the students’ memes using Padlet and have those students explain the rule, how it was broken, and what it should be. Based on available class time, determine how many volunteers should share their examples.


15 Minute(s)

Next, move to slide 17 and review the ACT English test-taking tip provided. Explain that they should read the adapted instructions now to become familiar with the directions. Encourage students to ask questions about the instructions now so that on test day they will not waste time reading directions.

Pass out the attached Anita Garibaldi Passage handout and instruct students to read the passage independently and answer the questions. Give students approximately nine minutes to complete this task. This timing will support pacing in preparation for the real test day. Use the K20 Center Timer on slide 18 and allow students to work silently. 

Afterwards, use slides 19-20 to facilitate class discussion about their experience. Talk about what struggles students had, what was easy, what they did not know at all. Ask them to reflect silently on what they personally need to work on and how they think they can accomplish it. Suggest that they add these details to their Goal Setting handout from Week 1.

Show and explain slide 21 which reveals a sneak peek at what will happen next time but also provides students a “side quest” where they are asked to finish adding examples to their Skill Sets Check handout either from the class Padlet or other “real-world” examples.

Next Step

Complete next week’s activity, “Power Up: ACT English Prep, Week 4,” which will review Sentence Structure and Form.

Research Rationale

Standardized testing in high schools has long stood as a metric for assessing college readiness and school accountability (McMann, 1994). While there has been debate surrounding the accuracy of such metrics, as well as concerns regarding equity, many institutions of higher education continue to make these scores part of the admissions process (Allensworth & Clark, 2020; Black et al., 2016; Buckley et al., 2020). Aside from admissions, it is also important to keep in mind that standardized test scores can also provide students with scholarship opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have (Klasik, 2013). Though the topic of standardized testing continues to be debated, effective test prep can ensure that our students are set up for success.

With several benefits to doing well on college admissions tests, it is important to consider how best to prepare students for this type of high stakes test. Those students from groups that may historically struggle to find success, such as those in poverty or first generation college students, especially stand to benefit from effective test preparation (Moore & San Pedro, 2021). The American College Test (ACT) is one option students have for college admissions testing that is provided both at national centers and school sites. Taking time to understand this test including the timing, question types, rigor, and strategies for approaching specific questions can help to prepare students to do their best work on test day and ensure their score is a more accurate representation of what they know (Bishop & Davis-Becker, 2016).