USCIS - US Citizenship & Teacher Competencies: Special Guest-led Discussion !

Hello colleagues, We will begin our week-long discussion on Adult Citizenship Education – Teacher Competencies on Monday, June 22. I want to welcome our guest discussion leaders, Paul Kim and Kelton Williams from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Office of Citizenship.

Warm welcome to you, Kelton. Paul has been with us before and led a discussion on standards for citizenship last spring. We welcome you back, Paul. I’ll ask you both to please introduce yourselves to the community.

I’m certain that this discussion will be of particular interest to teachers of citizenship and civics, those helping immigrants to prepare for the naturalization interview and test, and adult ESL teachers as well as program administrators.

Some of the topics to be highlighted during the week will include:

  • Comparisons between adult citizenship and ESL teacher competencies,
  • How to organize competencies into a framework
  • Using teacher competencies for improving instruction.

To get us started, I’d like to ask Paul and Kelton to comment on whether there are a set of teacher competencies that have already been developed or are being developed specifically related to citizenship education.

From teaching quite a few citizenship preparation classes, I learned that it was essential for me to understand the naturalization process in some depth. It was also necessary for me to know which aspects of U.S. history, government, and geography candidates for citizenship need to know. I would assume that these areas would be included in the teacher competencies.

Members, please join the conversation and share your questions and insights on this important topic

Thanks for being with us, Paul and Kelton. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP


Hello! Thank you, Susan, for the lovely welcome. Kelton and I really look forward to our discussion over the next three days where we will explore teacher competencies for adult citizenship education programs.

Before starting the discussion, please review the background information about USCIS, the Office of Citizenship, general requirements for the naturalization process, and the naturalization process covered during the February 23, 2015 LINCS discussion. This should provide a helpful foundation for our upcoming discussion.

Regarding Susan’s question, we are currently developing a set of teacher competencies for adult citizenship education. We will let you know when they are ready, and you will be able to find them on the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center.

We are very happy to share this opportunity to speak with, and learn from you!



Hello! Thank you Susan for the warm welcome, and I echo Paul’s sentiment that we are excited to participate in this discussion.

Teacher competencies have been evolving for several decades in K-12 education, and there is increasing momentum to implement similar systems for higher education. Yet, the conversation about teacher competencies for adult education is relatively nascent. Therefore, any discussion on this topic must begin by addressing the fundamental questions of purpose. In other words, what purpose(s) could a set of teacher competencies have in a general adult learning environment?  AND more specific to our discussion: What purpose(s) could a set of teacher competencies have in an adult citizenship education learning environment?



The purpose of all teacher competencies, regardless of level and subject matter, is to establish a consistent set of information and instructional techniques to be incorporated in all classrooms throughout an educational system (locally, statewide, or nationally). The case of adult citizenship education is no different. 

However, as referenced in Susan's introduction, citizenship instruction must include PROCESS information as well as concrete history/government/geography information.  It is more complex to establish competencies with respect to the specifics of the citizenship PROCESS because this information differs from community to community.  For example, where do applicants go to be fingerprinted?  In what location is the swearing in ceremony held?  How long does it take to become a citizen? 

Nevertheless, establishing teacher competencies in adult citizenship education is essential to maintaining instructional rigor.



Thanks for your comments Patricia.

I think you touch on a good point about scope. As you mentioned, adult citizenship education is an incredibly diverse field. Some of the curriculum, like the civics content is relatively static, but the language proficiency, the process, and the learning needs & experiences of students can vary dramatically from region-to-region or even class-to-class. Is it possible, then, to create teacher competencies (TCs) that are broad enough to be adaptable to the diversity of the field but tailored enough to still provide meaning and structure to instruction?

I thought I would shift directions a little bit and focus on definition rather than purpose.

Rather than asking for definitions of teacher competencies, I think it's important to provide a little context. In particular, in the era of standardization, why do we discuss teacher "competencies?" Is there a difference between standards and competencies?


This is an important point, I think, because so many teachers (myself included) balk at the word 'standards', and competencies sounds fairly similar.

I would say that context is important here, however, as in teaching students who hope to become US citizens, we are serving students whose primary motivation in taking the class is passing a test (the entire process could be considered a test, encapsulating more than just the 100 questions, English tests, and N-400, as mentioned above). Therefore, competencies can help teachers make the most of their time and ensure they are preparing students well for the arduous process/test they are undertaking. I wouldn't say they should replace using outside materials and tailoring some lessons to students' interests, but because the primary objective for citizenship students is immediate and measurable (and there is often urgency in preparing for an upcoming interview date), competencies should help teachers and students maximize their time and feel confident in achieving their goals.

