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Actvities for Integrating Civics into Adult English Language Learning

Lynda Terrill
National Center for ESL Literacy Education (NCLE)
January, 2001

Especially designated monies are being distributed by the U.S. Department of Education to help states and programs assist adult English language learners to acquire knowledge about American history, government, and culture at the same time they are learning English. This is not a difficult task because many adult language learners are interested in such topics and because content-rich language instruction has proven to be successful for teachers and learners alike. Furthermore, many from the field of adult ESL have experience combining language learning and civics content since the amnesty days of the late 1980s. The suggestions for activities listed below come directly from years of practice in adult ESL where teachers were successfully able to integrate language and civics content. To assist practitioners to develop activities that will serve their classroom needs, we have put together a collection of activities for integrating English and civics. We invite comments and hope that you will share your own resources, activities, and suggestions by contacting Lynda Terrill (

What is Civics Education?

For adult English language learners, civics education is a broad term that includes
  • instruction on how to gain U.S. citizenship; instruction about U.S. culture, including lessons on diversity and multiculturalism; and
  • instruction and guidance on becoming active participants in their new communities.

As teachers consider what types of instruction will meet the needs of the learners in their classes, it is useful to look at civics in its broadest terms. Global topics such as human rights and environmental issues can be addressed along with such topics as the Bill of Rights and the three branches of government. Civics topics may be set in a curriculum or they may be suggested by current events in the community or the nation. As in any learner-centered environment, the expressed needs of the students in the class will give the teacher guidance about what topics and language skills the class should concentrate on. For suggestions on conducting needs assessment see Weddel & Van Duzer 's Needs Assessment for Adult ESL Learners (1997) .

For ease of searching, the civics activities below are organized loosely by type. Within each type activities are identified by a language skill level: beginning, high-beginning/low-intermediate, intermediate, high-intermediate/advanced, and advanced. In some cases, an activity may be appropriate for all levels

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