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Civics Education for Adult English Language Learners

For many years, topics such as U.S. history and government, civic participation, and citizenship test preparation have been included along with English language and literacy development in curriculum and practice in adult immigrant education. Now that designated monies are being provided to states and individual programs for English Literacy/Civics Education by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education there is even more interest in finding techniques, materials, and lesson ideas that will help practitioners combine language skills development and civics content. A wide variety of approaches and methods have proven effective for integrating civics content in English classes. Resources related to U.S. history and government and civic participation are available to teachers and learners. One subset is of such interest, citizenship test preparation, to warrant its own resource pages. Because in the classroom and in society at large practitioners and learners need resources for cultural understanding, specific resource pages have also been organized for this important topic.

This list was compiled by Lynda Terrill at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

CAELA Resources ERIC Database Articles/Reports Teacher Reference Books Learner Textbooks
Organizations Policy Discussion Lists Other Resources Newsletters

CAELA Resources

The following publications offer information that might be helpful to individuals working on civics and civics education in adult ESL settings.

  • Civics education for English language learners. (annotated bibliography, 2001-available in paper copy only; call 202-362-0700, ext 500 to order)
There are additional digests addressing good practices in adult ESL instruction that would also support civics and civics education in adult ESL.

Our books also include discussions of participatory education. Of particular interest may be Making meaning, making change: Participatory curriculum development for adult ESL literacy (Auerbach, 1994).

The ERIC Database

The ERIC database can be accessed at

Efficient searches of the ERIC database usually use a search strategy based on descriptive terms already defined by ERIC. Descriptors that you might want to use to find information on adult ESL instruction include some combination of the following:

adult basic education English (second language) civics
adult education limited English speaking civics education
adult learning immigrants citizenship responsibility
adult literacy second language instruction social action
adult programs second language learning citizen participation

Articles, Reports, and Other Documents

Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP). (1997). Project based learning and assessment: A resource manual for teachers. Arlington, VA: Author. (ERIC No ED 442 306) This resource manual helps practitioners understand how project-based learning can be a practical and meaningful way for adult to acquire and demonstrate progress in English. Several of the projects described in the manual reflect the goals of the U.S. Department of Education's EL/Civics initiative, which include learning about citizenship, civic participation, and U.S. history and government.

Auerbach, E. (1999). The power of writing, the writing of power. Focus on Basics, 3(D),1, 3-6. This article discusses approaches to writing that connect adult English language learners to their socio-cultural and political environments using writing in order to produce social change.

Kissam, B., & Dorsey, H. (1997) Civic participation. Tierra de oportunidad module 15. LAES: Latino Adult Education Services Project. City of Industry, CA: California State Institute. (ERIC No ED 416 352)This document discusses why and how adults may become involved in politics and community life. Topics such as writing letters to the editor, voting, and talking to politicians are convered.

Literacy South. (1999). Beyond the 100 questions: An annotated bibliography of citizenship and civic participation resources. Durham, NC: Author. 18 pp. (ERIC No. ED435 205). This bibliography includes many entries about the naturalization process for both teachers and learners and includes sections about civic participation and history. The bibliography also identifies a variety of videos, Web sites, and organizations that may prove helpful to practitioners.

Teacher Reference Books

Auerbach, E. (1992). Making meaning, making change: Participatory curriculum development for adult ESL literacy. McHenry, IL and Washington, DC: Delta Systems and Center for Applied Linguistics. (ERIC No ED 321 593) This book describes the University of Massachusetts Family Literacy Project, a participatory adult ESL civics project, and offers insights for teachers who want to undertake a similar project. Examples are given of how the project sought to use literacy to make changes in the community.

Holyoke Community College. (2000). The changes project. Holyoke, MA: Author.(ERIC No ED 448 613) This book describes a three-year research project that adult learners, practitioners, and researchers in Massachusetts undertook. The project was in response to welfare reform, immigration reform, and changes in the workplace as society moves from an industrial to an information-based economy.

Martin, R. (with Domenzain, A.). (1999). Sabemos y podemos: Learning for social action. Washington, DC: National Council of La Raza. (ERIC No ED 445 165) This book gives detailed lesson plans, classroom strategies, and many resources for teachers and community activists. In keeping with the participatory philosophy of the book, the authors advise practitioners how they can and should adapt the materials to meet the needs of adults in their programs.

Nash, A. (ED.) (1999).Civic participation and community action sourcebook: A resource for adult educators. Boston: New England Literacy Resource Center ( (ERIC NO ED 442 307) These stories discuss a wide range of issues from finding a class project and goal-setting to meeting with legislators and advocating for adult education funding. The sourcebook also contains an extensive bibliography of Web-based resources and an appendix of human rights and civics documents. While many of the articles deal with ABE/GED learners and teachers, the themes and activities can be adapted for ESL classes.