I wouldn't apply the same logic to teaching high school civics, nor to teaching in general (where objectives are far more diverse and can be achieved multiple ways), and I hope that competencies in the context of the adult citizenship classroom would actually open up more time for teachers to add their own material, and to be creative and flexible. In my opinion, competencies in this context can be a tool, and their effectiveness should be measured not only in students' success rates (passing the test), but also in how much time they save teachers, and the ease with which teachers are able to use them in developing programs that go beyond 'teaching to the test'.

Yes, we are teaching but not a general subject matter; the students have specific purpose for taking the class (pass the test) and that should be the instructor's purpose as well if teaching the citizenship class. The purpose is to help them pass the naturalization interview test; the question is what are the needs to pass the test and how can we help them meet those needs. We know that they need to know the content (the knowledge competency) and the language (the English language competency) to pass the test. But the question is how? This I think is where building the competencies in the learners comes in. Those of you who have been teaching citizenship/ESL like I have with the goal set to seeing my students pass the test should well know it’s not just a matter of presenting the “information” about the naturalization process, government, history, and all those vocabularies in form N-400. What I’ve found through my teachings and results of the students’ naturalization interviews is that the students have to have self-competence built in all this. It’s not about speaking perfect English and answering all the questions with the correct answer, and it’s not about having them memorize and study hard either. Some of my students come back failed even though we expected them to pass since they studied and prepared so hard. It’s about them being able to present their competency and rights during the interview; broken English is fine.

  1. It’s about them being able to make their own sentence or chunks of words and utter it in response. This is crucial in preparing them for the small talks that could occur in any time on any topic during the interview. For this, I try to help students learn to make a simple sentence using the 6Ws. I call it pattern, rather than grammar. (subject + verb + what/who/where/when/….) I don’t make them worry about grammar and functional words but rather focus on the content words and the informational chunks.  I also try to teach how this would convert to question forms since the test is pretty much questions and responses.
  2. It’s about them being able to utter what they know in competence. Again, I don’t want them to worry about speaking a perfect sentence. The learning is all key-words based and 6W informational chunks. A lot of my students already have the knowledge of the 100 questions, it’s just a matter of being able to hear the 6W and the keywords (topical words) in the question and respond to it. Same goes for the N-400 questions, it’s all about knowing the vocabularies (particularly part 11) and listening for it and responding to it. They have them translated in their language but I try to start teaching them to be able to say the meaning in their own simple English from the beginning (i.e. “under 15 years old” questions in part 11 – what is this about or mean? Students say child soldier, boy military, teenage gun war…), in case the officer checks on their understanding of the meanings. I encourage them to say any words that come to their mind that is associated with the meaning to convey that they do understand.  
  3. It’s about them being able to voice out and speak for their rights and what they know even if the officer cuts them off five minutes into the interview, telling them to go and re-apply. Since this may have to do with personality of the students, I encourage and even practice them to be able to speak up and request for more time or another chance or even for the supervisor. Many of them feel it’s impolite to do so or it would impact their status/records in any negative ways. I encourage them to be proactive and show that they really prepared for this and that their English is not any lower than the 2nd/3rd grader’s.  

I put more weight on the n-400 interview preparation than the 100 civics questions because that’s where their application information gets verified (corrected/updated) and their communicative English gets evaluated. I make my own materials for the n-400, like audios and flash cards and try to give them mock interviews as many as I can. The students find them most helpful. They comment on how they feel more competent as they are starting to actually hear the vocabularies when spoken or played (audio) and as they feel ok to use “broken English” as long as they can deliver their message and communicate. Building such competencies in the students is when we, the instructors, gain the competency. 

Hello colleagues, Thanks to those of you who are contributing to this lively discussion. I appreciate the point that several of you have made about the naturalization process involving more than knowing and understanding the content of the civics questions and the complex questions on the N-400. I have found it essential to emphasize the importance of asking questions to check comprehension and ask for clarification when needed.

I can share a story to illustrate what I mean. I once had an older woman from Cuba whose English was pretty limited. She had studied extensively and understood all the civics and N-400 questions and answers in Spanish perfectly-- but not as well in English. During her naturalization interview when she was asked "Have you ever been a member of a terrorist group?" she answered "yes." Needless to say, this was not the best answer to that question, and she did not pass! She was able to test again later and fortunately was successful the second time.

