USCIS - Adult Citizenship Education Content Standards and Foundation Skills

Let’s start by discussing one of our newest resources, 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

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.

What do you think about the content standards? Are they helpful? Also, for those who use standards in their programs, what do you do with them?



I have mixed feelings on the use of content standards in adult education, honestly.  It seems like most teachers work backwards.  They design a lesson based on what they know their students need to know, and then, if required, they link it to a content standard.  The content standards are important for making sure all students are receiving the same baseline of instruction, but I haven't been terribly impressed by their use in the field of adult education...yet.

But in the case of these standards for USCIS, they are a great outline for exactly what students need to know before they go into their citizenship interview.  I think they would be very helpful for program coordinators and instructors to make sure that all students are fully prepared for the interview, especially if the instructors have limited experience with the naturalization process.  

Has anyone turned these into something like "can do" statements or a checklist for students?  If I were still teaching citizenship in the classroom, I think that is one of the things I would do with these to help students plan and monitor their own progress.



Hi, Glenda. Thanks for your comments, especially about using the standards as an outline or checklist. Those are great descriptions of how teachers can use the standards to help align instruction with the knowledge and skills they will need for the naturalization interview and test.

I am very happy to see these content standards for the USCIS citizenship process and interview. At the very least, it give educators some insights into what the adjudicators are trained to look for. It sets standards from which the adjudicators should not stray, even though some still do. Having these standards provides me with some ammunition when I contact our local field office's customer service rep to report an aberration in a student's interview. For example, we've had students come back and report that they were asked to WRITE a question and READ a sentence. This is opposite of what it is supposed to happen and the opposite of how students practice. Just that small change in procedure can really throw an English language learner who is already nervous about passing the interview. 

The field rep is always open to knowing when one of the adjudicators strays off the standard and I have to qualms about reporting what students relate to me. I always ask if this is a new standard that we need to be aware of. (It never is!)

It has been hard enough to educate DHS into using English that is accessible to ELLs; I sure wouldn't' want to see it all blown to the wind because an adjudicator was in a bad mood and deliberately tried to trip up an applicant. It happens, but gratefully, less often than in the past. In the days before the new 100 Questions (pre-2008), students came back with horror stories of adjudicators deliberately giving the applicant a difficult literacy test, making up sentences about any topic with any vocabulary. One adjudicator in California allegedly failed an application because the man could not sing the Star Spangled Banner!  

No, I am very happy that USCIS has these standards to keep themselves operating within a framework that recognizes the realities of the population coming in for their interviews. They are very logically laid out and there is nothing in these standards that our program isn't doing in our citizenship study. It also provides us with ideas to incorporate into our ESL that will benefit citizenship applicants, such as answering question about their height and weight,

Kat Bradley-Bennett
Longmont, CO

Hi, Kat -

Thanks for your comments about the naturalization process and feedback on the standards. USCIS has scoring guidelines that provide a general description of how the U.S. Naturalization Test is evaluated and scored by USCIS officers. In addition, the naturalization test was modified to achieve two basic objectives:

  • A uniform and consistent testing experience for all applicants
  • A civics test that can effectively assess an applicant’s knowledge of U.S. history and government.

If you ever have a comment or complaint about USCIS, you can speak with a USCIS supervisor at a USCIS office, write USCIS with your complaint, submit a complaint directly with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIS), or raise concerns to USCIS Headquarters. You can learn more about how to address comments and complaints to USCIS on The Beacon, The Official Blog of USCIS.


As I stated in my first post, I have had no problems reporting problems or aberrations in the USCIS citizenship interview to the field office in Denver. The reps have always been open to hearing from us when we encounter something out of the ordinary.

And, yes, USCIS has vastly improved on its consistency in regards to the interview. That is why I am happy to see the content standards set down, as well as the corpus from which all of the Civics & US History and the literacy tests are derived. 

Another plus to being so close to the field office is that Amber Vaseck, the current rep, tries to visit our program twice a year, when she can, to answer questions and deliver additional study materials. Her visits are always extremely helpful to our volunteer instructors, who always have questions about the process.

Thanks for your response!


