USCIS Guest-led Discussion on Citizenship Content Standards Starts Tuesday, October 18

Hello colleagues, I wanted to remind everyone about the guest-led discussion on the Citizenship Content Standards which will be held next Tuesday, October 18 through Thursday, October 20, 2016. Plan now to be part of this important discussion. Your questions and comments are welcome!

The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services will engage with the LINCS Community for a three-day discussion on topics covered in its handbook—“Guide to the Adult Citizenship Education Content Standards and Foundation Skills”—a framework for developing a comprehensive curriculum. We are fortunate to have Kelton Williams, an Education Program Specialist with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Office of Citizenship, Division of Citizenship Education and Training, to facilitate our discussion.

Be sure to tell your colleagues about this great learning opportunity!

We'll be discussing:

The USCIS handbook, which focuses on helping “eligible Lawful Permanent Residents prepare for the naturalization interview and test” and will  

  • highlight USCIS resources to assist adult education program administrators and teachers with incorporating citizenship into their curricula,
  • discuss content and standards surrounding the interview and test, and
  • emphasize foundation skills necessary for students to learn citizenship-specific content. 

Other USCIS resources will be introduced (including those below) that can help adult education practitioners improve instructional services provided to adult English Language Learners preparing for citizenship. For more information, explore USCIS and its related resources before the event:

The discussion will take place within the Adult English Language Learners and the Program Managerment CoPs. 


I want to welcome back Kelton Williams to lead us in a discussion of the USCIS's “Guide to the Adult Citizenship Education Content Standards and Foundation Skills.” We look forward to a meaningful discussion over the next 3 days.

I'm sure many members will have comments and questions about the valuable resources available through USCIS. Thanks for being with us, Kelton.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

Hello! My name is Rachael Shaw, and I am with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Office of Citizenship. Joining me is my colleague, Kelton Williams, who is also with the Office of Citizenship. We look forward to the discussion over the next three days where we will share ideas and information about useful resources to help you prepare your students for the naturalization interview and test.

Before we begin, I’d like to provide background about USCIS, the Office of Citizenship, general requirements for the naturalization process, and the naturalization test. This should provide a helpful foundation for our upcoming discussion.

The Naturalization Process

For an adult immigrant to become a U.S. citizen, he or she must go through the process of naturalization. General requirements for naturalization call for the immigrant to:

  • Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing the Application for Naturalization (Form N-400)
  • Be a lawfully admitted permanent resident of the United States
  • At the time of filing, have been a permanent residents in the United States for at least 5 years
  • Have demonstrated continuous permanent residence
  • Have demonstrated physical presence
  • Have lived within the State or USCIS District for at least 3 months prior to filing
  • Have demonstrated good moral character
  • Demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideas of the U.S. Constitution
  • Demonstrate an ability to read, write, speak, and understand basic English
  • Demonstrate a basic knowledge of U.S. history, government, and civic principles
  • Take an oath of allegiance to the United States
  • Receive a Certificate of Naturalization

What is Adult Citizenship Education?

US Citizenship and Immigration Services defines adult citizenship education as follows: Adult citizenship education provides the content knowledge and English language skills needed to prepare for naturalization.

The Naturalization Test

During the naturalization interview, a USCIS Officer will ask questions about an applicant’s Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and background. An applicant will also take an English and civics test unless he or she qualifies for an exemption or waiver. The English test has three components: reading, writing, and speaking. The civics test covers important U.S. history, U.S. government and integrated civics topics. A USCIS Officer conducts the naturalization eligibility interview and test.

Speaking Test

A USCIS Officer will determine an applicant’s ability to speak English during the eligibility interview on the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. An applicant must sufficiently demonstrate his or her ability to respond meaningfully to questions normally asked from this form.

Reading Test

An applicant must read aloud one out of three sentences correctly to demonstrate an ability to read in English. The Reading Test Vocabulary List will help your students study for the English reading portion of the naturalization test. The content focuses on civics and history topics.

Writing Test

An applicant must write one out of three sentences to correctly demonstrate an ability to write in English. The Writing Test Vocabulary List will help your students study for the English writing portion of the naturalization test. The content focuses on civics and history topics.