I tell this story to my students because I want them to understand that they should never answer a question they are uncertain about. Instead, they should always check their comprehension and ask for clarification when necessary. For example, when asked the history question about World Word II, they may want to ask for clarification saying "Did you say, World War I or World War II?"  During the class, we practice checking comprehension and asking for clarification as an essential component in every lesson.

Kelton and Paul, I'm wondering how this aspect of instruction may be addressed in the teacher competencies. Thanks for engaging us in this valuable discussion.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

I humbly apologize for participating on the tail end of this excellent discussion but I had major computer problems, including the lightning storm yesterday. I have read all comments and consider them highly valuable resources. Thanks to Paul & Kelton for your expertise & guidance.

Susan, I also have a story to illustrate the necessity of emphasizing comprehension & clarification strategies with our students. I have been teaching ESL to adults for 10+ years & studying for citizenship is one component of various other class lessons. Over the years, I have had several adults who have been sent home, one as early as 2 minutes into the interview when the interviewer commented on the weather & the student asked him to repeat. He did not repeat, rather sent her home to "learn better English" if she wanted to pass the test. I worked with her for many months & she was prepared! Her conversational skills were good although being from Vietnam, she had some pronunciation issues. Needless to say, I was shocked, especially when my other students that same day had bigger issues with pronunciation than her but they passed the test from their interviewer. For this reason, I came to the conclusion that students must develop competence & confidence in order to successfully pass the citizenship test.

Since that time, I have focused my lesson plans as much on clarification, competence & confidence in speaking as I have on teaching citizenship content. Your story, Susan, is pivotal in illustrating the importance of going beyond the standard preparation of content questions & answers.  I largely agree with PioPico about students learning to "present their competencies & rights during the interview" but I tend to focus on conversational skills with slightly more expectations than sentence chunks & utterances. I sense that we could learn much from one another's teaching strategies & I plan to respond to your comments as I believe we share similar philosophies in our teaching methods and strategies.

Hi PioPico, Susa, and Victoria,

I've really appreciated reading through your discussion regarding what it is exactly students need to be able to do with regards to their naturalization interview. Someone mentioned that memorization is definitely not the strategy to use or encourage, and I wholeheartedly agree. However, I find that my students (many of them Vietnamese-speakers living in one of the most densely-populated Vietnamese areas in the US and not needing much English at all in their daily lives) often come to class having memorized much of the content -- history/civics and N-400 questions. It's been difficult to wade through all of that memorization to find the core of what they really do know and understand.

Since I began teaching last year, I do feel that my presence as a native English speaker (who does not speak a word of Vietnamese) and an experienced ESL teacher has "immersed" students in the language much more so than previous classes they may have attended that were taught mainly in their L1. They have been required, in my class, to ask for repetitions/clarification in English, and I have noticed an improvement in their pronunciation skills as well. Additionally, we do supplemental reading exercises covering the topics in that week's focus questions, which I believe has helped to consolidate and build a foundation for their knowledge.

Being that the students do have a very clear, concrete goal to pass the citizenship interview, class time is almost entirely dedicated to learning and practicing content and skills that will contribute directly to this, I suppose my question is simply, how can I incorporate relevant, directly useful English instruction to help stave off the nasty habit of memorization? I'd love to hear more about how you all do so.


Hi Dana, were you able to read my additional comments to PioPico - Conversational Skills/Communicative English  Let me know if those comments were helpful. Although I did not mention this, I do allow my students to memorize the 100q if that makes them comfortable and I do not consider it a nasty habit. As I mentioned in my scenarios, I have had several students fail the test with the justification from the interviewer that they did not "respond' to the answer correctly. In my opinion, the resolution is to be sure the students comprehend every question, so I do not discourage memorization. Let's face it, those questions are quite specific and not often open to interpretation. However, I frequently direct the students to ongoing conversations, for instance, question #6: I ask the students what is freedom of speech/religion/etc. I do not just allow them to give that one-word answer. For question #14: I ask them what does "checks & balances" or "separation of powers" mean? I give examples and ask them for other examples. For question #23: I ask them how do they know who their representative is, then I lead them to researching the answer online. Outside of the 100q, I ask them for descriptions of the flag & what the stars & stripes represent. I give them copies of the Star Spangled Banner and the Oath of Allegiance. We study the reading & writing vocabulary extensively! Then, I ask such questions as: What is a citizen? Why is it important to you? You cannot help but implement English instruction into all of these lesson plans because they necessarily require teaching strategies from pronunciation to reading/writing/speaking to learning new vocabulary to improving conversational skills. You might want to conduct a role-reversal and allow your students to become the teacher & you serve as the student. I believe that allowing them to become the interviewer asking the questions, reinforces their familiarity with the answers. Then, they could work in partner-groups and ask one another the questions to give them the experience of hearing the questions from people with different accents. Finally, the field trips that I mentioned put icing on the cake of education. What they learn from hands-on and real-world experiences provides the best learning tools possible. If I think of anything else, I will let you know. Or if you have additional questions, please feel free to ask them.

