Adult Citizenship Education Strategies for Volunteers
Volunteers are vital to the success of adult citizenship education programs. This series of training modules provides essential introductory information to volunteers in adult citizenship education classrooms or other learning environments. These training modules are designed to provide volunteers with a basic understanding of adult second language acquisition and the naturalization process, including the interview and test. After reviewing the modules, volunteers can use this information to help prepare learners for the naturalization process. The volunteer modules can be reviewed in any order.
Table of Contents
Module 1: Understanding the Naturalization Process
This module will provide you with a basic understanding of the naturalization process.
Naturalization is commonly referred to as the manner in which a person not born in the United States voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen. People not born in the United States who want to become citizens of the United States must go through a legal process to become naturalized citizens.
Naturalization is the legal process a non-U.S. citizen undergoes to become a citizen of the United States. A person can become a citizen of the United States through one of the following ways:
- Through the naturalization process
- By deriving citizenship from his or her parent when the parent naturalizes
- By being born in the United States
- By being born to U.S. citizen parents abroad
The following bullets highlight the general requirements, as established by the Immigration and Nationality Act, for a person seeking to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Note: Eligibility requirements may be different for applicants who are married to a U.S. citizen, members of the U.S. military, or are children of naturalized citizens. For more information, see the Citizenship Through Naturalization section of the USCIS website.
The person must:
- Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
- Be a permanent resident (have a “green card”) for at least 5 years.
- Have lived within the state or USCIS district with jurisdiction over their place of residence for at least 3 months prior to the date of filing Form N-400.
- Have continuous residence in the United States as a permanent resident for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing Form N-400.
- Be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing Form N-400.
- Be able to read, write, and speak basic English unless exempt based on age and time as a permanent resident or a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment. See Exceptions and Accommodations.
- Have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government (civics).
- Be a person of good moral character.
- Demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.
To apply for naturalization, submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization online.
Application filing fees can change. To find the current filing fee, review the latest fee schedule (PDF, 275.41 KB) on the USCIS website.
If learners need help with an immigration issue, they can use the services of a licensed immigration attorney or an accredited representative from an organization recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Refer learners to the Avoid Scams, Find Legal Services, and Finding Help in Your Community sections of the USCIS website for more information on finding legal services.
Your role as a volunteer is to have a basic understanding of the naturalization process so that you may prepare learners for naturalization. This module was designed to provide you with general information on the naturalization process. Use this information to help learners understand and navigate the naturalization process. Remember that Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, is a legal document and that you should not complete the form for learners. Instead, direct learners to a recognized organization, an accredited representative, or a licensed immigration attorney.
- Becoming a U.S. Citizen: An Overview of the Naturalization Process
- 10 Steps to Naturalization: Understanding the Process of Becoming a U.S. Citizen (PDF, 790.4 KB)
- How Do I Apply for U.S. Citizenship? (PDF, 2.21 MB)
- Pathway to U.S. Citizenship Chart (PDF, 1.27 MB)
- Naturalization Eligibility and Preparation (PDF, 627.04 KB)
- Free Naturalization Information Sessions
Module 2: Learning About Who Applies for Naturalization
This module will provide you with a basic understanding of who is applying for naturalization and the benefits and privileges of U.S. citizenship.
The table below shows the top twelve countries of origin of naturalized citizens in Fiscal Year 2018 (PDF) as reported by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics.
|Country||Number of Naturalized Citizens|
Becoming a U.S. citizen is a personal choice. Not every permanent resident (green card holder) chooses to become a U.S. citizen. A person can remain in the United States as a permanent resident as long as that individual keeps his or her permanent resident status current and does not commit an act that makes a person removable from the United States under immigration law. While living in the United States, permanent residents have certain rights and must adhere to certain responsibilities.
Below are some of the benefits and privileges of U.S. citizenship:
Voting. Only citizens can vote in federal elections. Most states also restrict the right to vote, in most elections, to U.S. citizens.
Serving on a jury. Only U.S. citizens can serve on a federal jury. Most states also restrict jury service to U.S. citizens.
