Adult Citizenship Education

Hello, and welcome to our discussion on adult citizenship education. This week we look forward to sharing information about adult citizenship education, the naturalization test teaching objectives, contextualized instruction and resources to help learners prepare for the interview and test, and promising practices from the field.

Today, we would like to show the general requirements for the naturalization process, define adult citizenship education, and describe the naturalization test. This should provide a helpful overview for our discussion during the week.

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 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.

What do you think are the content knowledge and English language skills needed to prepare for naturalization? How would you teach those skills?


Hi Paul, and everyone.

Thanks, Paul, for the wealth of information you have given us above.  The speaking test still interests me, and I still have questions about it, so I clicked on the hyperlink to find out how the speaking test was evaluated and read this:

"SPEAKING: An applicant’s verbal skills are determined by the applicant’s answers to questions normally asked by USCIS Officers during the naturalization eligibility interview. USCIS Officers are required to repeat and rephrase questions until the Officer is satisfied that the applicant either fully understands the question or does not understand English. If the applicant generally understands and can respond meaningfully to questions relevant to the determination of eligibility, the applicant has demonstrated the ability to speak English."

My question: Is it true that the speaking test begins as soon as the Officer calls the name of the applicant and they walk together to the office for the interview? If so, I think it would be important to teach small talk, e.g.,  initiating and responding to questions about the weather, how a person is, and so on. It would also be important to talk about sociolinguistic conventions such as looking the Officer in the eye when speaking, shaking the extended hand and so on. Of course role plays in the classroom would be an obvious activity to teach those skills, but there must be more.

So I guess I have two questions:

1. For PauL Does the speaking test begin immediately as I stated above?

2.  For everyone: What are ways in addition to role plays to practice the language and content needed for the speaking test ?



From Miriam's quoted text above:

"USCIS Officers are required to repeat and rephrase questions until the Officer is satisfied that the applicant either fully understands the question or does not understand English"

My question for Paul is: will the USCIS officer repeat and rephrase automatically, or only if asked to do so by the applicant?

In addition to practicing small talk, it may be very important to have students learn and practice asking for clarification, repetition (more slowly), what a word means, etc.  And to learn and practice typical ways of buying time while thinking, so the officer doesn't think that lack of immediate response equals lack of comprehension (when the person may be thinking, trying to remember, or translating in his/her head).



 As Paul has stated, “…your ability to speak English is determined by your answers to questions normally asked by USCIS officers during the naturalization eligibility interview on Form N-400.”

How can teachers helps students practice for the N-400 Speaking Test? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Topics: The N-400 contains questions that cover several topics including: name, eligibility, residency, contact information, physical description, time outside the United States, parents/family, employment and school, marital history and children, affiliations, military service, moral character, additional information, and allegiance to the United States. Teachers can divide all the questions on the N-400 form into these topics to make teaching the interview process to students more manageable.
  • Designated Class Time: Teachers can schedule a designated time during class sessions during which students practice for the Naturalization Interview and the Civics (History and Government) Questions using a guided set of questions. (The topic of the questions can be changed with each class session.)
  • Video: Have students watch the mock interview video provided by the USCIS so students get a sense of the interview process. Have students discuss what they see in the video.
  • Role Play: Using a previously studied set of questions based on the N-400 form and the USCIS video, have students role play the interview, first with the interview modeled by the teacher, and then with a partner.
  • Inside-Outside Circle: Have students practice a set of previously studied interview questions using an Inside-Outside Circle format (outside circle rotates while the inside circle stands still). First, students practice a single question with several different partners, then, students switch to a second question and practice the second question with a series of partners, etc.
  • Small Groups of Four: Divide the class into groups of four. Have small groups practice a set of previously studied questions. Student A asks Student B a question-B answers. B asks C the same question-C answers. C asks D the same question-D answers. D asks A the same question-A answers. Then, using the same procedure, group members practice the next question.
  • Question Strips: Divide the class into small groups. Provide each group with the same set of questions strips. Turn the question strips face down and pile them on the table. Each student draws a question from the pile and asks that question of another group member.
  • Vocabulary: Divide the class into groups of three. Provide each group with a list of previously studied questions with difficult vocabulary words (narcotics, gamble, terrorist, alimony, nobility, smuggle, offense, etc.)  Have students circle and discuss the key vocabulary words. Have the class and student groups discuss the questions and answers. 