Hi Victoria,

Thanks for your reply. Yes, I did read your comments, and I also appreciate that you took time to elaborate on them. Perhaps my characterization of memorization as a "nasty habit" was a bit strong, but I have witnessed some negative effects when students rely on their memorization of one or two key words in a question to answer it (for example: In response to "Who does a U.S. Senator represent?" students tune into "who" and "senator" and instead answer the question "Who is one of your state's U.S. Senators?"). You are right, though, in that it could prove useful if used wisely and if it makes students feel more comfortable.

I love the idea of trading places in mock interviews! I had actually considered this before, but wasn't sure my students would go for it. Now that you have shared your experience doing so, I will try it out!

Thank you again for your response.

Hi Dana, I fully understand. I, too, have witnessed negative effects & listened to negative comments about memorization. For me, it is a proven necessity, not only in certain study materials such as citizenship, but even with regard to some English grammar rules. We have multiple exceptions to our English rules in which memorization & practice are the only means of absorbing that knowledge. For instance, there is no rule for the same pronunciations for eight, weight, freight, but different for height. Or consider the many exceptions for using the verb "to be." And try giving logical explanations for the use/non-use of "a, an, the" our English articles. When my students ask why is this or that an exception, I simply tell then to memorize. Then we laugh!

If you think of it, let me know how your students react to role reversals for mock interviews.

Thank you, PioPico, for the valuable comments. I am one of those teachers to whom you address these comments who teaches ESL/Citizenship and I wholeheartedly agree with you that "the students have to have self-competence built in" when studying for the interview. Whether I am teaching citizenship or some other lesson, I put much emphasis on conversational skills and proper pronunciation. I agree with you that speaking perfect English should not be our focus in preparing students for the interview as it would be unrealistic to expect any of our ESL students to reach that goal. More than likely, they will always have a particular accent as do we, who are from the Northern, Southern, Western & Eastern parts of the U.S. Although I largely follow your procedures with little concern about "perfect English" responses, I must say that I do teach grammar on various levels, depending on the competency of my specific student group. I personally believe that studying for the citizenship test is merely an extension of learning English, so why not institute simple grammar rules that would assist them to progressively gain better speaking skills. As in my response to Susan, several of my students failed their interview merely because the interviewer judged them as "poor speakers of English" and therefore, not qualified to pass the test. As ridiculous as this sounds, I verify that this has happened; as sad as it sounds, it happens too often that our immigrants are largely judged by the majority of America on their English pronunciation & conversational skills.

For these reasons, I conduct a lot of discussion-role-playing in my classes using pre-generated topics, such as employer/employee, teacher/student, parent/child, etc. If they are having a discussion and their partner does not understand, then they are led to rephrase the sentence. Again, I do not require perfect English. However, I monitor the conversations and provide guidance to correct "major" grammatical flaws. For example, during one conversation, a student was making a request, "I want write story, please give me shit." What she meant was, "I want to write a story, please give me a sheet of paper." The only correction I made was "shit" should be "sheet" which was not only a pronunciation problem but a vocabulary issue. I was not concerned about the missing preposition or article, rather I emphasized the awkwardness of the scenario if it were to happen in the real world. As extreme as this example is, one of my students shared this experience & allows me to now use it as an example of the need for proper English.

Although this scenario shows more focus on grammar in my own classroom, I believe our teaching philosophies are quite similar. I, too, work on the 6Ws as informational chunks & believe with you that question-based lessons are critical to passing the citizenship test. Likewise, I help students to observe patterns in the English language with lists of rhyming words, diphthongs, even going so far as to familiarize them with appropriate capitalization using the Reading/Writing Vocabulary lists for the Naturalization test. Most especially, I agree with you that teaching them to respectfully voice their rights is crucial to helping them to gain confidence and self-esteem.