Kudos to the standards writing team for presenting the naturalization process in three easy-to-follow steps: 1) the Pre-Interview, 2) the Interview, and 3) the Post-Interview. The Interview step is nicely presented by separating it into the clearly defined components of 'civics knowledge' and the language skills of 'speaking [& listening],' 'reading,' and 'writing.'

I particularly like this statement from the introduction on page 2 at the bottom: "In addition, the standards also cover areas that may not be required to be successful during the interview and to pass the test, but still may lead to skills and knowledge that would help students better prepare for their naturalization experience."

Two of the progress standards in the Pre-Interview component that are good examples of that are: "Students can plan for and arrive at their interviews (logistics)." "Students can act on basic commands given by security guards at the USCIS facility." Anyone who has accompanied students or family members to their interviews knows that everyone feels an overload of anxiety. If a teacher can help prepare the applicant to plan out their trip on 'The Day' and know what security guards might say and do, and how to respond to other USCIS staff in the waiting area, that would take away some of the stress. I applaud the writers of the standards for including ways that teachers can help make the whole experience as stress-free as possible. Although when the applicant hears the words, "You passed," all of the stress melts away and is replaced with great happiness, it would also be great to avoid getting so stressed beforehand. I am sure most of us have drama-filled stories about scary touch-and-go moments that occurred on 'The Day!'

From the perspective of adult education teachers who have little time to search for additional documents or do not have internet service readily available, the Civics Test Progress Standards could be expanded to provide the answers to the test items. A column could be added to the side with the answers that would help teachers save time by not needing to search for a separate document that has the answers. This could easily be done, making the document into more of a curriculum, perhaps. Is the document available in Word format so teachers can cut and paste it?

Phil Anderson, Adult ESOL Program Specialist, Florida Department of Education



Hi, Phil. Thank you for input. It is helpful to view the naturalization process in the three steps. You pointed out some common experiences applicants face when they go arrive for their naturalization interview and test (i.e., the pre-interview and interview process, Content Standard 3, page 5). The Naturalization Pre-Interview Components can help them navigate the naturalization process.

The USCIS Naturalization Interview and Test Video can complement the activities you design in helping students master the naturalization pre-interview components.

Also, thank you for your suggestion on formatting the standards with an additional column. Currently, they standards are only available as a PDF document. However, I will pass along your suggestion to our office.

Hi, Everyone –

Yesterday, we introduced the standards and got some great feedback about their usefulness. 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.

As Glenda mentioned yesterday, 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)

What are your thoughts on how you can use the content and progress standards to align instruction? Would you approach it differently? Also, what has worked best for you when developing your lesson plans?


The 'Class Level' for your sample lesson is High Beginning, or the National Reporting System Educational Functioning Level 3. Is there a suggested educational functioning level that your team recommends that students should reach before enrolling in a course that has the main purpose of citizenship preparation? Perhaps the information is provided somewhere already, but I missed it. If so, I apologize.

The State of Florida DOE offers a regular adult ESOL course that provides English instrucion in a life and work context. The state also offers a citizenship course that focuses mainly on preparing students for naturalization. The course has the essential vocabulary and English language skills necessary to be successful in the interview and to pass the civics test. However, it does not have built into it the basic reading, writing, speaking and listening skills that students at the beginning levels need. We recommend students enroll in the regular ESOL course first and reach the Low Intermediate level before enrolling in the Citizenship course.  The Citizenship course is also open to English-speaking immigrants, and it is recommended that those students be in the Adult Basic Eduation (ABE) Beginning Basic level. Non-English speaking students are tested in both listening and reading before enrolling in the Citizenship course, while English-speaking students are tested in reading only.

Phil Anderson, Adult ESOL Program Specialist, Florida Department of Education

Thanks, Phil. The reading and writing portions of the naturalization test were created at about the NRS High Beginning Level. This may be a helpful baseline to determine a student’s English language skills for the naturalization interview and test. Also, the scoring guidelines do not list NRS levels, but it describes what applicants will need to demonstrate for each component of the interview and test.