Nash, A. (ED.) (2006). Through the lens of social justice: Using The Change Agent in adult education. Boston: New England Literacy Resource Center ( This book offers materials and suggests processes to adult education teachers who want to use articles and issues from the newsletter, The Change Agent (see below) in their classes. The purpose of this book, " to build flexibility and ease in using all that the paper offers, and to help teachers apply these strategies creatively." (p. 2). Chapter 1 organizes newsletter articles by purpose (e.g., connecting to issues, analyzing, issues, supporting student action); Chapter 2 provides guidance on building thematic units (e.g., taxes, immigration, work and the economy); and Chapter 3 talks about dealing with difficult issues in the classroom (e.g., gender, ethnicity, violence). While some of the articles, activities, and processes mentioned in Through the Lens of Social Justice seem geared for ABE teachers and classes, this book can help adult ESL teachers develop appropriate, respectful, and interactive ways to combine working on important real life civics topics and English language learning.

Sawyer, P. (Ed.) (2001). Tennessee adult ESOL curriculum book. Knoxville, TN: The Center for Literacy Studies. This compendium contains a variety of resources for teachers including information about the National Reporting System, examples of student learning plans and many activities related to English Language/Civics. For teachers seeking how to actually conduct project-based learning related to civic and community participation, this curriculum provides detailed lessons as models

Weinstein, G.(ED.) (1999). Learner's lives as curriculum: Six journeys to immigrant literacy. McHenry, IL and Washington, DC: Delta Systems and Center for Applied Linguistics. (ERIC NO. ED 447 738) This book describes the philosophical background and the actual process of using learners' needs and concerns to develop curricula and materials to assist them to meet language-learning and life goals while they participate actively in their communities. This volume describes six projects that were undertaken in the late 1990s by community-based organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Learner Textbooks

There are many civics and cultural materials available to suit the interests and abilities of adult English language learners. The titles below serve as a sample of materials, not as an exhaustive list. It is also important to note that many useful resources may be available locally for free. Everyday, newspapers and television and radio news offer opportunities for language learning in the context of current issues. Print materials from local government, school,health, and employment agencies are available as examples of language, culture, and content. Local health and safety officials, members of the League of Women Voters, and many others are often available and eager to talk to classes as guest presenters.

Blanton, L.L. & Lee, L.(1994-1995) The Multicultural workshop: A reading and writing program. Books 1, 2, and 3. Boston: Heinle and Heinle. The books in the series, which range from high beginning to high-intermediate/advanced, stress multicultural topics and issues as well as strategies for reading and writing.

Boyd, F., & Numrich, C., (series editors).(1998) NorthStar. White Plains, NY: Pearson. This 4-level series includes books focused on reading and writing and listening and speaking. High interest topics include gender,family and generational issues, health and workplace--all of which are included in a broad definition civics education.

Broukal, M., Murphy, P., & Milhomme, J. (1991-1997). The USA series (4 levels, various titles). White Plains, NY: Pearson. In this series, high interest stories about American culture and history are paired with vocabulary and comprehension exercises as well as discussion questions for small or whole group interaction.

Numrich, C. (in cooperation with National Public Radio). (1994-1997). The Issues series (3 levels, various titles). White Plains, NY: Pearson. These books use authentic, high interest excerpts from the "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition" public radio news shows to assist learners to improve listening strategies and critical thinking skills.

Posner, H & Jason, K. (1995). Explorations in American culture: Readings for critical thinking, writing, and discussion. Boston: Heinle and Heinle. This text is for learners in advanced classes and includes authentic essays, stories, and poetry that reflect many viewpoints about topics such as "The American Dream" and multiculturalism. An extensive writer's guide is also included.

Sokolik, M.E. (1999). Rethinking America 1: An intermediate cultural reader; Rethinking America 2: A high intermediate cultural reader;, & , Rethinking America: An advanced cultural reader,Second Edition. Boston: Heinle and Heinle. This series uses authentic readings from many sources and deals with such topics as belief systems,Ebonics, the American Dream, music, and technology. Beside comprehension, writing and, voicabulary work, the series also include topically related CNN video clips for each theme and suggestions for out-of-class activities and projects.

Terrill, L. (2005). Community Experiences: Reading and communication for civics. NY: McGraw-Hill ELT. This book--geared to low-intermediate learners--has three interelated purposes for students: to read and communicate in English, to learn American history that is interesting and relevanta to their lives, and to learn how when to be active particpatns in their communities. Chapters include "Civics in American Life,", "Getting to Know the Community," "Understanding the Legal System,", and "Living Together in a Multiculutral Land."