Before closing, I want to share another strategy that I use to assist my adults with learning English and acculturating into the American community. Every year, I invite them to attend several cultural events to expose them to society and I take them on field trips for real world experiences. We have attended the International Festival, and the Chinese New Year Event at Bloomsburg University for the past 3 to 4 years and my students have gained enough confidence to now have conversations with multiple professors, students from many cultures, program directors and even the president of the university. They learn about country flags, traditional costumes & holidays, cultural meals, etc.  In addition, I take them on field trips to learn about American history: the PPL Riverlands Nature Preserve, a tour of the Nuclear Power Plant, a visit to the Council Cup Native American lands, volunteer in community fund raisers, etc. These experiences open their eyes and minds to the the American way of life in addition to class discussions that we have comparing their cultural traditions with those of the United States. These are the lessons that make the most impact on their learning and developing pride in becoming American citizens.

Thank you, Gaelin and Jung Sun, for your comments. You both bring up great points about helping teachers prepare students for the naturalization test and interview, as well as the importance of knowing what these needs are and how to meet them. We view these as content and progress standards. These help you develop effective learning activities that link skills and knowledge students need for the naturalization interview and test with classroom instruction. USCIS has created the Guide to Adult Citizenship Education Content Standards and Foundation Skills. This guide provides content and progress standards for the pre-interview, interview and test, and post-interview phases of the naturalization process.

Regarding the English language skills needed for the interview and test, I would refer to the scoring guidelines. USCIS Officers are required to repeat and rephrase questions until the Officer is satisfied that the applicant either fully understands or not.


Thank you Paul for your encouragement and guidance. As for the content and progress standards, it has been serving its purpose of providing the framework and the benchmark for the content and the progress of the teaching and learning. One concern I have is how the scoring guidelines, in particular to the speaking (n-400 part of the interview) are to be understood and incorporated into our teaching and learning scope/aim. This part would be where the students get turned away. The scoring guideline for the speaking below seems only possible when the interviewer has conducted the whole interview without stopping 2~5 minutes into the interview. You know the students come back and tell what happened to the teachers and though we can't totally go by what they say but when the students tell me that they didn't even get to any of the other parts of the test because they got stuck on one question asked, I don't know what to tell them (I began to teach them how to beg the interviewer for more time or more chance); they come so discouraged after all that effort and preparation. The new students who hear about this also get discouraged to even start or try. How can the interviewer know whether the applicant "generally" understands and can respond meaningfully if they don't even get interviewed all the way? I really liked to understand this better so that I can better direct my instruction, specially those students who failed and preparing for the 2nd round. Thank you in advance. 

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.

PioPico, I just posted a lengthy comment to your post a few minutes ago and I, too, respectfully have reservations about the Scoring Guidelines for assisting our students to pass the citizenship interview. Thank you for being honest and outspoken. I will also ask Paul for guidance on how to deal with these situations.

Jung Sun and Victoria – thanks for your thoughtful comments and teaching strategies. As you, and others, have mentioned, it is helpful to practice conversation skills they may need during the interview with role-playing activities. Having students practice clarification questions (e.g., “Can you repeat that?”), and doing a “mock” interview are a couple promising practices that can help students prepare for the naturalization test and interview. The USCIS Naturalization Interview and Test Video can give your students an overview of the naturalization process and testing requirements. Also check out our Interactive Practice Tests for activities to help your students become familiar with commands and vocabulary they may come across during the naturalization interview.

Also, thank you for your feedback about your students’ experiences. USCIS Officers have been trained to make the determination whether an applicant meets the English requirements. If your student believes she/he has been treated improperly, please ask to speak with a USCIS supervisor. There will always be a supervisor on duty.

You may be able to have a local USCIS representative provide a naturalization info session. This would give you an opportunity to ask questions about scoring, as well as how to address complaints to USCIS (e.g., your student feels she/he was treated improperly).  Contact USCIS Public Engagement: to request an outreach engagement.

Thank you, Paul, for your guidance and support of immigrant students who work so hard to become American citizens. I appreciate the information you have provided for seeking outreach assistance regarding negative student experiences. Thank goodness these circumstances are rare. Many of my students experienced the positive effects of successfully completing the naturalization process.

Thank you, Paul & Kelton, for your expertise as leaders of this valuable discussion.