Civics Test

There are 100 possible civics questions on the naturalization test. During an applicant’s interview, he or she will be asked up to 10 questions from the list of 100 questions. An applicant must answer correctly six of the 10 questions.

An applicant will be given two opportunities to take the English and civics test and answer all questions relating to his or her naturalization application in English. If the applicant fails any of the tests at the initial interview, he or she will be retested on the portion the applicant failed (English or civics) between 60 and 90 days from the date of the initial interview.

You can learn more about the naturalization test, and other naturalization information here.

Let’s start by discussing the Guide to the Adult Citizenship Education Content Standards and Foundation Skills. Adult education program administrators and teachers will find this guide helpful in developing a comprehensive adult citizenship curriculum and thematic lessons, selecting textbooks and supplemental materials, and creating effective learning activities.

The guide is organized around the three naturalization content areas:

  • Naturalization Pre-Interview Components
  • Naturalization Interview and Test Components
  • Naturalization Post-Interview Components

Let’s look at the chart on page 1 of the standards. The chart shows the naturalization content areas the standards cover. These specific sets of content areas represent citizenship knowledge that applicants need to increase their chances of success during the naturalization interview and test.

For each content area, the guide provides relevant content and progress standards. Content standards are broad statements indicating what knowledge students will demonstrate or what they will be able to do after teaching them the specific content.

Each content standard includes a list of related progress standards. These progress standards provide specific information about how students can demonstrate their mastery of the content standard. Progress standards are sometimes called indicators or benchmarks.

In addition to the content and progress standards, each citizenship content area is organized by English foundation skills. These are the overarching skills that facilitate learning of the related citizenship knowledge. The English foundation skills are speaking and listening, reading, writing, as well as locating and using information needed for the naturalization test.

Let’s take a look at one of the content standards to get a better idea of how USCIS organized the guide. On the Civics Test portion (page 11), you will find a description of the test, including that it is an oral test. This indicates that the foundation skills students will need are speaking and listening.

You can also see there are eight content standards (Content Standards 5-12) that correspond to the civics portion of the naturalization test. Within each content standard, you can see the related progress standards students need to demonstrate in order to show they have mastered the content.

Here is a prompt to start today's discussion on content standards:

  • How does your program use content standards?

Actually I was just introduced to the Citizenship Standard page on the USCIS website.  However, we have aligned our class closely with the New Readers Press text, and I find it correlates pretty well with the USCIS content.  We feel we need to provide much more than the text, though, because most of our students come with limited education of any kind, and we want to give a broad understanding of the history of our country, not just memorizing facts.  My co-teacher created a picture based powerpoint to correspond with each chapter using art, photos, and graphics, and he explains each one.  We have another volunteer translating what he says into Spanish.  

Nancy Jacobs, and all,
If you scroll down to the bottom of this page:

you will see two invaluable Study Booklets. The first one, Learn About the United States is a pdf of the same booklet people get when they do their biometrics. It's M-638 Red!  And the second one has the 100 Q and A, and also the exact words which can appear in the reading test and the writing test. 
The current citizenship test is a tremendous improvement from an earlier version. Several ESL professionals were involved in the process and it shows!  The Red "book" connects the story of American history that allows newcomers to have the framework to understand and remember the "100"  Memorizing the answers without a fuller understanding of the concepts and history behind them is a disaster waiting to happen.
Understanding is probably helped along by having things translated, but the entire interview is in English. If the students haven't talked about the history in English, they might panic in the tension of the interview.  The picture-based PowerPoint sounds great.
(An aside. When I picked out my posting name, I didn't realize it would be "too long."  I'm Rosemary Schmid, in Charlotte, NC.  I think this discussion is valuable.)


Thank you for highlighting the civics educational resources on the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center. We appreciate your feedback on the USCIS educational materials you have used in your classroom. Did you know that USCIS has civics test study questions available on the Citizenship Resource Center in six other  languages for applicants who qualify for an age and time exception and accommodation? Your comment will also help us transition into today’s discussion on aligning instruction.