Paul - one important skills that you might consider adding to the guide is being able to ask for clarification ("can you repeat that", "can you say that in another way", "can you explain", etc.)  particularly as regards Part 11 of  the N-400 interview questions.  The language in that section is well beyond the NRS functioning levels of any of the learners who come to our Citizenship Prep classes and we stress the importance of them asking for clarification as needed.  Just because a learner has been able to complete the N-400 in writing, particularly for those that do so in Spanish, does not mean they will be able to understand or respond to  those same questions orally.

While the reading and writing portions of the test are probably in the high-beginning NRS level, this is not true of much of the vocabulary contained on the N-400. Much of that vocabulary exceeds the level of any applicant who would need/seek a citizenship class. So, teaching applicants about how to ask for clarification is essential.

In a related question, is there any attempt being made or considered about changing some of the language on the N-400 for the next revision?


Thanks for the comments, Rhea. Practicing how to ask for clarification or for repetition if they do not understand what is being asked by a USCIS officer is a great way to help your students prepare for the interview. You could also practice this by watching the USCIS Naturalization Interview and Test video, which simulates what the naturalization interview and tests are like at a USCIS office, or by conducting mock interviews with your students. Prior to their interview, tell your students to review their responses on their Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

USCIS issued a revised Form N-400 on February 4, 2014. For your question regarding language on the Form N-400, please email the Office of Public Engagement:

In my classes, and when I designed a course for a USCIS grant, I chose to work with the textbook Voices of Freedom by Bill Bliss.  Over the past 10 years of using that text, I've only had one person who worked with me to prepare for the process using that book not pass, and that had to do with a citation he forgot he had received on the day he arrived, not on knowledge and skills required for the test.   I've even used the book as a "distance learning" text for folks who wanted to prepare and couldn't come to class.

What I'd like to see is the alignment of the text to the standards given.  I imagine, due to the success rate I had with this text, that it is fairly well aligned, but making that explicit would be a great way for me, as a classroom instructor, to determine what kind of outside activities and resources to use to supplement the text.  

There are many other great texts out there.  I'm hoping Federico Salas-Isnardi will talk a bit about the Future U.S. Citizens text.  

My point is that if you have a great resource text and can align it with these standards as a "can-do" or competency check list, it would put meat on your bones and really help an instructor to feel confident that s/he has helped the student prepare as well as possible before sending them to USCIS. 

What other resources / texts have folks used?


I really appreciate the USCIS standards as a citizenship teacher, because I'm reminded that my clients need more than just content knowledge for the test, but also the pre and post test components.

With my low level English speakers, I encourage them to seek assistance from immigration attorneys filling out the N-400 application 2e: Students can read words and sentences in all parts of Form N-400. 2f: Students can write words and sentences in all parts of Form N-400 in order to complete the application. I don't know how applicable these standards are in that case...

I like to follow a daily routine in my citizenship classes that mimics a naturalization interview -small talk, some commands -N-400 previous questions and then new questions slowly working our way through the eleven parts -Writing practice based on previous classes content -Reading practice (same) -100 Question review and then launch into new content.

As far as texts, curriculum...our program pulls from various sources, but the most important text would be Lynn Weintraub's Citizenship Passing the Texts (a text that is great for our Level 2 classes and can be assigned reading homework for our Level 3) Great pictures. We also use the USCIS flashcards, both the 100 questions and the reading/writing ones. We also show the Interview every round classes, often pausing it at different moments to check students comprehension ("What command did she say?" etc) I also pull from Minnesota Literacy Council's citizenship curriculum A and B

I will be trying something new this next round of classes. I don't get to do this all the time because time is a factor, but taking students to our local courthouse and having them go through security and see the courtroom where the ceremony takes place...I think this will be a very exciting and encouraging trip for them. Previously, I have taken students on a field trip to the local library to see what resources are available to them and how they can use the computers for more study. This trip was a success, with several students signing up for library cards!

Have you gone on field trips?

I'd LOVE to sit in on an interview:) but the closest I come to that is talking with our immigration attorneys at our center asking "which questions trip up clients the most on the N-400?" "what small talk does the officer use most often?"

