What Does It Mean to Be a Citizen? is my post and lesson plan at The New York Times Learning Network.
It’s time for another one of my The Best Of…. lists. This one will highlight the ten — well, actually eleven, since there’s a tie for first place — best websites for learning about civic participation and citizenship.
Even though the main focus of this list is assisting English Language Learners, a number of the sites are appropriate for native-English speakers of all ages. I’ve tried to strike a balance between including resources to help immigrants to the United States prepare for their Citizenship test and also list sites that encourage everyone to become active citizens in improving their communities — whatever country they live in.
I was particularly interested in doing this list since I’m starting to teach a Government class this coming semester that will be using a great deal of technology. All these sites will be helpful to my class, and I wanted to make sure that I also included some that non-U.S. residents might find useful — I hope my Government students will be working with classes around the world.
I’m listing the U.S. Peace Corps ESL/EFL Training Manuals at number ten. They provide excellent lessons and examples about how to apply the teachings of Paulo Freire in an ESL/EFL class. The idea is to draw-out the personal experiences of students through the learning process and to then take collective action for social change.
The number nine site is Ben’s Guide To U.S. Government. It’s sponsored by the United States Government Printing Office, and offers a very accessible description of government here in the U.S. There are three levels based on people’s age (and English level) which is very helpful to English Language Learners.
Number eight is a site sponsored by Brown University and the International Institute of Rhode Island. It provides basic information about United States history and government, specifically geared towards preparing people for the U.S. Citizenship test. The language and presentation is very accessible to English Language Learners of all levels.
I’ve ranked the website of the Civic Participation and Community Action Sourcebook as number six. Much of their book (though not all of it) is on the site. It provides excellent lesson plans and examples of students learning about public life and government through taking action in their communities.
Number four is the Civic Participation module of the Center of Congress at Indiana University. It’s part of a larger group of excellent Interactive Learning Modules about public life in the United States. The Civic Participation site includes well-done audio visuals that have text with audio support covering various strategies for resolving community problems.
U.S. Citizenship Podcast is number three. It has an extraordinary amount of resources related to preparing for the U.S. Citizenship test. They recently posted a wealth of quizzes related to the new U.S. Citizenship Test — they’ll be a huge help to ELL’s and their teachers.
Number two is The Community Organizing Toolkit. I was a community organizer for nineteen years prior to becoming a classroom teacher. I believe organizing is an extraordinarily effective way to develop leadership, learn, and create social change. Though I have a number of issues with how this animated, text, and audio presentation portrays organizing, it still gives an important perspective for people to hear.
Now, for my number ranked website for learning about civic participation and citizenship….. It’s a tie between two extraordinary sites.
One is US Citizenship, an online self-access course created by Charles LaRue at the Metro North Adult Education Program in Minnesota. It’s very accessible and engaging — my students have really liked it. It does cost $30 per year, but for that small amount your whole class can use the site.
The other number one site is EL Civics For ESL Students. Christina Niven has designed a wonderful site to help people learn about the United States and everyday life skills. The images, text, design, and support materials are very accessible to all levels of English Language Learners.
I’ve recently learned from Susan Wetenkamp-Brandt about a top-notch resource to help English Language Learners prepare for the newly-revised U.S. Citizenship test. It’s a step-by-step online program to study for the new test. Audio support is provided for all the text, and it include practice questions. It’s available for anyone to use as a “guest” — you just can’t register, log-in and save your work unless you’re a Minnesota resident working with the Minnesota Literacy Council.
Karen Hilgemanhas developed a number of additional online citizenship activities.
Law Focused Education also has a number of citizenship-related games.
Thinkfinity has lesson resources for teachers that are related to citizenship.
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) has just performed a great service for recent immigrants by helping to develop and distribute the new U.S. Citizenship test questions in eleven additional languages. CLINIC has recruited community organizations from around the country to do these eleven, and are hoping to do more. Here’s the official English version.
You can also access my United States History Class blog and see an entire year’s of lessons designed for student self-access. You can also see links to the students blogs used during the course. The lessons include quite a bit of original material I developed for use in both of the classes, and they are available for download (during the year students would open up the documents and cut-and-paste the exercises into their own blogs). You’re obviously welcome to use the resources there with your students. I just ask that you not publish or reprint any of my original materials for use other than by your students.
Here’s a CBS News video of a citizenship ceremony in San Francisco.
“EL/Civics Lesson Plans” contains quite a group of nice lesson plans on lifeskills and on civics for English Language Learners. They’re from the Northeast ABLE Resource Center.
Vote Easy is a very accessible interactive that lets users identify their opinion on several key public policy issues, and then compares those positions with those of local candidates. It’s probably the best site of its kind that I’ve seen, and is certainly accessible to English Language Learners. I’m going to add the site to this list, and hope they update the site for each election or, even better, modify it so users can regularly inform themselves of the positions taken by politicians and compare it to their own.
Cast Your Vote is an interactive game on the iCivics site. There are a lot of interactives there, but I think most of them are overly-complicated — even for native English speakers. “Cast Your Vote,” though, puts you in the role of a person at a political debate asking questions and evaluating the answers of the people running for office. It’s pretty good and useful.
“Democracy Kids” is a nice series of interactives designed to teach young people about how the United States government operates. It provides audio support for the text, which makes it particularly accessible to English Language Learners. It’s sponsored by several respected civic organizations, including the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Take this Citizenship quiz at the History Channel.
Lynne Weintraub of Citizenship News emailed this video of a naturalization ceremony. I’m just going to quote her description. One thing she doesn’t mention is that it has subtitles.
If you’re looking for a video of a USCIS Oath Ceremony to show your students, there are plenty on YouTube, however they’re mostly home-made, and don’t have clear sound quality or visuals. Here’s a link to an Oath Ceremony that was filmed 9/23/11, by USCIS for their YouTube channel. The video has professional quality visual and sound quality, and features some famous people: Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security (who administers the oath), Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (who tells about becoming a citizen herself, and how much that meant to her) and Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior. As is traditional for Oath Ceremonies, there is the “Presentation of the Colors” (flag ceremony), the group says the Pledge of Allegiance, and sings the National Anthem.
It takes a while to view the whole thing (it’s 37 minutes long), but even if you fast-forward through some of the sections, it’s a good resource for giving students an idea of what to expect at their Oath Ceremonies.
The Smithsonian, in conjunction with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has unveiled Preparing For The Oath. Not only is it now probably the best site out there for preparing people to take the U.S. Citizenship exam, it’s also just a great site to learn about U.S. History. Audio is available to support all the text, and it includes a practice exam.
ProLiteracy has quite a few very accessible interactives designed to help people prepare for the U.S. Citizenship test, and also has a lot of info for citizenship teachers.
Photos: Faces of citizenship is a slideshow from CNN.
Pumarosa has long been on The Best Multilingual & Bilingual Sites For Learning English list. Now, though, Paul Rogers, the site’s creator, has decided to allow free access to its Civics and U.S. History section.
Could You Pass A US Citizenship Test is an interactive from The Christian Science Monitor.
You can find other “Best of…” lists here.
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