Hope these suggestions are helpful!!





Thank you so much, Ronna, for your wonderful suggestions on how to practice the speaking test. These are great activities to use with ESL classes in general, no matter the topic being discussed,.

I think it is worth noting that Ronna Magy is the author of the classroom text  U.S. Citizen, Yes. (2010, Cengage). The text provides practice with reading, writing, speaking, listening (there is an audio CD), and vocabulary. The text follows the strategy of moving from the known to unknown when building content knowledge,for, as the blurb online says, the book "builds on students' life skills and knowledge by encouraging them to systematically compare political systems and historical events in the United States with those in their native countries."

Are there any other suggestions out there for strategies to use in preparing students for the interview, or for any part of the exam?

For the N400/English-speaking portion of the interview, and really for the civics as well, we focus a lot in our program (Baltimore City Community College) on understanding the differences between how/what/where/when/why and yes/no questions. So we'll do worksheets, for example, where they get a paragraph to read and figure out the what, the where, the when, the why, etc... Or I'll have them go through mock interview sheets/the civics book and hunt down 5 "have you ever" questions or 5 "where" questions or whatever. Sometimes I'll have them compare "what" questions in the N400 part with "what" questions in the civics part, to understand that the same idea about question words relates to both sections of the interview.

Another thing I'll do is have them watch videos (there's many all over YouTube besides the standard USCIS one) or listen to podcasts (I love the USCitizenpodcast website!) and then ask them questions about the interview, and listen again. The key lesson there is to always listen carefully to the question in order to say the correct answer. Videos are great in general for all kinds of exercises - having them watch and write down good vs. bad speaking strategies or good vs. bad body language, listen for "have you ever" questions and write them down, write how many times they hear a certain word/phrase ("have you ever", or "do you" for instance), and so on. Videos are truly a great resource.

Dear Yana and all: Thanks for your post above. Your strategies cover the gamut from grammar/structure/vocabulary to content to the sociolinguistic competence, including body language.

I have a "have you ever" question for the community: Have you ever had a former student who has recently become a citizen come back to the class and be interviewed by other students on just exactly what happened during the interview, what questions were asked, where the interview took place, how he or she felt, how long it lasted, and so on?

 Seems like that might be a good strategy.

Other ideas, anyone?



We encourage our students to come in after their interview and most of them do.  The students in the class are very interested in what questions were asked, what the immigration officer was like, etc.  Our students also usually bring food from their countries--this really is a great practice!

Well, I always have students come back to the class after they pass their interviews.  They tell what happened, answer questions, and celebrate w/their classmates.  I haven't, however, had students from previous classes come and tell about their experiences.  Good idea! (Although this could be tricky, since we find that students who have been coming faithfully for years all of a sudden disappear after passing the test! Image removed.)

Krista Anderson

Burnsville, Minnesota

I will begin teaching a Citizenship Preparation class at my school this Fall. Has U.S. Citizen, Yes been updated to reflect the expansion of the N-400 Application? I understand that Voices of Freedom will be updated this summer. Does anyone know of an updated text since I will be ordering textbooks for the first time and might as well get an updated edition?

I have found that preparing a set of "scripts"( simple, easy, basic--posted on for each section of the N-400 has helped my students prepare for the Citizenship Interview.  n

Besides pair practice, the students must complete's Citizenship assessment tests ( 951/952R, 965/966G, and most importantly, the Citizenship Interview Test (CIT 973/974), which colloquially phrase some of the N-400 questions, interrupts the expected sequence of the interview, and asks for definitions of terms in Section N-400 Part 11.


Teacher-led mock interviews in the classroom setting can be a very useful way to practice this portion of the test.  In addition to reviewing information on the N-400 form, our mock interviewers ask vocabulary questions, practice small talk, and give commands to students - and the teacher usually provides commentary to the class throughout the interview, pointing out exemplary student answers and giving feedback when a better answer could have been given.

We also use the US Citizenship Podcast resources - they have created worksheets that discuss vocabulary for each section of the interview, and these are used in small groups, volunteer one-on-one interactions, and in plenary.

Hi Paul,

This is Ahmad from English Skills Learning Center in Salt Lake City Utah. I have a question about the speaking part of the test. As we know, there are a lot of questions in the N-400 application, does the officer choose which questions to ask, or there are a number of questions that the officer has to ask any applicant or he/she has to ask all the application questions?