Thanks, Kadie

ESL and Citizenship Instructor, LSS Center for New Americans Sioux Falls, SD

I note that you recommend your students hire an immigration lawyer to complete the N-400 application.  There are two potential problems with this recommendation.  If a student has a straight-forward application process, no lawyer is needed.  There are often free agencies and pro-bono lawyers who will help complete the application, or a family friend can help.  Students who have used lawyers reported charges of $3,000 for unnecessary services.  Additionally, the lawyers didn't submit the application in a timely manner and often had to be hounded until the papers were filed.  I told students its important to demand proof that the document has been sent certified mail or other tangible proof.

The other issue arises when the student goes for the interview.  If the student has not completed the N-400 himself, he is often unaware of the answers submitted on his behalf.  When he is asked these questions during the interview, the answers may not match the application.  Even when a student, at my urging, has requested a copy of the completed application from the lawyer, he found errors in the document.  This requires extra explanation during the interview (example: " I actually left the country 5 times, not 4 times, and these are the correct dates"). 

Thanks, Arlyn

Thank you, Arlyn, for your comments on using immigration lawyers to complete the form N-400. Applicants should always work with a licensed attorney or BIA-accredited representative. You can find helpful information on how the USCIS application process works on the Form Filing Tips page.

USCIS launched the Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law (UPIL) Initiative to combat immigration services scams. Going to the wrong place to file an application or petition with USCIS can delay your application, cost you unnecessary fees, and possible lead to removal proceedings.

USCIS has a site to help applicants, legal service providers and community-based organizations avoid scams by equipping them with the knowledge and tools they need to detect and protect themselves from dishonest practices.

Unfortunately, I have also had students shell out way too much money for lawyers to complete the form incompletely or inaccurately.  As was mentioned, if the person did not participate in completing the form him-/herself, s/he will often have difficulty with the portion of the interview that verifies the form.  I recommend students complete the form themselves. (We actually practice navigating this form in the class.)  Then, they can take it to a lawyer or immigration specialist for review, at a much reduced cost (or free, depending on the organization).  

Please understand that I'm speaking from experience, not policy.

I can definitely see your point, Arlyn.  I should maybe have clarified the uniqueness of my teaching situation.  When I encourage our clients to seek assistance with the N-400 I am pointing down the hallway to our 2 immigration attorneys and 1 BIA-Accredited rep.  They charge a fee, but it is subsidized by grants and so they are one of the most affordable (and most respected) options in our city. The waiting list is long, though, so students need to decide "long wait, but small money" or "fast, fast, but more money."  I only make this recommendation with low-level English speakers or those with "complicated" histories.  Our attorneys review the application and provide a copy to their clients in preparation for their interview.

Thank you for raising the concern that you did.  I feel I can better inform my clients of their options and risks.


Hi, Kadie. Sounds like you have some great ideas for your class! Have you tried reaching out to your local USCIS office to see what kinds of public engagement opportunities they offer (e.g., having a Community Relations Officer speak at your program)? To request outreach on specific topics, please email

In our program we use the following books:
1. Civics and Literacy (Citizenship Passing the Test) by Lynne Weintraub (student books)
2. Citizenship: Ready for the Interview, by Lynne Weintraub (teacher resource)
**3. Citizenship Now! Student Book with Pass the Interview DVD and Audio CD: A Complete Guide for Naturalization, by Karen Hilgeman and Jennifer Cooper (previous book)

Originally, the Weintraub CPTT book was used for the Beginning and Intermediate levels; the Advanced levels used the Citizenship Now! book/CD/DVD.  However, the instructors found the Citizenship Now! book to be overly complex and it didn't address the needs of students preparing the test.  The Weintraub book serves as a great launching pad for expanding subjects with supplemental materials.  We also supplement with books like Heroes of American History, etc.

After students have studied the 100 questions and submitted the N-400 application, I meet with them one-on-one.  We spend about 2 hours reviewing the materials and also walking through the process of the interview, as it is described in the "RFTI" book and also exhibited by the many resources online at the USCIS web site and YouTube.  The best way to reduce nerves is to plan in advance.  Every student I have tutored (over the past 6 years) has passed the test!

Thank you for listing some books.  We are new to this process.  Our area does not see many students in need of this type of program, but it is always good to be prepared. 

Hi Glenda and all, We also use this text in our citizenship preparation courses with good success. I am struck by how closely aligned the standards are with the content in this text. I'm sure there are probably other texts out there that are well aligned. What have others used with success?

