Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Power Up: English ACT Prep, Week 4

Patricia McDaniels-Gomez, Michell Eike, Kelsey Willems | Published: January 9th, 2024 by K20 Center


In this English ACT prep activity, students focus on sentence structure conventions. First, students complete a Card Matching activity, matching examples with explanations and the corresponding rules. Then, students apply their understanding of sentence structure and ACT skills through reading a practice passage and answering questions. This is the fourth activity in a 10-week "Power Up" series for ACT prep.

Essential Question

  • How can I increase my ACT score?

Learning Objectives

  • Categorize different instances of fragments, verb tense shifts, and sentence structure errors.

  • Identify when fragments, verb tense shifts, and sentence structure rules are broken.

Materials List

  • Activity Slides (attached) 

  • Sentence Structure Cards handout (attached; 1 set per class)

  • Rule Labels document (attached; 1 set per class)

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

  • White Water Worrier handout (attached; 1 per student)

  • Pen/Pencil


5 Minute(s)

As students walk into class, give each student a Sentence Structure Card and their attached Skill Sets Check handout. Use the attached Activity Slides to facilitate the activity. 

Transition through slides 3-4 to introduce students to the essential question and learning objectives. Display slide 5 and explain to students that this week they will continue practicing for the English portion of the ACT. This week the focus is primarily on the category of “Sentence Structure and Format” which is a contributing factor to “Conventions of Standard English” which is over 50% of the subject test. 

Use slide 6 to introduce students to the Card Matching strategy. Explain to the class that each student has either an example card with a sentence or an explanation card. Tell the class that they are to create a set that is comprised of 1-2 example cards and 1 explanation card. Direct students’ attention to the Rule Labels hanging around the room. Have them make their best guess about which “rule” corresponds to their cards and gather there. Give students three minutes to find their group. Use the K20 Center timer on slide 7. This is not the time to correct students’ thinking, as they will refine their understanding and move to a new rule, if necessary, as the activity progresses.


20 Minute(s)

After all students are at a rule, transition to slide 8 and have everyone watch the “Sentences, Fragments, and Run-Ons” video about Rule: Fragments. Stop the video at 2:40. Direct students to write notes about this rule on their Skill Sets Check handout. After the video, answer any questions or clear up any misconceptions. Then, ask the class to reflect on what they just learned and use this new knowledge to determine whether they need to change groups or not. Give students another three minutes using the K20 Center timer on slide 9 to move to a different rule, if needed, until they find their right group and rule.

Once students are done rearranging themselves, move to slide 10. Have everyone watch the “CC-Style & Grammar” video about Rule: Verb Tense Shifts and direct students to repeat the procedure of taking notes on their handout. Give students time to ask questions and alleviate any misconceptions. Give students another two minutes using the K20 Center timer on slide 11 to move to a different rule, if needed, until they find their right group and rule.

Once students are done moving, repeat the procedure for the third rule. Display slide 12 and show the “ACT English: Sentence Structure video for Rule: Sentence Structure. Stop the video at 3:16. Then give students another minute to rearrange themselves if need be.

After the last round of students sort themselves, briefly transition through slides 13-17 with the “answers” and have students double check to determine they are at the right rule. Give students time to fill in the rest of their handouts. 


10 Minute(s)

Next, move to slide 21 and briefly introduce some test-taking tips about answer choices. Explain the following in as much detail as you feel necessary:

  1. It’s okay if students choose “NO CHANGE” as there is a 25%  chance of it being correct. If a question is asked, students usually expect there to be something wrong. Highlight the fact that that they shouldn’t second guess themselves.

  2. If students are running out of time or just don’t know the answer, they should make an educated guess. According to Sult (2021), “Often, the most concise answer is the correct one,” so explain how the answer choices can guide their thinking.

Pass out the attached White Water Worriers handout and instruct students to read the passage independently and answer the questions. Warn students that they will have seven minutes as that’s about how long it will take to read and answer the questions. There are fewer than the usual 15 questions, which is why the time is less than the usual nine minutes for a passage and corresponding questions. Use the K20 Center Timer on slide 22 and allow students to work silently. Collect the passage at the end of class.  Explain that you will review the answers next time as next week’s activity will be a comprehensive review from what students have learned thus far.

Show and explain slides 23-24 which reveal a sneak peek at what will happen next time but also provide students a “side quest” where they will listen for sentence fragments in everyday speech, posts, or other forms of communication and write down the corrected form. Slide 24 provides a fun example of an English teacher correcting the sentence structure of a famous line from an ad. “Got Milk?” is missing a subject and interrogative to make it a complete thought.

Next Step

Complete next week’s activity, “Power Up: ACT English Prep, Week 5,” which will review content covered during weeks 2-4.

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).