Hi, Ahmad -

The officer’s questions relate to eligibility and include questions provided in the naturalization application. The questions asked during each individual interview may differ slightly.




Just wanted to share my most shocking cautionary tale regarding the "interview."  One of my best students for several years, a mid-30s Vietnamese immigrant spouse failed her first interview attempt based on her inability to respond satisfactorily to the questions presented about her N-400 Application.

It seems her husband, in the U.S. since he was a teenager, after returning to Vietnam, marrying her and, ultimately bringing her and their son to the U.S., decided to make it easier on himself and simply completed the application by himself without her intimate involvement.  Therefore, when she presented at the interview and was asked the questions regarding "her" responses to the application she did not know the answers because she had not participated in completing the form with her husband.  This same husband, though he works in a highly English intensive environment will not speak English at home with his wife because he "doesn't want her to learn English with an accent."  He says he wants to send her to "professional speech pathologists to acquire "correct pronounciation."  So, in addition to the civics questions, the reading, the writing, we then had to study her actual application form to familiarize her with all the answers he had provided.  They were all true, of course, and she was able to reason and understand why each question was answered the way it was.  The next interview, she passed that portion of the test 100% as she had all the other portions and received her citizenship last summer. 

She is still a student, however, she loves to learn.  We used "She sells seashells" to overcome her lack of the "sh" in her own language.  At first she could not even hear it, but after "seashells" she can pronounce any sh or s word in the English language.  We do a lot of English Phonics in my classes mostly because I personally don't know the phonics systems of their languages and so far have only been able to find one resource which is for Spanish speakers.  The video purports that there are twenty phonics problems in English for Spanish speakers and demonstrates how they can be overcome.  I wish there was one of these videos for each language we encounter.  I love to help my Adult ESL students both in ESL and in obtaining their Permanent Residence or Citizenship.  I am also very interested in anything that can help immigrants who hold professional licenses in other countries to acquire board certification so that they might continue their professional careers and/or education and become highly productive individuals in the U.S. as opposed to the many whom I have met who were not able do so at the time they came but (of course) have become successful in other endeavors in order to provide a future for their children.  I commend them highly but, my, what a loss to us, America, when they could have been the health provider or architect, engineer or teacher.  Talk about wasting brain power.  Sorry! 

Thanks for listening.



There is a great pronunciation section in The ESL Teacher's Book of Lists by Jacqueline E. Kress, Ed.D. Languages covered for problem English sounds are Chinese, French, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Urdu and Vietnamese. It is one of the best resources on this issue I have seen.

Good Afternoon Paul,

I have a question the textbook that is used for teaching Citizenship classes both Teacher and Student edition. I have noticed that textbook for Citizenship class has changed since the last one that I was given back in 2005/2006. The book had the US Government and History. In this new edition, does it include the Sample Reading Test and Sample Writing Test that students can work on to prepare for the test, in addition to the Multiple choice questions in US Government and History?


Nina Nwaobilo

Good Afternoon Miriam,

The Citizenship Textbook that I have used in the past is called "Citizenship: Passing the test, Civics and Literacy" published by Pro-Literacy, which has the Beginners and Immediate textbook for students and the Teacher's edition. The Citizenship textbook that I was asking about, is a Red Textbook with the picture of the face of the Statue of Liberty, that one of my classmates in Graduate School had used as part of her Presentation known as Citizenship Basics by Robert Proctor and Darin French. I had to do some research to find the book and I discovered that there is another book blue book the Citizenship basics, that has the Civics questions with the complete package that includes the interview, CD, and DVD at





Citizenship: Passing the Test includes 3 different student books:

  • Civics and Literacy -- covers the essential topics of the 100 civics questions
  • Literacy Skills -- for students who need extra help with English
  • Ready for the Interview -- to prepare students to fill out the N-400 and practice for the interview

We just revised Ready for the Interview to align with the new N-400 form. There is one teacher's guide for the set. And we just revised the audio as well. You can get details on the books here:


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For questions about applying for naturalization, I am going to direct you to the USCIS Information Sessions page. At these sessions, you can speak directly with a USCIS Officer. You will also have an opportunity to observe a naturalization interview, and see firsthand how the naturalization test is administered.

You can also contact your local USCIS Community Relations Officer.

Finally, the Guide to Naturalization can provide information on eligibility requirements and frequently asked questions.



Hi Paul,

Thanks for taking time to answer our questions.  I have 2 questions for you.