Tiersky, E., & Tiersky, M. (2001). The U.S.A.: Customs and institutions, Fourth Edition. White Plains, NY: Pearson Education. Since the first edition was published in 1972, this book has offered learners and teachers a broad and absorbing range of cultural information about the United States from values, government, and the economy to pastimes, heroes,and holidays.


National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) Focus on Basics .Copies are available from World Education, 44 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA 02210.(617) 482-9485. This quarterly publication presents best practices, current research on adult learning and literacy, and how research is used by adult basic education and adult English as a second language teachers, counselors, program administrators, and policy makers. Several issues are germane to philosophical reasons for participatory education or for teaching civics education.

The New England Literacy Resource Center. The Change Agent. Copies are available from World Education, 44 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA 02210.(617) 482-9485 and online at ( . This semi-annual newspaper provides articles and resources about civic participation. Each issue highlights a particular topic such as "Focus on Health and Literacy", and "Immigration: Experiences, Opinions and Facts," and "The Media and You." One of the strengths of this format is that practitioners (and in some cases, learners themselves) can acquire information about one topic from a variety of perspectives. For those interested in the history and breadth of civic issues in adult education, this is an excellent resource.

Silliman, A., Ed. Hands-On English is published six times a year. Information about subscribing is available by phone at 1-800-ESL-HAND or at This newsletter focuses on practical advice and activities for practitioners. Each issue contains multi-level activity and hints. The content of activities often deals with cultural and topical issues from understanding American football to income tax and New Year's resolutions.

System for Adult Basic Education Support(SABES). Field Notes (formerly Bright Ideas). This journal usually contains articles pertinent to the needs of teachers concerned with civics education and adult ESL. Articles include topics such as "Integrating Community Activism" and "Preparing for the INS Interview."

National and Regional Organizations

Center for Civic Education. The purpose of this nonprofit, nonpartisan educational corporation is to support the continued development of informed and responsible civic participation in the American democracy. Many of the center's activities concentrate on K-12 learners and teachers.

Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc (CLINIC). CLINIC is a subsidiary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It's mission is to welcome, support, and defend legal immigrants to the United States.

National Immigration Forum. The purpose of this organization is to maintain the United States' tradition as a nation of immigrants. The Forum advocates for public policies that welcome and benefit immigrants and refugees.

The Cultural Orientation Resource Center (COR).The Cor Center is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of population, Refugees, and Migration and provides print and online resources for programs that assist refugees. The Web site includes extensive links that may be useful to both practitioners and adult English language learners.

Policy Issues

National Center for ESL Literacy Education. (1998).Research agenda for adult ESL. Washington, DC: Author.

National Institute for Literacy. (2001). English literacy and civics education for adult learners. Washington, DC: Author.

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (2001). Adult ESL language and literacy instruction: A vision and action agenda for the 21st century. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.(2000). Program Standards for Adult Education ESOL Programs. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Discussion Lists

AAACE-National Literacy Advocacy (NLA) online discussion is sponsored by the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education. The list's goal is to provide subscribers with information about issues that affect policy,legislation and funding. While this list's scope is much broader than just adult ESL and the civics context, the range of topics and concerns intersect at many points.

Adult English Language electronic discussion list is sponsored by the National Institute for Literacy and moderated by staff at CAELA. Discussions focus on issues related specifically to adults learning English. Participants including ESL teachers, program administrators, policy makers, and other stakeholders share resources, ideas, news, and concerns related to adult ESL, including civics education and citizenship.

Other Resources

Adult Literacy Resource Institute. Welcome to E-Square. The interface of this Web site makes this site easy to navigate for learners and teachers. This collection of lessons and projects from the greater Boston area may serve as examples to practitioners throughout the country.

Bronx Community College, City University of New York. El Civics "How To" Manual. The development of this manual was developed as an English Literacy and Civics Education Demonstration Grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The manual gives instructions of how a program could go about establishing and manging an El Civics program. Topics covered include "Getting Started,", "Student Support," "Program Managment,"Curriculum Development," and "Instructional Strategies." Because of the level of detail, examples, and in this "how-to" manual, could very useful for schools or organizations beginning to develop an EL Civics program. Note: for a list of the EL/Civics demonstration projects which produced curricula or other resources available to practitioners and programs, see

Center for Intergenerational Learning, Project Shine. First Amendment Plus. Beginning in 2000, this project and Web site was developed as an English Literacy and Civics Education Demonstration Grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education and supported by San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, and Temple University. This site includes steps for developing thematic units that relate to learners' lives as well as sample units including "Speaking up at WorK: Our Right to Redress Grievances," "Speaking Up for Yourself and Others," and "Racial Profiling."