Traveling with a U.S. passport. A U.S. passport enables the holder to get assistance from the U.S. government when overseas, if necessary.
Bringing family members to the U.S. U.S. citizens generally get priority when petitioning to bring family members permanently to this country.
Obtaining citizenship for children under 18 years of age. In most cases, a child under 18 years of age can derive citizenship from a naturalized parent.
Applying for federal jobs. Certain jobs with government agencies require U.S. citizenship.
Becoming an elected official. Only citizens can run for federal office in the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives. Only citizens can run for most state and local offices as well.
Keeping U.S. residency. A U.S. citizen’s right to remain in the United States cannot be taken away.
Becoming eligible for federal grants and scholarships. Many financial aid grants, including college scholarships and funds given by the government for specific purposes, are available only to U.S. citizens.
Obtaining government benefits. Some government benefits are available only to U.S. citizens.
This module was designed to provide you with general information on who is applying for naturalization. As a volunteer, you may serve people from many different countries who speak a variety of languages. You can relay information about the benefits and privileges of U.S. citizenship so that learners can make an informed decision on choosing to become a naturalized citizen.
Module 3: Meeting the Educational Needs of Adult Learners
This module will provide you with a basic understanding of the characteristics and educational needs of adult learners as well as how their needs are different from other learners.
Adult learners have different educational needs than children. Adult learners often have work and family responsibilities that take precedence in their lives. Some adult learners attend classes to acquire information and to learn skills that will improve their lives. For example, they may want to learn English to become U.S. citizens, to get better jobs, to be more involved in their children’s activities and education, or to participate in their communities.
According to educator Malcolm Knowles, you should appeal to the needs and interests of adult learners and allow them to use their knowledge and skills. Knowles points out the following as important things to know about adult learners:
- Adults are self-directed in their learning.
- Adults are reservoirs of experience that serve as resources as they learn.
- Adults are practical, problem-solving-oriented learners.
- Adults want their learning to be immediately applicable to their lives.
- Adults want to know why something needs to be learned.
Research from the Center for Applied Linguistics shows that adult learners in the United States vary in their background, culture, economic status, formal education, life and language experiences, as well as in their learning styles and abilities. In the United States, people over the age of 16 can enroll in an adult education program. There is no upper age limit.
Information on the six different categories of literacy, as defined by the Center for Applied Linguistics, is below:
Preliterate – the native language does not have a writing system.
Nonliterate – the native language has a written form but the learner has no literacy.
Semiliterate – the learner has minimal literacy in the native language.
Nonalphabet literate – the learner is literate in a language that is not alphabetic.
Non-Roman alphabet literate – the learner is literate in a language that uses a non-Roman alphabet.
Roman-alphabet literate – the learner is literate in a language that is written using the Roman alphabet.
The following list, adapted from the Center for Applied Linguistics (Moss & Terrill), provides a few helpful instructional strategies:
Communicate clearly and concisely. Keep instructions simple. Write what you say on the board. Speak slowly while facing learners.
Keep instruction organized and relevant. Write the day’s agenda on the board. Develop and use a lesson plan. Be sure to relay how instruction applies to learners’ everyday lives.
Keep learners involved and allow for interactions. Conduct activities where learners can work together. Vary the types of skills and activities.
Recognize that everyone learns differently. Know that learners have different preferences in the way they like to take in information—some people prefer to learn by doing, other people prefer learning by seeing or through listening. Use a variety of methods to present the information and enhance learning.
Create a safe and friendly environment. Develop a learning environment that allows learners to engage and feel at ease. Encourage learners to practice their skills and let them know it is okay to make mistakes.
Be patient – learning is a gradual process. Do not get discouraged if your learners continue to make the same errors or do not seem to be making progress. Prioritize which mistakes to correct; try not to over correct learners.
Celebrate success. Offer praise and encouragement. If allowed, make certificates for the learners. Give small prizes for accomplishments like perfect attendance.
Take advantage of training opportunities. Observe master teachers and experienced educators in the classroom. Attend free workshops and training events.
Be flexible in your lesson planning. Keep a journal or notes of what worked and what did not work and adapt lesson plans accordingly.