1)  I am a bit confused about the need for certificates for minor children who automatically become citizens when their parent(s) acquire citizenship.  It appears that it is optional for those children to apply for their own Certificate of Naturalization, at a cost of $600, thus many choose to apply for U.S. passports for their minor children in lieu of applying for the certificate.  I wonder how those individuals would respond in the future, given requests for Naturalization Certificate numbers.  For example, applicants for security clearances are asked for that information.  Would these individuals be required to obtain a naturalization certificate in that case and if so, may they apply for that document at any time in the future, after having obtained citizenship via a parent's status?  

2) Is there a uniform policy about retaking the naturalization test?  I have worked with individuals who pass parts of the test (ex. Reading, Writing, Civics questions) and fail another ( Speaking) and are asked to report back for a 2nd test.  In some cases, their instruction sheet indicates that they only need take a specific part of the test;  in other cases, there is no indication of which parts they may have to retake.  When I inquired about this at our local USCIS office, I could not get a definitive answer.  Can you clarify that? 

Thanks so much for your assistance with these 2 issues,

Rhea Boudaoud

Rappahannock Area Regional Adult Education

Hi, Rhea -

For both of your questions, I would contact the USCIS Community Relations Officer that serves your jurisdiction. This person can assist with questions about naturalization applications and how the naturalization test is administered.



Hi, Everyone –

Yesterday, we introduced the naturalization test. Today, let’s go over the components of the naturalization test. We will begin with the civics test. We will review the topics covered and look at some of the sentence structures that appear on the test.

The Naturalization Test – The Civics Test Component

There are 100 civics questions on the naturalization test. They cover topics on important U.S. history and government, as well as integrated civics. U.S. history topics include the Colonial Period and Independence, 1800s, and Recent American history. U.S. government topics include Principles of American democracy, System of Government, and Rights and Responsibilities. Integrated civics topics include Geography, Symbols, and Holidays.

There are 10 standard test forms, and each form is weighted for fairness. Each form has 10 civics questions. There is a special consideration of the civics test for applicants who, at the time of filing their Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, are over 65 years old and have been a permanent resident for at least 20 years. These applicants qualify to take the civics test in the language of their choice, and are only required to study 20 of the 100 civics test questions for the naturalization test.

The civics test is an oral test. The USCIS Officer asks questions out loud and will repeat and rephrase questions as needed. The Officer stops asking questions after 6 correct answers.

There are different types of questions and answers on the civics test. Some civics test questions have one possible correct answer (e.g., What is the supreme law of the land? Answer: The Constitution.). Some civics test questions may have a choice of possible correct answers, and the question asks for one answer (e.g., What is one right or freedom from the First Amendment? Possible answers: speech, religion, assembly, press, petition the government.). Some civics test questions may require more than one answer (e.g., There were 13 original states. Name three.).

Question: What are some strategies you have used to help teach the 100 civics questions?


Thanks, Paul, for your information about the 100 questions and the link.

Certainly 100 questions can seem overwhelming, and so teachers, of course, break them into parts. One activity could be to take about 10 of the questions and put them on strips - the questions on one color strip and the answers on another. Give each student either a question or  an answer and ask him or her to find their partner - the matching question or answer.  This gets the students moving around and talking to one another and has the element of a game. A variation on this might be to put the students in groups of 4 or so and give each group all 10 of the questions and answer strips you are focusing on during that class and have the groups match questions with answers- in a contest to see which group completes it first.

In another activity,  the teacher could put answers on the board or on a flip chart and ask the students to either singly or in teams run up to the board and tap the correct answers as she reads the questions. This is a variation on "flyswatter," and  it is a bit raucous at times, but fun.

Those are just a couple of activities - I know there are lots of you out there who teach citizenship. How do you practice the 100 questions?


I have written a series of multiple choice tests, usually associated with holidays, which embed approximate 10-20 USCIS questions within a statement that links the USCIS question with the holiday.  Here is an example from A Presidential Valentine’s Day Quiz:

01. The writer of the Declaration of Independence wrote: "All men are created equal."  This principle has been tested in both love and war.

