ESoL-Civics Curriculum Framework

Developed by Debbie Tuler, 
ESL Specialist, 
Thomas Jefferson Adult and Career Education 


English Language-Civics Curriculum Framework

The TJACE@PVCC English Language Civics program is sequenced, developmental, and standards-based.

We use the VA State ESOL Content Standards to address the four language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. In addition, we have

  • a framework for addressing civics,
  • suggested life skills topics
  • a citizenship preparation curriculum, and
  • a health literacy curriculum

During 2017-18, instructors will be gaining familiarity with the federal English Language Proficiency Standards, foundational to the College and Career Readiness Standards.

Within this standards-based instructional program, language skills are taught in the context of life skills and civics, using themes or topics.  Instructors assess student learning needs and goals and use that information to select appropriate contexts for their class.

Before using the Curriculum Framework, we recommend reading our Guiding Principles – the philosophy and approach underlying the TJACE@PVCC English language Program.  

Civics Education: Introduction 

Why civics education?

According to the US Dept. of Education, civics education refers to contextualized instruction in the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and civic participation, to help students acquire the skills and knowledge to become active and informed parents, workers, and community members.  Some streams of public funding also emphasize workforce preparation and training.

Integrated English Literacy/Civics Education (IELCE) is defined as “education services provided to English language learners who are adults, including professionals with degrees and credentials in their native countries, that enables such adults to achieve competency in the English language and acquire the basic and more advanced skills needed to function effectively as parents, workers, and citizens in the United States. Such services shall include instruction in literacy and English language acquisition and instruction on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and civic participation, and may include workforce training” (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act 2014, Section 203(12)).

We also include knowledge of U.S. history and government, the naturalization process, and employment; the first two connect to rights & responsibilities and civic participation and the latter relates to adults in the role of workers.

Guiding TJACE@PVCC in civics instruction is the following statement from the National Standards for Civics and Government:

“A free society must rely on the knowledge, skills, and virtue of its citizens and those they elect to public office.  Civic education, therefore, is essential to the preservation and improvement of American constitutional democracy.  The goal of education in civics and government is informed, responsible participation in political life by competent citizens committed to the fundamental values and principles of American constitutional democracy”.

    The recognition that education has a civic mission originated with the founding fathers: to prepare informed, rational, humane, and participating citizens committed to the values and principles of American constitutional democracy.  This mission was reaffirmed in the National Education Goals included in Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994.

Goal 6: Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning

By the year 2000, every adult American will be literate and will possess the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Through language instruction, we assist our students in integrating to the broader American culture; immigrant integration is broadly defined as a dynamic, two-way process in which newcomers and the receiving community work together to build strong, secure, vibrant, and cohesive communities and country.  Throughout history we see how established American communities and cultures adapt and change with each wave of immigration, and the present is no exception.  

Civics education has been a key component of the Charlottesville adult education’s ESL curriculum since 1998, as we strive to help our students meet four purposes for learning:

  • gain access to information and resources to orient themselves in the world
  • develop voice to express ideas and opinions
  • gain skills to act independently and with others for the good of their families, communities and nation, and 
  • learn how to learn in order to be prepared for an every-changing world

Our work is also guided by the principle that citizens and community members have four broad areas of responsibility:

  • become and stay informed (to solve problems and contribute to the community)
  • form and express opinions and ideas
  • work together (with other people to get things done)
  • take action to strengthen communities (exercise rights and responsibilities to improve the world around us)

(From Equipped for the Future, a research, development, and implementation project of the National Institute for Literacy, 1998-2004)

Equipped for the Future: The Evolution of a Standards-Based Approach to System Reform.

Some key definitions:

Civic life:  The public life of the citizen concerned with affairs of the community and nation

Constitution:  In the U.S., a constitution is a form of higher law that established and limits government in order to protect individual rights as well as to promote the common good

Format of English Language—Civics Curriculum Framework

The IELCE curriculum framework is divided into five civic education areas:  Civic Participation, Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, U.S. History and Government, the Naturalization Process, and Employability. 