This module was designed to provide you with general information on adult learners. You may work with people of varying ages, backgrounds, skills, and abilities. Understanding the different literacy levels and employing a variety of strategies will help you meet the diverse educational needs of adult learners.
Module 4: Identifying the English Language Skills and Civics Knowledge for Naturalization
This module will provide you with a basic understanding of the English language skills and civics knowledge needed for the naturalization interview and test.
In order to become a naturalized citizen, a person (unless otherwise exempt) must demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language, and have a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, principles, and form of government of the United States. A USCIS officer will determine an applicant’s ability to speak English based on the applicant’s answers to questions normally asked during the eligibility interview on Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
During the naturalization interview, a USCIS officer will ask applicants questions about their application and background to determine eligibility for U.S. citizenship. The applicant will also take an English and civics test unless he or she qualifies for an exception or accommodation. The English test has three components: reading, writing, and speaking. The civics test covers important U.S. history and government topics.
Civics Test: There are 100 civics questions (PDF, 295.55 KB) on the naturalization test. During the naturalization interview, applicants will be asked up to 10 questions from the list of 100 questions. The civics test is an oral test. The USCIS officer will ask the questions aloud and the applicant must provide a verbal response. Applicants must correctly answer 6 of the 10 questions to pass the civics test.
Reading Test: Applicants must read aloud 1 out of 3 reading test sentences correctly to demonstrate an ability to read English. The reading vocabulary list (PDF, 184.75 KB) contains the words that make up the reading test sentences. The reading vocabulary list is publicly available; the reading test sentences are not. The reading test content focuses on civics and history topics.
Writing Test: Applicants must write 1 out of 3 sentences correctly to demonstrate an ability to write English. The writing vocabulary list (PDF, 181.5 KB) contains the words that make up the writing test sentences. The writing vocabulary list is publicly available; the writing test sentences are not. The content focuses on civics and history topics. The writing test is a dictation. The USCIS officer will ask the applicant to write the sentence that the USCIS officer reads aloud.
Speaking Test: A USCIS officer will determine an applicant’s ability to speak English based on the applicant’s answers to questions normally asked during the eligibility interview on Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. If the applicant generally understands and can respond meaningfully to questions relevant to the determination of eligibility, the applicant will demonstrate the ability to speak English.
Applicants will need to demonstrate four English skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Applicants will also need to know how to act on basic commands, follow directions, and respond to questions during the naturalization interview.
As a volunteer, you will play a key role in preparing learners for the naturalization interview and test. The best way to prepare them is to know what is required of them. USCIS highlights promising practices from its grant recipients that may provide you with some creative ideas you can use. Module 5 will provide you with strategies you can use in your program. Also, here are some ideas on how to prepare learners for the naturalization interview and test:
Prepare for the Interview: Watch the video, the USCIS Naturalization Interview and Test, with learners. The video simulates what the naturalization interview and test are like at a USCIS office. Conduct mock interviews with learners. Incorporate “small talk" activities. Show learners how to respond to basic commands. Demonstrate how to ask for clarification or for repetition if they do not understand what is being asked by the USCIS officer. Tell learners to make a copy of their Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and to review it and their responses, prior to their interview.
Prepare for the Test: Disseminate the publicly-available reading and writing vocabulary to learners. Develop sentences based on these vocabulary words and have learners practice reading and writing the sentences. Use USCIS lesson plans and educational resources. Make sure learners know the answers to the 100 civics questions. Create a mock test environment for learners (for example, have learners go through security and meet with a USCIS officer). Show learners where to access free USCIS online resources and interactive practice exercises for the civics and English portions of the naturalization interview and test.
This module was designed to provide you with an overview of the skills and knowledge needed for the naturalization interview and test. Learn what is required of learners so that you can help prepare them for success.
Module 5: Helping Adult Learners Prepare for the Naturalization Interview and Test
This module will provide you with basic strategies for helping adult learners acquire the English language skills and civics knowledge they will need for the naturalization interview and test.