After the death of his first wife, the writer of the Declaration of Independence met Sally Hemings, the half-sister of his dead wife.  Sally was the daughter of his white father-in-law and an African-American slave.  Although Sally was a slave, the writer fell in love with her and never married another woman.  Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? (62)

  1. Benjamin Franklin
  2. George Washington
  3. John Adams
  4. Thomas Jefferson

Students are directed to focus on the USCIS questions in bold, but those who finish their tests first go back and "puzzle" their way through the introductory comments.  This addressed the curiosity of the higher-level students, but lower-level students were interested in the questions' introductory comments as well ("Who is Sally?").  The more English proficient students explained the comments to the less proficient students, but the higher students didn't know all of the historical background and the classroom devolved into tables of L1-only discussion with the different language groups being locked out of the others' insights. to bridge this gap? 

Recently, I started including hotlinks in the quizzes in order to bridge language gap.  Students who finish the quiz first are directed to access the quiz with their smart phones, follow the hot-links in the quiz (I assign different questions to different students), and share what they find with their fellow students. The students initially share with their L1 table-mates, but quickly the resolves into English, and they can share the info with students who don't speak the same L1.

For example, this is the first question from the Memorial Day quiz:

01. The Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston <> is the final resting place for many Revolutionary War-era patriots, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence and the five victims of the Boston Massacre.  Why did the colonists fight the British? (61)

  1. because they didn’t have self-government
  2. because they didn’t have taxes
  3. because they didn’t want houses
  4. because they didn’t want self-government

Students shared all sorts of pictures and information from the various websitesabout a taboo subject (death, graves, tombs, etc).  A much more interesting class.

In short, I encourage teacher to embed the USCIS questions in cultural/historical context and use the tools at hand (in this case, smart phones) to share info with one another.

My students' favorite activity for practicing the 100 questions was a chutes-and-ladders type folder game that I created.  I wish I still had the template, but I no longer have that computer. You can start with one of the board  games from Boggles World ESL.  Then I changed the boxes to the following:

  • answer one of the 100 questions (They shuffled the cards and drew one at random)
  • answer an interview question (I had made cards for this as well)
  • READ one of the 100 question answers
  • a few "game" boxes like "move ahead", "lose a turn", "roll again" and so on.

The die for this game only had 1s, 2s, and one 3s on it.

It was a really fun way to review the questions and skills they needed for the interview.


Thanks, Glenda, for sharing  the Boogles ESL website. To try it out, I downloaded the Word Skills board game and played around with it a bit and saw how you can just remove the writing/photos that are on the squares and put whatever you want there. And of course, with the laminator you could make a permanent game to use.


Hi everybody - my name is Yana, I'm an instructor in the Baltimore City Community College Citizenship Preparation Program, and also help administer the curriculum for about 20 of our program's classes.

My absolute favorite game for practicing civics is "Civics Jeopardy". This involves a little bit of legwork - I create about 4-5 categories (Geography, Government, 1800's History, 1900's History, Symbols, etc) and sheets that say different point scores (100, 200, 300, 400, 500, and a bonus 1000). I prepare questions for those categories and their scores, with 100 being easiest, and tape up the scores/category names on the board (you could probably just write the numbers on there as well). The class is divided into 2 teams and they go one by one choosing categories/scores and I write the scores on the board. Everyone always has a lot of fun competing to get a higher score, and the game always ends up quite successful. I've also done it at outreach events to give people a feel for the class, and suffice to say had new students after they played that game!

I love the board game idea, I wonder if you could draw up a big board game on a white board and have the whole class compete that way?

Besides games, I think we all know there's also a lot of simple memorization that goes into the civics. I always assign my students about 5-10 questions to work on for homework and I quiz them with flash cards at each class. I keep the growing "homework pile" and now and then divide those cards up between the students and have them quiz each other. We also go over keywords to look out for in memorizing, since some words (e.g river, west coast, east coast, great depression, etc) only appear once in the civics questions.

Yana, I like your idea about "Civics Jeopardy" - and your reference to flash cards in each class.  I like to have my students prepare their own set of flash cards.  I know that USCIS has flash cards, but I tell my students that when they prepare them, the information on the card travels up through the pencil, up through their arm, and into their brain.  An exaggeration, of course.  However, home-made cards are portable and fit in pockets and purses, allowing for practice at any time the student has a spare minute.

Hi Yana,

I saw that you made a Jeopardy game for your students.  There is actually a great website for making Jeopardy games, it's called Flip Quiz :    It is very simple to use and you can save your games for future classes.  You can also share games with other teachers.  I've been using it this spring with my students and it works really well.