I am so glad for this discussion forum.  I especially appreciated yesterday's discussion on discussing/reviewing/practicing the N-400 with students.  

We use parts of Citizenship Now. I agree that it goes into more  depth than necessary to understand the concepts for the test. We also use parts of Preparation for Citizenship and America's Story (Steck-Vaughn).  America's Story also has videos that go with it.  

I also use other teacher-made and easily accessed resources which reinforce what we do in class.   Videos (e.g. especially from, like )  hold their attention  and they can watch these over and over again on any electronic device  I design previewing/viewing/postviewing  activities for them. There is a video called A More Perfect Union - America Becomes a Nation (available from that gives in-depth insight into the writing of the Constitution.  I bought multiple copies and send them home with students to watch again.  The educationl version full length movie is divided into segments with previewing explanations and a teacher's guide.  NCCS has many more resources available at reasonable prices.  

Teaching Tolerance has many good resources, including A Time for Justice - a video series on the Civil Rights Movement.  

Perhaps it would be helpful to have a list of other supplemental resources teachers could use along with the commercial publications?

Glad you are enjoying the discussion, Lynda. 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.

Hello Paul, again I apologize for the lateness of my participation in these discussions as my computer was not operating.

I read and responded to PioPico about the Speaking Scoring Guidelines just a short time ago and I have similar needs for your guidance. My students also get discouraged and their confidence & self-esteem are greatly affected when they fail the test. According to the stories I am told by students, their success depends on the "attitude" of the interviewer. Some encourage the students and others are highly critical and intimidating. I even attended some interviews & although I was not permitted in the room, I wonder how my students could have received a fair chance at success when they were only in the room for 2 minutes. Seriously, I spent months preparing these adults and assure you that they had been well-prepared, so I am not making excuses for them. I would also greatly appreciate guidance from you, Paul, as to how I can further direct my instruction.

Hi Paul,

I use the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center and appreciate having the new Guide to the Adult Citizenship Education Content Standards and Foundation Skills. I am searching for teacher resources to better assist students with written explanations to yes answers to the N-400 Part 11 questions. I see in the general instructions, page 2 #2, how to label the extra sheet attachment, but nothing else. I am aware that teachers need to recognize when a student should seek legal guidance for a yes answer, and I want to emphasize how important it is for teachers to have available a list of legal service providers in their community. However, some questions seem very straight forward yet now require a written explanation.  One example, Part 11 #7, about filing a tax return, a student now needs to write an explanation if not working and not required to file a tax return. Students are often intimidated by the need to write an attachment. Please advise.

Thank you, Mechelle, for your comments. You bring up an important point in making sure students only use attorneys or accredited representatives when seeking legal advice on USCIS forms, and it is helpful to know where to find these individuals (check out our Find Legal Services and Avoid Scams pages). Applicants should refer to an attorney or accredited representative for what they need to submit. You can help translate a document, but you should not give advice on it.

Have you seen our Tips Sheets? We have one for teaching vocabulary from the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

As we head towards the home stretch of our discussion, let’s focus on instruction.

If you were to observe an adult citizenship education teacher’s classroom, what would you look for to identify the effectiveness of instruction.

Put another way, what are the qualities of a good adult citizenship education teacher?

Are there qualities of teaching that cannot be observed?

Hello Kelton, in answer to your questions:

The first thing I would look for to identify the effectiveness of instruction would be the level of participation in the students in the classroom. If they are not actively engaged in the lesson, then more than likely they are not learning. Perhaps this sounds simplistic but speaking from experience, I find that providing hands-on lessons and motivating the students to read/write/speak frequently keeps them from getting bored and encourages their confidence in learning.

What are the qualities of a good adult citizenship education teacher? In all humility, I will respond to this question on a personal level. My role as an ESL instructor has been a tremendously rewarding experience. The value of Literacy & Adult Citizenship Education Programs nationwide cannot be exaggerated. Throughout my experiences, I have gained a heightened awareness of the needs of all persons striving to either assimilate into American society or better themselves as American citizens. I'm amazed that so many of us have taken language skills and communication for granted. As a result, I assess my students' needs individually and plan our lessons carefully so that newly acquired knowledge can be applied to their family lives, social circles and careers. We often conduct role-playing in which I am the student and they, the teacher. This practice keeps me humble, for I am fully identifying their struggles. My goal, therefore, is to provide the most productive learning environment that would help my students to achieve success in any endeavor.

