Tutor Tip: Citizenship Tutoring: Are You Up to the Challenge?

September 4, 2014 at 9:00 AM | Posted in Tutoring | 1 Comment

The journey to citizenship can seem daunting for tutors and students alike, but LCNV resources can help.

Image from Civics Flash Cards for the Naturalization Test, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. A recommended resource available in the LCNV library.

Image from Civics Flash Cards for the Naturalization Test, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. A recommended resource available in the LCNV library.

Adults come to LCNV to learn to speak, read or write English, but their reasons for doing so vary. Many want to get jobs or improve their standing in the workforce. Some aspire to read to their children at bedtime or advocate for them at school. Others seek to continue educations interrupted in faraway lands long ago. And some come with the dream of becoming citizens of the United States of America. From the tutor’s perspective, no goal can seem as intimidating as preparing a student for the citizenship test.

Tutors often wonder if their students are ready to embark upon the citizenship journey. Over the years, LCNV has witnessed a wide variety of learners successfully attain this goal. Some have been college graduates or fluent readers in their native languages while others never graduated from high school or learned to read in their home countries. It very much depends upon the individual, the person’s motivation and the time devoted to preparation. Regardless of the student, tutors should seek guidance and resources to offer the best possible instruction.

One of my personal goals has been to assemble small groups of tutors with specific areas of expertise who are willing to serve as resources for their peers. The citizenship arena, in particular, seemed to have a pressing need for such a resource. We reached out to our tutors in this regard and were delighted with the response. In June we launched the Tutor Resource Group on Citizenship Test Preparation with tutors Claire Brown, Joan Huber and Mary Voldnes from the BAL program and Jan Auerbach, Steve Cooper, Ed Faggen, Anne Jillson and Bob Stump from the ESOL program. Each individual in the group has successfully prepared one or more students for the Citizenship test.

I spoke to one tutor who has already sought guidance from this group. Karen has been tutoring Andrea, a 30-something year old woman from Peru, since 2011. Andrea works as a nanny and is required to speak Spanish to her charges, thereby limiting her ability to practice English. Nevertheless she is a hardworking, dedicated student who has shown significant progress each of the four times LCNV assessed her skills. Now she wants to work on becoming a citizen. “Why citizenship and why now?” I ask.  “She wants to vote. She wants to have a say,” Karen says. “But she put it off because of the expense.”  A hefty fee of $680 covers the cost of the application plus fingerprinting.

“In my heart I have felt she was ready for some time,” Karen says. “But it still feels like a responsibility to do this with my student. It’s a little scary. That’s why as soon as I read about the group, I wrote to them. They immediately responded with a lot of advice and ideas. They even commented on each other’s responses.”

LCNV also has acquired other resources for tutors and students working towards this lofty goal, including a series of books by Lynne Weintraub called “Citizenship: Passing the Test” from New Readers Press. The books in this series include “Literacy Skills,” “Civics and Literacy” and “Ready for the Interview.” We are currently able to provide one of these books free of charge to every student actively preparing for the test. The others can be purchased or borrowed from our library. The LCNV library also contains flash cards, audio and video material and other books from sources including the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

If you are thinking of helping a student with citizenship, here are some tutor tips to get you started:

  • Check the web site for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for valuable information and resources. Go to http://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship.
  • Write to us at Tutoring@LCNV.org for a consultation with the Tutor Resource Group on Citizenship Test Preparation and a complementary student book.
  • Visit the LCNV library shelves on citizenship.
  • Advise your student to pursue the application when you are fairly confident that the student can pass. Otherwise it is an expensive proposition. ( Ed Faggen )
  • Leave adequate time for memorization of 100 civics questions.
  • Drill for spelling. “Spelling was the hardest for my student. I’d pick three to four of the sentences in the Weintraub book and have him write them ten times for homework. I’d then test him on them during the next session. After a while, he was doing fine, except for some words. I’d have him write only these ten times and test in the next session.” (Bob Stump)

Additional resources exist in our surrounding community. Hogar Immigrant Services (Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington) offers Citizenship Workshops where staff attorneys and trained volunteers help eligible applicants complete citizenship applications. The next workshop is on Saturday, September 13 at Arlington County Department of Human Services and costs $40. For more information, visit Hogar’s website.

Do you have a story about preparing a student for the citizenship challenge?  Would you like to serve as a volunteer consultant on our team? I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to share with our community of tutors by commenting on this post.

Carole Vinograd Bausell

Carole Vinograd Bausell


Carole Vinograd Bausell, Ed.D. is an English language and literacy specialist and Director of Tutoring Programs with the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia.


1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Giving + Learning and commented:
    The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia is taking a smart, systematic approach to citizenship tutoring.


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