Within each area, several objectives are broadly defined in terms of what “students will be able to” do.   These are further broken down, in a chart form, into sub-skills and sample activities on a continuum of complexity, from beginner level to more difficult.  Finally, each civic area includes sample lessons.  This framework provides examples; it is not intended to be an exhaustive list. 

Civic Participation is the way we involve ourselves within our community; the degree to which we engage relates to how much we make a difference in the lives of those around us.  It refers to people working individually or with others to make a change or difference in the community.  It also means developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.  

Rights and Responsibilities refer to those rights and responsibilities indicated in the Constitution and laws of the United States as well as those we value in our communities.  While some rights and responsibilities are for U.S. citizens only, many are for all community members.

Knowledge of U.S. History and Government Structure serves as a foundation or context through which students develop communication and decision-making skills needed to be active participants in a constitutional democracy.   Through some study of these “academic” subjects, students learn about and reflect on common values that bind together our diverse society and ways to participate within that society.  U.S. history and government are also essential parts of the naturalization process, during which aspiring new citizens have to answer questions on these topics.

The Naturalization process is important for many students at TJACE.  To become naturalized citizens, immigrants must pass a test that includes speaking and understanding English, reading and writing, and knowledge of U.S. history and government.  TJACE has a course curriculum for citizenship preparation.

Employability, while not included in a definition of civics or civics education, is a key component of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).  This law emphasizes adult education leading to post-secondary education, workforce training, and/or employment.  One particular funding component requires integrated education and training.  Therefore, at a minimum, employability skills refer to the “soft skills” needed to obtain, retain, and advance along a career path.  It may also include the integration of specific post-secondary training.

Guiding Principles

Adapted from the Framework for Adult ESOL in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, draft document,1991)

  • Our approach is collaborative; we see the teacher as a facilitator, guide, and expert on language content but with a student-centered and flexible approach that begins with the students' purposes for learning.
  • Adults come to our classes with a diversity of native language skills, formal education, learning styles, cultural backgrounds, and life experiences, all of which affect their learning. It is important for teachers to use their understanding of these differences in selecting teaching materials and strategies.
  • Adults come with a variety of motivations for learning English, a range of personal, educational, and career goals, and differing expectations of the learning process. It is important that teachers and students work together to identify goals and expectations to ensure that the program, curriculum, and instruction address these various goals.
  • Adults need to develop English language skills that enable them to understand and be understood in both oral and written English. Instruction should therefore aim to increase students' abilities to communicate their own thoughts and to understand the ideas of others in a variety of settings.
  • Students move through a series of stages but teachers and students need to understand that progress may be inconsistent from day to day and across the four skill areas. It is important for teachers to plan lessons that introduce new skills as students are ready and that reinforce old skills from previous stages.
  • Language learning requires risk taking. Adults benefit from a classroom community that supports them in taking risks in authentic communication practice. It is important for teachers to create a comfortable classroom community.
  • Learning about cultural norms and American institutions is an integral aspect of learning American English. While individual students make their own decisions about the extent of acculturation or integration, they benefit from knowing how U.S. systems work and how to engage in and advocate for themselves within these systems.  Teachers should be conscious of the unspoken ways in which we teach and represent American culture.
  • Civics education is an integral part of learning English in the United States. Civics education refers to an approach that is concerned with the affairs of the community or nation. (Center for Civics Education). Language learning is about using the language in real life and can therefore not be separated from communal affairs. 

As a publicly funded program, we are also tied to legislative and Department of Education guidelines:

  • Integrated English Language/Civics Education emphasizes contextualized language instruction to help students acquire the skills and knowledge to become active and informed parents, workers, and community members. Key contexts are rights and responsibilities of citizenship and civic participation; it may also include training. The ultimate goal is to help limited English proficient adults to become full participants in American civic life. Again, language instruction cannot be easily separated from these goals.
  • Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), there is an increased emphasis on standards-based instruction and on employment skills: Instruction is intended for adults whose levels fall within a particular proficiency level as defined by the National Reporting System Educational Functioning Levels (NRS EFLs).  Instruction should facilitate students’ advancement in EFLs and towards the attainment of high school equivalency and transition to postsecondary education, training, or employment.

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