Applicants for naturalization must be able to speak, read, and write English unless they qualify for an exception or accommodation. While applicants do not need to be completely fluent in English, they should be able to understand and respond to the USCIS officer during the naturalization interview and have sufficient English skills to pass the reading, writing, and civics tests.
Provide learners with a safe and comfortable learning environment. Start by getting acquainted with learners and building their trust. Be sensitive when correcting learners. Too much correction could make them afraid to speak and therefore hinder their progress. Many teachers use a modeling approach where the teacher models the way to respond correctly if the learner makes an error.
The information below provides some basic strategies to improve learners’ English skills in the following areas:
Determine what type of listening skills will be required of the learners for the activity. Ideas for listening activities are dictation exercises, having learners act on commands, or having learners listen for certain words or phrases.
Pre-teach new vocabulary.
Tell learners what is required of them for the listening activity. For example, let them know if they need to respond to a command (e.g., please raise your right hand), provide a verbal response (e.g., yes or no), or if they need to write something down.
Finish with a listening comprehension activity.
Tip: For all listening activities, try to limit background noise.
Select and introduce a topic of speech. Make sure the topic is at the appropriate level for learners. Ideas for speaking topics include having learners describe a photo, asking learners to respond to questions including open-ended questions (e.g., “Why do you want to become a U.S. citizen?”), and having learners give a short presentation on a topic.
Demonstrate what is expected of the learners for the activity. Try not to interrupt or correct learners while they are speaking. Provide feedback. Model the correct speech learners are to use.
Tip: Always face learners when giving instructions for speaking activities. Speak slowly and clearly.
Find level-appropriate reading material.
If necessary, modify text to simplify grammar and vocabulary.
Introduce the topic and pre-teach new vocabulary.
Check for comprehension. Engage learners by asking questions about what they read.
Tip: Choose reading material that is relevant for adult learners.
Select a writing activity that is level-appropriate. Some writing activities include writing what someone said (i.e., dictation), CLOZE exercises, writing words, sentences, or paragraphs to describe something, practice spelling new words, or developing a list.
Prepare learners for the activity.
Do a practice exercise with learners to show them what is expected of them for the activity.
Review for accuracy. Try not to overcorrect learners’ mistakes. Have the learners check their own work.
Tip: At the naturalization interview, learners will be required to print and sign their names. Practice these skills with them.
For all activities, assess how well learners were able to complete the activity. If you use a lesson plan, write down notes recommending what you would do differently with the activity next time.
The USCIS Citizenship Resource Center’s Professional Development section has more information on ways to improve adult learners’ English skills.
Make sure learners have a basic understanding of English before introducing civics content. The content for the civics component of the naturalization test was developed at the U.S. Department of Education’s National Reporting System for Adult Education English as a second language high beginning to low intermediate level educational functioning level descriptors. After assessing and determining learners’ English proficiency levels, you may consider referring lower-level learners to an English as a second language class or plan more time for instruction to allow lower-level learners sufficient time to acquire the content knowledge for the civics test as well as to prepare for the naturalization interview. Here are some basic strategies for teaching civics:
- Use resources such as USCIS lesson plans and Ben’s Guide.
- Relearn the content. For many volunteers, it may have been awhile since you studied U.S. history and government. Review or relearn the material before you teach it to learners.
- Consider conveying the information in smaller segments.
- Remember to always introduce new vocabulary and concepts.
- Connect what learners already know about the topic with what they need to learn.
- Recognize that learners may understand systems of government based on their experiences in their native countries. Point out similarities and explain differences.
- Use visual aids (for example, charts, maps, timelines, photos, and images) to help learners comprehend the information.
- If possible, incorporate technology into activities.
This module provided you with basic strategies for helping learners acquire the English skills and civics knowledge they will need for the naturalization interview and test. Use the strategies and tips in this module to facilitate learning.
