Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Power Up: English ACT Prep, Week 6

Patricia McDaniels-Gomez, Michell Eike, Kelsey Willems | Published: November 30th, 2023 by K20 Center


In this English ACT prep activity, students review the vocabulary and roles of different paragraphs (i.e. introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs), topic sentences, and thesis statements. Students then select the most appropriate transition words, identify roles of sentences, and apply this knowledge to order the paragraphs of an essay. This is the sixth activity in a 10-week "Power Up" series for ACT prep.

Essential Questions

  • How can I increase my ACT score?

Learning Objectives

  • Determine the appropriate transition word to use in a sentence.

  • Identify how thesis statements, claims, pieces of evidence, and statements of reasoning play a role in the structure of a passage, paragraph, or an essay.

  • Apply understanding of transition words and roles of sentences to order paragraphs in an essay accurately.

Materials List

  • Activity Slides (attached)

  • Production of Writing eLearning activity (linked)

  • Structure of an Essay handout (attached, 1 per student) 

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

  • Production of Writing handout (optional; attached, 1 per student)

  • Great Gatsby handout (optional; attached, 1 per group)

  • Electronic devices with internet access (1 per student) 

  • Pen/pencil 

  • Scissors


10 Minute(s)

Use the attached Activity Slides to facilitate the activity. 

Transition through slides 3-4 and discuss what students will learn for this week by reviewing the essential question and learning objectives.

Pass out the attached Structure of an Essay handout. Display slide 5 and explain the I Notice, I Wonder strategy to students. Have students read the handout, then write what they noticed and wondered about the structure of an essay. Ask for several volunteers to share what they notice and what they wonder.

Display slide 6 and share that the focus is shifting from grammar and conventions of standard English to the production of writing, which makes up about 30% of the entire English portion of the ACT.


20 Minute(s)

Show slide 7 and pass out the attached Skill Sets Check handout. Explain that the front side has reminders for transition words and phrases and the back side has notes for parts of a paragraph. Let students know that the Examples column (right column) will remain empty for now.

Move to slide 8 and have students take out their electronic devices. Invite students to access the Production of Writing eLearning activity. Share the link: or QR code provided on the slide. Have students read the table of contents then press the “Begin” button. Display slide 9 and emphasize to students that they should be on page 1 of 2 of this eLearning activity. The page number is located in the top-right corner of their screen. Direct students to read the directions for each section of this page, complete the tasks, and then press the “Check” button at the end of each section. Pressing the “Check” button gives students feedback.

On the first page, students are asked to add transition words or phrases to a paragraph through a fill-in-the-blank activity. Display slide 10 and encourage students to use the list of transition words from the table on the slide or from the front of their Skill Sets Check handout for guidance. Then let students practice their inferencing skills by identifying the type of essay and type of paragraph they were given. Give students 2-3 minutes to work through the first page. Afterwards, ask for volunteers to share what they think the main idea or focus of the full essay might be. Use hidden slide 11 as a reference.

Show slide 12 and direct students to go to page 2 of 2 by clicking the “Next Page” arrow at the top or bottom of their screen. Here students are asked to identify whether each sentence is a claim, a piece of evidence, or a statement of reasoning (CER). Direct students to drag the sentence from the left to the right underneath the corresponding role. For example, students should drag the second sentence underneath the word CLAIM. Remind students to refer to their Skill Sets Check handout to help identify the roles of each sentence. Give students about three minutes to complete the activity. Then ask the class why they think it is important whether a sentence is a claim, an example of evidence, or a statement of reasoning. Facilitate a brief discussion on recognizing the role of a sentence in a paragraph. This can help determine whether the paragraph should or should not contain a specific sentence. For example, when a question on the ACT asks students whether or not a sentence should be added in a specific place, it is helpful to be able to recognize the function that sentence serves to determine its placement.

Next, display slide 13 and have students navigate to the final activity: The link is provided in the eLearning activity at the bottom of page 2 of 2. Let students know that this essay should sound awkward, as there are paragraphs out of place, and it is up to them to rearrange the paragraphs of the essay so that it flows properly. Have students work independently for a few minutes. Afterwards, recommend to the class that they re-read the last sentence of each paragraph, then use that information to identify the introduction paragraph and the conclusion paragraph. Both will sound similar because the conclusion will restate the thesis. Once they have identified the introduction paragraph, they then know that the last sentence is the thesis statement. Being able to identify the thesis statement will them help understand the organization of the whole essay because usually it provides a list or description of the main ideas. This list of main ideas is then reflected in the topic sentences of each body paragraph. Give students just a couple more minutes to complete the activity while still working independently or with a partner. Remind them to click the “Check” button to see if their new ordering is correct.


5 Minute(s)

Transition through slides 14-15 which provide students test-taking tips concerning “Box” questions. Share with the class that questions that have a box around the number are questions about the whole passage or about a section of the passage. Explain to students that eliminating choices that do not match the formatting or wording of that section of the passage can help with picking the correct answer. Let students know that if they are trying to pick between answer choices, then the option that supports the main idea of the passage is often the best choice. 

Show and explain slide 16 which reveals a sneak peek at what will happen next week and also provides students a “side quest” where they will fill in the “Examples” column of the Skill Sets Check handout by listening to an argument and identifying the various parts of the essay.

Next Step

Complete next week’s activity, “Power Up: English ACT Prep, Week 7,” which will review pacing and provide time to annotate the online test.

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).