Jennifer Latzgo

This is certainly an important discussion as it deals with one of the key goals sought after by the majority of adult ESOL students. As I am from the US, I myself learned many things about my country I may never have learned until I stood at the vantage point of someone looking in from the outside. I also had the good fortune of being present when my wife, her father, and many students took the U.S. citizenship oath. For each of them it was clear that it was a, if not the, major event of their lives.  They had studied very hard to get there, their bank accounts were drained to the last penny, and they had jumped many hurdles.

One way the interviews were similar for everyone I had experience with is that they all had something happen that was unexpected.  Many times the unexpected surprise came from the officer and the way he or she interacted with the interviewee.  Once I was the translator for a husband and wife at their interview. The wife went first and passed.  Then came the husband, and he was not doing well.  He seemed to be frozen with fear. The question came about the colors of the flag.  To this man, the color blue looked gray at that moment in time. The officer held up the flag from his desk and asked the question again, pointing to the blue part of the flag.  To my student, blue still looked gray.  The officer asked, "Do you think it looks like blue gray?" My student answered yes.  Whew!  The officer smiled and said he had to try his best to find a way to get him to pass because he had just passed his wife moments ago.

Shortly after that I was at a workshop where they taught us how to help students not freeze up when asked an unexpected question.  Pieces of paper with a question were taped to a big beach ball.  Standing in a circle we tossed the ball to someone on the other side. Upon catching the ball, we had to answer the question that was facing us at the moment we caught the ball. I used this exercise about once a week to help develop spontaneity in answering the 100 questions.

Phil Anderson

Adult ESOL Program Specialist

Florida Department of Education


I like your story, Phil. I, too, am lucky enough to have been present when someone close to me, in my case, my daughter  - born in Russia - took the oath of citizenship when she became a naturalized citizen. Yes, as my adoptive daughter she was "automatically" a U.S. citizen, but since I had adopted her before that became so explicit in the law, my lawyer advised me when my daughter was still 18, that she should apply formally for citizenship. She didn't have to pass any tests, and we didn't have to empty our bank accounts, but it was thrilling none the less! She has her citizenship certificate up on the wall of her bedroom.

To respond to your activity, which seems quite apt - the questions the students get on the ball are random, as they are in the interview- I'm wondering if the gambits native speakers use to buy time when they don't have the answer on the tip of their tongues or want to carefully consider what they will say couldn't be taught to students.  For example, saying things like:

"That's an interesting question, let me think about that a moment."

or having the student repeat the question as if for confirmation: "You're asking me to name three of the original states? "

Or would that not be considered appropriate at the interview?



We use a 12-week syllabus for our classes, which separates the 100 questions, reading/writing vocabulary, and interview by topics.  Some of the 100 Questions topics:




U.S. History

U.S. Government

Integrated Civics (i.e. "Symbols and Holidays")

Rights and Responsibilities


Later in the course, these topics can be referred to - for example, a review activity in which students sort through cards containing images/words of People, Documents, and Places, and then put them in a logical order based on the current lesson.  Or using the same visual representation of a particular place/person when discussing History or Government.  We also provide reference charts on these topics - one chart, for example, contains the names and photos of all the People that students need to know for the interview, as well as an explanation of who the person is and a reference to the 100Q question number.  This can be quite useful for self-study, as well as reference in class.  (CUNY's curriculum has some good reviews by topic.)

Activity types vary from Cloze sentences and Crossword puzzles to Folder games and cut-and-paste activities.  Activities that engage the whole class are particularly useful, including multi-level approaches (Miami-Dade's curriculum contains several such activities, pp15-24).

The questions dealing with Rights and Responsibilities of citizens, residents, etc can be some of the most confusing.

Does anyone have a good teaching method for this topics, besides a reading passage or chart?

We have used a Venn Diagram in some classes (one circle reads "Rights", one reads "Responsibilities" and one reads "Only for Citizens" and then placed the various rights/responsibilities into the correct circles); this doesn't always translate very well to students who have not had much formal education, and they still sometimes confuse the questions dealing with these topics.

Now let’s talk about the reading and writing tests. These components cover fundamental concepts of U.S. history and government. USCIS provides vocabulary lists and flash cards containing the words found in the English reading and writing portions of the test.

For the reading test, the applicant reads an interrogative sentence. The applicant does not need to answer the question. The applicant must read only one out of three sentences correctly to pass. For the writing test, the applicant is dictated a declarative sentence. The applicant must write only one out of the three sentences correctly to pass.