- Understanding Key Concepts Found in Form N-400, Application for Naturalization: A Guide for Adult Citizenship Teachers (PDF, 1.18 MB)
- Guide to the Adult Citizenship Education Content Standards and Foundation Skills: A Framework for Developing a Comprehensive Curriculum (PDF, 181.92 KB)
- Lesson Plans
- Scoring Guidelines for the U.S. Naturalization Test (PDF, 121.39 KB)
- Naturalization Test Components (PDF, 1.21 MB)
- Naturalization Self-Test
- The USCIS Naturalization Interview and Test Video
Module 6: Developing a Lesson Plan
This module will provide you with basic ideas on how to prepare and develop a lesson plan.
A lesson plan provides you with a framework or structure to use when tutoring or teaching a lesson. A lesson plan focuses activities on learning goals or content standards. Your program coordinator may already have a variety of prepared lesson plans or may refer you to USCIS lesson plans. If you need to develop a lesson plan, review the ten basic steps below.
Developing a lesson plan will help you decide how you will teach a lesson. You can set goals listing what you want to accomplish and identifying what content and activities to present. Using a lesson plan will help you teach in a planned and organized manner.
As a general rule, plan for an hour to prepare for each hour of instruction. You may need more time to prepare a lesson if you are unfamiliar with the content. The amount of time you need will also depend on the learners’ skill level and the difficulty of the skills and knowledge needed to learn the content. The preparation time may decrease as you become more experienced with planning lessons.
Here are some basic steps for developing a lesson plan:
Get a pen and piece of paper and any materials you may need, such as a textbook if you are using a textbook.
Write down the date, class level, and amount of time for the lesson.
Determine the skills and content learners need to acquire. Make note of this information.
Identify the goal for the lesson.
Define the objectives you need to meet the goal.
Determine how to measure whether the goal and objectives have been attained.
Consider what materials you will need.
Find activities that relate to the topic you plan to teach.
Determine the time required for the overall lesson as well as for each activity.
Plan more activities than you think you might need. Always plan additional activities because sometimes an activity does not take as long as you may have anticipated or there may be extra time at the end of class.
After you complete these steps, write down how you will present the lesson. Use the bullets below to guide you.
Start the lesson with an activity that introduces the topic to the learners.
Then, be sure to pre-teach new vocabulary learners will encounter during the lesson.
Next, try to make the content for the lesson as interesting as possible by incorporating several different activities for the learners to complete. The activities should allow learners to practice and acquire the new information.
Then, check to see if the learners understand the new material. You may need to go over the main points of the content that was covered.
Consider assigning homework on the content.
End the lesson by reviewing the content.
Remember that a lesson plan is your guide to teaching a lesson. An important part of developing a lesson plan is assessing whether the lesson worked. Ask the following questions:
Did you match the new information and supporting materials to the learners’ skill level? Did any of the learners struggle with the information? What could you have done differently?
Did you use activities that matched the skill level of the learners? Did any of the learners have difficulty understanding or completing the activities? What could you have done differently?
Did you plan enough activities for the lesson? Was there enough time for each activity? What could you have done differently?
As you answer the questions listed above and other questions that arise as you assess the outcome of the lesson, make notes and incorporate the changes into the lesson plan.
This module was designed to provide you with information on how to prepare and develop a lesson plan. Make sure to plan more activities than you think you may need. Always assess the lesson and change your lesson plan based on your assessment.
Module 7: Assessing if Learners are Making Progress
This module will provide you with basic ways to assess learner proficiency levels and how to determine if learners are making progress.
Adult education programs place learners into classes based on learners’ English proficiency levels. Here are the basic types of class levels:
The levels can be further divided into low beginner, high beginner, low intermediate and high intermediate. Some adult education programs also have pre-literacy levels for learners who are not literate in their native language.
Adult education programs use various methods to determine learners’ English proficiency levels. Many programs have a formal placement process that uses a standardized test to assess English proficiency levels. Other programs may determine learners’ proficiency levels by gauging how learners respond to intake questions and converse with others.
A program needs to know the learner’s English proficiency level to place the learner in the appropriate class level. If the class level is too advanced, the learner may become discouraged and stop coming to class. If the level is too easy, the learner may feel their educational needs are not being met and stop coming. Therefore, it is important to know each learner’s English proficiency level for each of the four skill areas: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Knowing the learner’s English proficiency level is also important for the instructional staff. Teachers, tutors, and volunteers can adapt lesson plans and instruction based on each learner’s level of English proficiency in the four skill areas. This allows the learner to receive instruction at the appropriate level. Establishing a starting proficiency level also helps the instructional staff determine how much progress the learner has made at the end of the class.