Hi, Everyone –

Yesterday, we introduced the standards and got some great feedback. Today, let’s talk more about how you can use them. We designed the standards for you to use in a variety of ways. Teachers can use them as checklists to help make sure they are covering the content that adult citizenship students need to successfully navigate the naturalization process. Teachers can also use them to help develop thematic lessons. For program staff, the standards can develop a citizenship curriculum with course outlines, lesson plans, and activities.

The standards can act as an outline for what students need to know for the naturalization interview and test. The standards can help programs and teachers develop a curriculum by showing what needs to be taught and in what scope and sequence. They can help teachers plan instruction by guiding the lesson plans and activities. Finally, the standards can help teachers assess students by checking whether they have mastered the content or skill.

Now let’s discuss how you can use standards to align instruction with the adult citizenship textbooks you use in class. The standards can help map the content and progress standards in your textbook. You can determine if the textbook covers what is required in the standards.

Once you have mapped the content and progress standards with your textbook, you can start creating or adapting your lesson plans to meet the requirements of the standards. You can start charting out the activities and materials, and an estimate on the time it may take for each activity, as well as an assessment to ensure your students have mastered what they need to know about the particular content standard. 

Here is sample information that could be part of a lesson plan:

  • Class Level: High beginning adult citizenship class
  • Date: Tuesday, February 24, 2015, 5:00pm-7:00pm
  • Week 2: U.S. Symbols and Holidays
  • Content Standard: Student can respond orally and correctly to civics test items about U.S. Symbols and Holidays (Content Standard 12, page 15)
  • Progress Standard: Symbol – U.S. Flag (Progress Standard 12a)
  • Textbook and Materials: List textbook chapter/pages, supplemental materials (e.g., related civics flash cards, USCIS lesson plans)
  • Activities: List sequence of activities and estimated times for each (e.g., introduction of new vocabulary, practice civics test questions, group work activities, homework discussion, review)
  • Assessment: This component should show if students have mastered the content covered in the lesson (e.g., review related civics test questions, chapter tests from the textbook)

(Note: This is only a sample for discussion purposes)

Here is a prompt question for today's discussion:

  • How do you, or can you, use content standards to differentiate adult citizenship instruction? 

There is an interesting premise to this question because the very mention of standards indicates an effort to promote instructional consistency; yet the momentum in curriculum and instruction is towards differentiation, which is intended to individualize the learning experience based on students' needs. Therefore is it possible to reconcile the tension between standardization and differentiation in curriculum design and instructional delivery? 

Kelton and others,

One way to reconcile the tension between standardization and differentiation in curriculum design and instructional delivery may be through competency-based approaches, in higher education, K-12, and in adult basic skills education. In a competency-based approach, the standards/intended outcomes/competencies are held constant but the instructional choices: teacher presentation live or on video; discussion; project-based learning; articles, books and other text; apprenticeships or internships, etc. and of course the amount of time needed by a student to meet the standards/competencies/intended learning outcomes will, by design, vary from student to student. The theoretical basis, Mastery Learning, assumes the standards as constants and that the most important variable is the amount of time a student needs to master them. Many post-secondary education institutions: universities, four-year and two-year colleges have recently been experimenting with competency-based education, and K-12 is also embracing "proficiency-based education" that may be quite similar. Adult basic skills programs in the 1970's - 1990's was also a leader in competency-based adult education, and I see increasing interest from adult educators now who are newly looking at how CBAE may be able to help adult learners master the new CCRS and other standards.

David J. Rosen

Hi David,

Thanks for your post. 

A couple of follow up questions for you (or anyone else would like to comment). 

First, you mentioned that many post-secondary education institutions are moving towards a competency based model and K-12 is starting to embrace proficiency-based education; is it possible to observe any of the effects of these shifts yet?

Second, you said that adult basic skills programs embraced competency-based education from the 1970s - 1990s. Why did adult education trend away from it in the 1990s?



My citizenship preparation students study the questions on the N-400 and practice answering them, both in the classroom and

at our mock interviews at the end of the program.  However, finding accurate translations for some of the difficult (and uncomfortable) vocabulary is

challenging.  I want my students to truly understand what is being asked of them.  I now know lots of words in Spanish, such as "habitual drunkard," and can verify that a student can explain them in English, but what resources are available for Arabic and Asian-language speakers?

