Citizenship Classes Research Paper Starter

Citizenship Classes

(Research Starters)

This article focuses on citizenship classes for foreign-born adults, often for whom English is not the native language. Information about the citizenship process as well as some examples of instructional techniques and theories to help these adult students be successful and pass the naturalization test are also included.

Keywords Adult Education; Citizenship; Civics; Content-Based Instruction; English as a Second Language (ESL); Literacy; Methodology; Naturalized Citizens; Pedagogy

Adult Education > Citizenship Classes


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the year 2010 there were nearly 40 million foreign-born people in the United States. Of that number, 17.5 million were naturalized citizens ( In 2000, the number of foreign-born was 28.4 million, with 10.6 million naturalized. The number of foreign-born people who were in the United States in 1990 was 19.8 million (Schmidley, 2001). As the number of foreign-born people residing in the United States steadily increases, there is a need for more English as a Second Language (ESL) and citizenship skills classes to help adults who want to become United States citizens. Most citizenship applicants must meet certain requirements regarding English literacy, but some exemptions can be sought for those who are elderly or disabled. In order to become a naturalized citizen, applicants need to meet eligibility requirements, obtain and complete necessary forms, have their cases reviewed (including a background check), submit paperwork to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, obtain a fingerprinting appointment, receive their interview/examination notification, successfully pass their interview and examination, have their naturalization petition approved, and then attend a swearing-in ceremony.

The growing demand for citizenship classes can result in classes that are too large to be effective, and it is important that instructors present using a methodology that will meet the needs of the majority of students. In order to be an effective program, classes must be offered that vary in content, duration, and scheduling to accommodate the constraints that many adults are faced with in their lives. There are many different instructional approaches that can be used, and the content of instruction can vary significantly from one program to the next. Instruction can be in large or small groups or by one-on-one tutoring sessions. Citizenship courses can be a very distinct set of lessons focusing on a specific component of the process, or offered within an ESL class. However, not all citizenship classes include English instruction. Instead, they focus on the other aspects of the naturalization process and history/civics. These courses are appropriate for students who think they have sufficient command of the English language, but instructors may refer them to an English class if they think they require additional work in the area.

There are four basic skills and knowledge that successful naturalized citizens need: 1) understanding of the process; 2) command of the English language; 3) history and civics knowledge; and 4) the ability to understand and complete the N-400 form. The N-400 is a 10-page application for naturalization form that prospective citizens must submit to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS]) to start consideration of their request for citizenship. They must understand the form and be able to verify and clarify any information if asked ("ESL Methods & Approaches"). Potential citizens need to know the proceedings of the interview. This means everything from stating their name when called to receive the results of the day's proceedings. They need to be prepared and know what will be expected of them, which includes proper English use, appropriate behavior and actions ("Please take a seat," "May I see your Green Card," "Do you have your passport with you," etc.), and have all the documents they should have with them and may need to produce. They will need a sound understanding of the English language, which includes being able to speak, listen, read, and write. They will need oral skills to understand what is being asked of them, answer questions appropriately, clarify the interviewer's questions or update the information they have already provided. They will also need to write a sentence that is dictated to them and read aloud in English. There are 100 history/civics questions from which interviewers may choose. Applicants must be able to show that they understand the questions beyond simple memorization. Therefore, citizenship instructors need to help their students learn all these competencies in order to successfully apply for citizenship.

Citizenship instructors should help their students with the entire process. First, they should have knowledge of how to teach adult learners, especially English as a Second Language students whose needs are different from native speakers. They must be able to speak clearly and communicate effectively. They must also exhibit cultural awareness and be sensitive to their students' differences. Instructors must also be cognizant of all areas of citizenship preparation. They need to be able to effectively instruct United States history and civics information; be able to prepare students for the writing and word-choice portion of the exam; cover the contents of the N-400 and make sure students understand the ramifications of not properly and honestly filling out the application; and ensure students understand the application and examination processes. Citizenship instructors need to use several methods of teaching in order to ensure that the individual needs and skill-levels of their students are being met. They need to plan lessons that include presentation, application, and review and know and adapt to the speed of the class, not going too fast so students feel lost or too slow so that students lose interest. Instructors must also be able to manage a multilevel classroom effectively because they will invariably have students who are significantly more advanced than others in their English skills and knowledge of the process and history/civics. Before beginning instruction, citizenship instructors need to properly assess their students to identify their goals, strengths, and needs. Instructors should have sound knowledge of community resources and support services and be able to refer students when necessary. Instructors should also participate in professional development activities and make sure that they keep updated on any changes in naturalization procedures and testing requirements and implement them into the curriculum (Porter & Hilgeman, 2006).


There are two basic approaches used when teaching immigrants about citizenship. The first approach is to teach a civic education course so that students can learn about more American history and culture than may be included on the naturalization test. The other approach is to educate only the information that is sure to be on the exam. Although teaching students about civics can help produce better citizens and give learners a solid foundation in United States history and how the government works, it may not adequately prepare them to pass the naturalization exam. Teaching solely to the test may prepare students to pass the naturalization exam, but it doesn’t ensure that they will be good, informed, and culturally aware citizens.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services implemented a new oral examination in 2008. The goal of the updated test is to focus less on "redundant" and "trivial" questions based on rote memorization ('How many stars in the flag?' 'What color are the stars in the flag?' 'What do the stars in the flag represent?') and focus on more abstract concepts, such as the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. There are 100 questions that the applicant is expected to study for, and the examiner asks 10 questions from the list. A score of less than six correct answers will require the applicant to retake the test. Failing the test twice requires the applicant to...

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