Finally, learners benefit from knowing their English proficiency levels. Learners often feel that they have a limited understanding and ability to speak English. Conducting an assessment provides them with a more accurate indication of their English skills.
It is good practice to find out what learners already know about a topic before relaying new information. One way to do this is to ask questions about the topic. You can also use a K-W-L chart. This chart divides information into three categories (What I Know, What I Want to Know, What I Learned):
- What I Know
- What I Want to Know
- What I Learned
Incorporating this chart in instruction can show what learners already know about a topic, what they want to know about the topic, and later, what they learned.
Another way to determine if learners understand information is to watch their facial expressions as you communicate with them. They may not understand what you are saying if they look confused or perplexed, lean forward to hear what you say, try to read your lips, or remain quiet.
Here are some ways to check for comprehension:
Conduct an activity that reviews the information presented.
Find a comfortable and easy way to have learners provide feedback. For example, have them say or write on a piece of paper, “I understand” or “I don’t understand” and then share their response with you.
Have learners repeat or paraphrase the information.
After a lesson or an activity, find a way to obtain learners’ feedback. Ask if they understand the new information, what they liked learning about it, and why.
You should continually assess learners’ progress. There are many types of assessments you can use in your class. You can informally assess progress by asking questions, watching facial expressions, and observing the actions of learners. Some adult education programs formally implement a standardized test, such as the Best Plus and Best Literacy Test, CASAS (PDF), and TABE CLAS-E. (USCIS does not endorse a specific standardized test for adult education.) Additionally, your program may administer an informal assessment at the end of each lesson or a test at the end of the session to assess whether learners have mastered the material.
Since you are preparing learners for the naturalization interview and test, you can assess progress by conducting a mock interview and administering a naturalization test you create from the 100 civics questions (PDF, 295.55 KB) and English reading (PDF, 184.75 KB)and writing (PDF, 181.5 KB) vocabulary words.
Gauging a learner’s progress is important for everyone. Programs want to ensure that learners are making progress and meeting their educational goals. Instructional staff want to see learners advance since it reflects on their ability to teach. Learners want to feel that they are spending their time wisely. With many demands on their lives—jobs, families, and other responsibilities—learners who see their progress may be more motivated to stay with the program.
This module was designed to provide you with information on class levels, learner English proficiency levels, and assessments. Remember to incorporate ways to assess learners’ understanding and progress. Show learners their progress so they feel the time they are dedicating to education is worthwhile.
Module 8: Finding Additional Materials and Resources
This module will provide you with links to educational resources.
USCIS has several resources to help volunteers at a variety of experience levels prepare for their role in adult citizenship education programs.
Resources provided by USCIS:
Citizenship Resource Center
The USCIS Citizenship Resource Center has free educational materials and resources for learners, teachers, and organizations.
USCIS Training Seminars
USCIS offers free training for adult educators, program directors, volunteers, and representatives from immigrant-serving organizations. These seminars are designed to enhance the skills needed to teach U.S. history, civics, and the naturalization process to immigrant students and to administer comprehensive adult citizenship education programs.
USCIS Supplemental Resources for Program Administration, Professional Development, and Curriculum
USCIS has compiled a list of helpful educational resources for adult citizenship education program staff. We selected the listed resources based on their relevance, usefulness, and quality.
Resources provided by the U.S. Department of Education:
Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS)
LINCS is an online resource that contains web-based professional development opportunities, resources, and an interactive online learning community. The following resource can be found on the LINCS website:
English Language Learner University (ELL-U)
ELL-U is a free professional development network for adult ESL practitioners. The resources developed through this federally-funded initiative were designed to broaden, deepen, and strengthen the knowledge and skills of educators working with adult ELLs.
This module was designed to provide you with information on how to find materials and resources to use to prepare learners for the naturalization interview and test.