My students are dedicated, hard working, energetic and ever so appreciative both in the classroom and out. The rapport we have built over this brief period of time has created an exchange of ideas and learning valuable to them as students and to me as teacher. Truly, I consider it an honor and a blessing to be just a meager part of this worthwhile organization. My experiences and personal growth have prompted me to further my education to earn teaching credits and eventually receive ESL State Certification in 2005. Whenever I falter with fear and doubt about accomplishing any of my dreams, I envision my students struggling, then achieving their goals, always with determination and a smile on their faces. They are truly an inspiration to me!

Sorry for the lateness of my response but I taught an ESL class tonight from 6:00-9:00 and just opened my computer. 

Ten years ago when I began teaching ESL & Adult Citizenship Education classes, I would have been ecstatic if a system of effective instruction had been provided. Now, based on my experience, I do believe it is possible to make the system adaptable, (especially reading the post by David Rosen) although I do not believe it could be “standardized” to fit all classrooms. Given the wide variety of student competency levels, their ages, current state of affairs, family financial status, & most of all, their background education, the word “adaptable” becomes critical. For instance, in the case of one instructional strategy that might work for a particular group of students, it might very well be disastrous for a different group.

I dare say, respectfully, that given the lack of supervisory guidance for many of us, we teachers have been providing effective instruction by mere dedication to our goal of assisting our students to become citizens of the United States. At the start of my teaching career, I felt unqualified to teach ESL & citizenship. Rather, I relied heavily on books, online instructional tools and pure instinct of appropriate teaching strategies, as can be reviewed in my earlier posts. At times, I still wonder if my “competencies” are sufficient according to prescribed governmental mandates. However, the fact that my students progressively improve their English language skills, pass their citizenship tests, attain employment, get better jobs, and some go on to secondary education, I use these successes as evidence that I am doing something right.

Actually David Rosen summed up my thoughts perfectly in his 5-step explanation of the failure to implement a system of effective administrator & teacher instruction. I will briefly comment on his post but he certainly says it better that I ever could. 


This is a fascinating discussion. As is often the case, I am learning a great deal, especially from the teachers who have posted.

Kelton, in the beginning of this discussion you asked:

...what purpose(s) could a set of teacher competencies have in a general adult learning environment?  AND more specific to our discussion: What purpose(s) could a set of teacher competencies have in an adult citizenship education learning environment?

I am interested in looking at that question from the perspective of a program supervisor or administrator, a person who has among her/his responsibilities observing teaching and identifying the effectiveness of instruction. Many years ago the American Institutes for Research (AIR) developed lists of adult education program manager and teacher competencies. They did a thorough job, and they vetted these, and took the feedback seriously. In the end, they had clear, observable, sensible, if overly long, lists of these. The problem was that, as far as I know, they were almost never used by program administrators or teachers. This could have been for many reasons, of course, but as a program administrator at the time, with one exception I didn't use them. Here's why:

1) They represented a standard of excellence that might only be achieved by a program that had full-time teachers with good salaries, low teacher turnover, and an excellent professional development system upon which to rely. At the time, although my program had full-time (not well-paid) teachers, we only had the professional development that we were able to create ourselves. There was no system of professional development. Our own professional development efforts while brave were not sufficient to address many of the competencies on both the teacher and administrator lists.

2) As is true for programs now, there were a lot of funder demands on our program, many of them "unfunded mandates," and we had to make decisions about priorities. Although we all would have liked to make professional development a priority, we didn't know how to do it given the other more assertive funder demands we needed to meet..

3) I knew about the competencies because I was asked to review them. None of the other program directors I knew had seen them. The dissemination model was not strong.

3) The teacher and administrator competencies needed to be part of a system of professional development in which teachers and administrators were asked to assess their competencies (possibly using the competencies list as a self assessment, which we did do in my program. However, there needed to be a systematic way in which teachers and administrators chose a few competencies each year, and included them as objectives in a professional development plan. We hadn't figured that out, and there was no professional development system to show us how to do that.

4) There needed to be paid professional development time for teachers and administrators so they could actually work on getting better in areas of needed improvement that they had defined. That did not exist then.

I wonder if USCIS has thought about questions like these, how citizenship teacher competencies might actually be used by programs, and for example, if USCIS is working with states so that the states understand what they need to provide for teachers in the way of professional development so that the ultimate goal, teacher and program improvement, can be achieved.