Coalition of Limited English Speaking Elderly (CLESE). This Chicago-based coalition of agencies representing immigrants and seniors developed the ESL-Civics Curriculum as part of the English Literacy and Civics Education Demonstration Grant. The 15 units in the curriculum focus on oral communication skills for seniors as well as giving them opportunities to use English outside the classroom. Each downloadable unit includes instructions for teachers, lesson for learenrs, and support materials. Units include topics such as "Introductions and Greetings", "People and Places," "Coming to America,", and "Colors, Feelings, and Art."

Easton Language Education. English online : Materials for teaching and learning English. The Government and Politics section of this Web site provides links to variety of resources for teachers such as links to historical documents, American music, and information and quizzes about the U.S. Government. This is part of a larger site for adult ESL practitioners.

ESL/CivicsLink Developed by PBS, the National Center on Adult Literacy (NCAL), and Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools Adult and Continuing Education as an English Literacy and Civics Education Demonstration Grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education, this site functions as an online professional development program for adult ESL practitioners, offering self-study units on topics such as integrating civics and English literacy, building cross-cultural awareness, and teaching a citizenship class. It includes information and guidelines for teaching about the Bill of Rights. A registration fee is required for access to the site.

Fairfax County (VA) Adult & Community Education (ACE). High Intermediate and Advanced EL Civics Curriculum The developers of this online curriculum support "learner self-expression, peer interaction, community awareness and participation, personal research, and problem-solving." The curriculum stives to engage adult English langauge learners "in personal, meaningful English literacy instruction using a non-traditional methodology." This curriculum includes modules on consumerism, health, and government.

INTELECOM. (1999) On common ground. This 15-episode video series aims to engage learners' interest in a variety of civics-oriented themes such as the separation of powers, freedom of speech, and equality. Each half-hour drama deals with one such theme and is followed by a short historical documentary. Due to the language used, the videos are suitable for advanced learners only. Worktexts are available for classroom work.

New England Literacy Resource Center (NELERC) This site includes “Integrating Civic Participation and Adult ESOL” (2005, January) by Andy Nash, New England Literacy Resource Center/World Education at, the newsletter The Change Agent: Adult Education for Social Justice: News, Issues& Ideas at, the Civic Participation  and Citizenship Collection at, and the Civic Participation and Community Action Sourcebook at

Outreach and Technical Assistance Network (OTAN) This Web site is managed by the California Adult Education Office and can be accessed after completing a free registration form. The site includes resources on civics education, such as lesson plans, classroom activities, graphics for downloading, project-based learning ideas, and software recommendations.

The Project Based Learning Place. This Web site discusses assessment, principles, resources, and research related to project based learning for adults. It includes descriptions of projects from Project Idea in Texas and a link to the Email Projects Home Page that could serve as examples for teachers and learners interested in project work.

REEP ESL Curriculum for Adults.This is the latest edition of the REEP Curriculum from the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP) in Arlington, Virginia. This curriculum includes information any serious ESL teacher— whether just beginning to teach, or a veteran of many years in the classroom—would need to know about providing instruction to adult English language learners. The Web site offer a number of resources related to history and government at

Texas Eduation Agency & Socorro Independent School District. Just-in-time Civics on the Border This site describes a three-year demonstration project implemented by the Socorro Independent School District along the El Paso/Juarez border in Texas. This project has targeted beginning level ESL learners and has built on research into how adult learners with beginning level literacy skills best learn English.

Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center. Virginia Adult Education Health Literacy Toolkit.  
Toolkit author Kate Singleton says the toolkit “grew from many teachers' observations of adult literacy learners whose education paused or ended because a small health problem became bigger and brought on a host of other difficulties. Many adult learners, particularly those with the lowest literacy skills, are unaware of accessible health care options for the un- and underinsured and have a limited understanding of prevention of those conditions for which they are at increased risk. Those who are able to access care often do not know how to advocate for themselves in the complex, changing U.S. health care system. The spoken and written language of the U.S. health-care culture seems to them beyond their reach.”

World Education. The Civic Participation Special Collection. Although this online resource collection is not specifically geared toward English language learners and their teachers, it contains a variety of links that may be useful. Of particular interest is the "Links and Directories" section which provides an annotated list of online resources on these topics: "Community Improvement and organizing," "Education for Obtaining U.S. Citizenship," "Media", "Social Studies", and "Voting, Government, and the Constitution."