Cheers, Susan

SME Assessment CoP

Hi, Glenda, Kadie and others,

Thank you for your input -- this has been a very good discussion to follow.  Our program also likes the textbook, Voices of Freedom by Bill Bliss, and we have seen a high percentage of students pass the Citizenship Interview.  We, too, are lucky enough to have as the director of our agency an immigration attorney who serves low-income clients in the area.  This allows our teacher to focus on the ESL and knowledge content of the standards.  I like the idea of finding an opportunity for citizenship students to practice the process of going through security when entering a government building.  We find that students gain a great deal from field trips.  I am sending the link to the standards to my teacher and volunteers who work with our citizenship students.


Hi, Jane. I noticed you have volunteers who work with your citizenship students. Did you know USCIS has developed Volunteer Training Modules? These are geared towards volunteers and provide a basic understanding of adult second language acquisition and the naturalization process.

I think the Content Standards and Foundation Skills provide a clear interpretation of the naturalization interview and the test. It is important that the Standards specify citizenship knowledge students should acquire by the time of the USCIS interview. I believe the detailed indications of what my students have to achieve is one of the key features of the Guide. 

It is suggested that teachers can use the Standards as a checklist. I am thinking of using the Standards in the form of a checklist not only as a planning/assessment tool for teachers but also as an educational tool for students. For example, students would use “My Progress Checklist” with items on it, such as “I know the age requirements for naturalization”, “I know the permanent residency requirement for naturalization”, etc. When summarizing the big points at the end of the lesson, students will checkmark what they have learned (or need to learn). The Checklist will help students reflect on what they have learned. Also, it helps students gradually assume more responsibility for their learning. In sum, the Guide will definitely help raise the level and quality of citizenship preparation.

Iryna Pavlyuk, Curriculum/Staff Developer, Shorefront YM-YWHA

Hi Paul,

Having the Adult Citizenship Education Content Standards and Foundation Skills can be helpful guideposts for all of us as we both develop materials, create lessons, and prepare students for the naturalization interview and the various test components.

I like Iryna’s suggestion that teachers create a student progress checklist showing student mastery of content and skills. Turning the Progress Standards into “I can” statements is one way to activate this mastery of skills.

For example, after a unit of study is completed and students feel confident in their mastery of specific content and/or skills, have students to sit in pairs or groups and practice making  “I can” statements. Here are some examples.

  • I can answer questions about the System of Government in the United States.
  • I can respond to questions about American History during the Colonial Period.
  • I can answer the 100 questions
  • I can respond to questions about my residence.
  • I can answer questions about my military history.
  • I can answer questions about my marital history.
  • I can say the Pledge Allegiance to the flag.

Teaching students to make these “I can” statements can be both affirming and empowering as students progress on their way to naturalization.

Ronna Magy, author

 US Citizen, Yes,   National Geographic Learning

Hi, Iryna and Ronna. Many thanks for the ideas on using the content standards as a checklist for students. Glenda had asked this earlier in the discussion, and your suggestions for rewording the content and progress standards to for a student’s perspective were excellent. This can help give teachers and students the same reference points on what is being taught throughout the citizenship program.

I appreciate both examples of "I can" statements.Encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning empowers them to continue learning.    In light of the stress and higher vocabulary complexities of the N-400, I especially like the examples about specific sets of information (e.g. I can answer questions about my marital history).  

I think more specific I can statements, such as "I can answer questions about the system of government,"  (rather than "I can answer the 100 questions.")  could break the material down into more manageable chunks.  

I have enjoyed the discussion today.

This 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. I 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!

Hello from Mexico where I have been on work travel since last Saturday, Feb. 21, and away from a solid internet connection for any length of time. Scanning the discussion this evening having gotten both the connection and time needed to do so, I see how rich it has been. Thank you so much, Paul, and all of you who paprticipated in the discussion. A wealth of resources have been shared and great strategies to use with the resources. When I am  back in DC I know I will be perusing the discussion and clicking on the links at great length. Please feel free, all, to continue posting on citizenship resources and activities!

Thank you again, Paul!

Miriam Burt

SME, Adult ELL CoP