I would like to hear from program administrators and teachers here about what they think is needed to ensure that teacher competencies such as those USCIS is planning, do not just stay on a shelf but are actively and successfully used for teacher and program improvement.

David J. Rosen

Program Management Community of Practice Moderator


As I wrote to Kelton, I apologize for the late response but I taught a 3-hour class tonight.

In my post to Kelton, I emphasized how totally I agree with your entire post! At the end of the day, David, I truly believe your list of five reasons why the competencies were shelved says it loud and clear, most especially #1 in which the demand for a Standard of Excellence has not been backed up by funding, resources, or professional development opportunities. The program for which I work struggles all year, every year to provide the necessary resources for its teachers to perform adequately and meet governmental mandates of performance. I applaud you for the thorough discussion in defining the problematic areas of implementing a system of teacher competencies. Although I am not a program supervisor or administrator, I felt inclined to give you my perspective by supporting your comments with wholehearted agreement. I seriously could not contribute additional comments that would not largely reiterate everything that you have said.


Thank you so much for your post.

You’ve done a great job of outlining the possibilities and the challenges of creating and implementing a system of teacher competencies.

Your first point is particularly well taken. We have already taken steps to build a foundation to further professional development for adult citizenship education teachers and administrators by creating the Adult Citizenship Education Content Standards, which were published last year and are accessible on our website ( As we continue this process through the development of teacher competencies, we want to make them helpful to teachers and programs with a variety means and needs. Creating a dialogue about making teacher competencies more helpful is at least part of the purpose of this discussion.

Your third point gets to the heart of what we are trying to accomplish, and to some extent, the nature of the questions posed earlier in the discussion. We wanted to get a better sense as to why we (in the educational community) use the term “standards” when referring to learning and “competency” when referring to instruction.  The connection you make between competencies and professional development might make that distinction clearer since competency carries a relative interpretation. Even if deemed competent, a teacher can always increase competency; which promotes the need for self-evaluation and professional development. We agree with you that trainings that address the implementation of teacher competencies would be useful, and we hope that our discussion this week will further dialogue about professional development in adult education.




It’s been a great opportunity to talk with everyone about adult citizenship education teacher competencies. Thank you for actively participating and sharing your thoughts and teaching ideas. We are developing a guide to adult citizenship education teacher competencies and will post it to the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center when completed.

The USCIS Citizenship Resource Center is our one-stop resource for locating citizenship preparation materials and activities. You can find lesson plans, information about training seminars, professional development tools and materials, and supplemental resource links for resources to help you prepare your adult 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.

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

Thank you again for the wonderful discussion. We look forward to the next one.


Paul and Kelton, I want to thank you for leading our discussion this week. You outlined many relevant issues and responded thoughtfully to our members' important questions. The conversation has been rich. Clearly, there is much more to explore related to the naturalization process as well as teacher competencies. High quality professional development is certainly needed so all teachers are prepared to provide the most effective instruction to adults who want to become U.S. citizens. This discussion has been a step in the process. I appreciate your sharing your expertise with all of us.

Thanks, as well, to all of our members. Please feel free to continue sharing your thoughts and ideas related to the issues we've been discussing this week.

I know many of us look forward to reviewing the teacher competencies as soon as they are made available. It would be great to have you back, Paul and Kelton, to lead another discussion at that time. Thanks again!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP


it essential for me to understand the naturalization process in some depth. It is necessary for me to know which aspects of U.S. history, government, and geography candidates for citizenship need to know. I do believe  that it is important  to understand how the process works and   also techniques of  offering the best help to immigrants in the naturalization process.

Hello Peter,

Have you looked at the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center materials That's a good place to learn about what is required for teaching students how to prepare for U.S. citizenship. A review of the recent discussion here with USCIS experts may provide additional useful information. Finally, if you use the LINCS "Search" feature (that you will find in the dark blue strip at the top of the LINCS Community page) and type in "citizenship" you will find links to other LINCS posts that may answer your questions.

Colleagues, any other suggestions for Peter?

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Program Management CoP

Peter - thanks for your comments. David's suggestions for checking out the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center and searching LINCS for citizenship topics are excellent ways to find information about the naturalization process.

You can also participate in a webinar on Wednesday, July 15, from 2-3pm (EST) to discuss the naturalization test. During the webinar, USCIS officials will provide an overview of the test, answer questions about the English and civics components, and discuss USCIS study materials and other resources. To learn more and to register, please visit