What English language skills would your students need to prepare for the reading and writing test components, and how would you teach those skills?

Thanks, Paul, for sharing the links to the vocabulary cards and lists. You know, when I downloaded the Reading Test Vocabulary List it was kind of a relief to see the universe of the words the applicants need to be able to read and understand. I think I would share that list with the students up front, if the level was high enough and have them perhaps talk in pairs or groups about what they know about the words.

To respond to your question, Paul, certainly "wh" questions need to be practiced as well as "yes/no". In addition to the grammar, I would talk about the fact that yes/no questions have rising intonation and "wh" questions have rising/falling. And I might have the students raise their hands at the rising part of the sentence, or stand up. This would help students recognize what sort of question is being asked, something native speakers do without thinking. It would also help students connect  the written language they need to know with the oral language they need to understand and use.

Community: What other skills are needed and how might we teach them?



Hi, Miriam -

USCIS has developed tip sheets on basic strategies for teaching reading and teaching writing. These tip sheets present information on determining students’ reading or writing proficiencies and building upon them, materials that reinforce citizenship content, and incorporating various learning activities.



Hi Paul,

The USCIS has thoughtfully provided instructors with several teaching tools that can be used to prepare students for the Naturalization Test including the Reading and Writing Vocabulary Cards for the Reading and Writing Tests, and the Civics Flash Cards, the 100 Civics Questions and Answers List, and the 100 Civics Questions and Answers with MP3 Audio for Teachers for the 100 Civics Questions.

As you’ve explained, during the Speaking Test the USCIS Officer asks the applicant questions about their N-400 Application for Naturalization Form and background. I’m wondering what teaching tools the USCIS plans to provide instructors so instructors may teach the higher level of vocabulary needed by applicants so that applicants can complete the new, 21-page Application for Naturalization, N-400 Form and respond appropriately when questioned about their answers. It will be necessary for instructors to teach students vocabulary words and phrases such as: torture, genocide, not letting someone practice his religion, forced sexual contact, vigilante group, prison camp, detention facility, labor camp, paramilitary, exclusion, weapons training, etc.

Will there be flash cards or word lists with definitions provided to instructors? contextualized readings? What guidance will be provided to instructors on how to teach these concepts?






Hi, Rona -

Great question. USCIS has a tip sheet for teaching some types of vocabulary words or phrases that may be challenging, along with some examples from Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. This tip sheet presents also provides strategies for teaching vocabulary.



Thanks for directing us to the "Tip Sheet".   I appreciate the attempt to assist us in helping our ELLs with this very cumbersome and difficult vocabulary, particularly that contained in Part 11 of the N-400.  Most of the individuals who enroll in our citizenship preparation classes stress most over this part of the test.  We strive to relay the message that a very high % of individuals do pass the test and to build confidence in the applicants. 

We spend a great deal of time in our citizenship classes helping candidates learn how to ask for clarification and rephrasing because of the nature of the questions.  One good resource is the CD that is included in the Pearson "Future - U.S. Citizenship" text.  It includes 3 mock interview videos with actors at different proficiency levels and each does a good job at asking for clarification and engaging in some preliminary "small talk" with the USCIS interviewer.  It also shows different "officers", which allows us to compare their speaking and demeanor and ways to adapt to that.

It's interesting that study materials for the Civics questions are now available in multiple languages.  Is that something that might be considered by USCIS, particularly as it applies to Part 11?  As pointed out in  the "Tip Sheet", we need to be careful in rendering any explanations or "translations" of those questions, so as to not offer advice or interpretation, so an official translation would be really helpful. 

Rhea Boudaoud



Hello, everyone. Welcome to day 3 of the discussion on the adult citizenship education, focusing on the naturalization test teaching objectives, contextualized instruction and resources to help learners prepare for the interview and test, and promising practices from the field. We know this is an important topic for English language learners and those working with them. Paul Kim of USCIS has provided us with links to important websites and resources, and there has been some good conversation on classroom strategies for preparing immigrants for citizenship.

Let's continue to focus on the test itself, and teaching strategies, professional development, and resources to use in helping students prepare successfully for the test.

Yesterday Paul provided us with links to resources for teaching reading and teaching writing. Has anyone tried these resources? How? What has your experience been with them? What other resources do you use for preparing students for the reading and writing sections of the test?