I also would like to know more about determining whether someone can speak English.  I've had some students pass whose English speaking skills were

extremely low (and was surprised that they passed); I've had another who really can have a basic conversation about the N-400, albeit in a thick accent, and who was told to come back for another try.  What ESL level is the closest to what is considered passable?


Thanks for your question Barbara.

I can't speak to the exact experiences of your students, but the speaking portion of the interview is generally targeted at the high beginner level. As I'm sure you are aware, the Form N-400 is written at a much higher level. 

To speak to the broader issues that you raise, at least one purpose of content standards is to identify the knowledge and skills sets that students need to know to prepare for the interview. This is intended to make the teaching and learning process more predictable, regardless of your students background - but use raise an interesting point. Given the linguistic and cultural diversity of people applying for naturalization, should content standards be universally implemented or should curriculum designers and teachers have the freedom to adapt a set of content standards based on the needs of their students? 




Thanks for your comment, Kelton.  I feel quite strongly that preparing for the N-400 portion of the interview is as important as the 100 questions, and reading and writing sections of the test.  What needs closer examination, I think, is how teachers (1)  can prepare their students for the multiple ways that a question might be asked, and (2) how we can provide accurate translations of the N-400 vocabulary.  (Example:  my student who did not pass the English speaking portion of his exam knows the answer to the question of how many people live in his house and thought that he was giving a reasonable explanation, but then he was confused when the rephrasing of the question included the word "household.") 

English is a tough language, the N-400 is written at a higher level, and even the 100 questions use some rather interesting turns of phrase that require explanation. I've begun rewriting them in simpler English so that the meaning is understood. 

If USCIS wants successful candidates for naturalization, how can we help both the officers and our students in these particular areas?  (I'd be happy to continue this conversation privately if you would like.)  Thanks again!

I completely agree that the N-400 is as important as the civics, reading, and writing test. If you look at the Content Standards that our office has published (Rachael included a link her post above), in the section under Speaking Test, we breakdown every part of the N-400. 

In fact when discussing adult citizenship education in trainings we identify 3 primary content areas: civics, ESL, and naturalization/N-400. In the Content Standards we created, we broke these content areas out into 3 components: Pre-Interview, Interview, and Post-Interview. The idea behind this being exactly what you are speaking to, which is connecting officers and students (and teachers!) with the same content.

Thanks everyone for a great discussion today. Tomorrow we're going to continue our discussion by look more in depth at to use the Adult Citizenship Education Content Standards.

If you have had a chance to use them or look at them, do you think they cover everything thing an applicant needs to know for the naturalization interview and test? If not, what other topics, concepts, or issues would you include?




Good morning:

Yesterday we discussed aligning instruction with content standards and using study materials. Today we would like to build off of Kelton’s closing question from yesterday, do you think the USCIS content standards cover everything an applicant needs to know for the naturalization test? Why or why not? If not, what other topics, concepts, or issues would you include?

After our discussion the last couple of days and after taking a closer look at the Guide to the Adult Citizenship Education Content Standards and Foundation Skills, do you feel the content standards help you develop lessons thematically or are they more of a checklist to ensure your instruction covered all of the requisite content and skills?

It has been a great opportunity to talk about adult citizenship education and the content standards with everyone. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about our resources and strategies for preparing your students for the naturalization interview and test. We hope our discussion provided useful information that you can use in your classrooms and programs.

You can find adult citizenship education resources on the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center, our one-stop resource for locating citizenship preparation materials and activities. There are lesson plans, information about training seminars, professional development tools and materials, as well as supplemental resource links to many excellent resources to help you with your citizenship lessons. You can also learn more about the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program to promote civic integration and prepare permanent residents for citizenship.

Many community organizations and social service providers offer citizenship classes and assistance with the naturalization process. Our Find Help in Your Community page has information about English and Citizenship Classes, Legal Assistance, and USCIS-funded programs in your area.

Please sign up for free email updates to receive important USCIS news and information as soon as it’s available. You can also follow The Beacon, the official blog of USCIS.

Thanks again for the wonderful discussion!

Rachael and Kelton