Monday, March 15, 2010

The 2010 Census

Thanks to Meredith Sommers at Centro Guadalupano School at Holy Rosary Church in Minneapolis for this lesson idea!

The 2010 Census count is approaching. The official day of the count set for April 1, 2010, but the census forms will be mailed during March. Census data is widely used by governments and businesses to determine programs and funding, plus to apportion seats to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Purpose: To help learners become familiar with the Census, its purpose, and how to fill out the form.

Prep Time: about 10 minutes, or longer if you need more time to decide how to explain the vocabulary


Note: The Census 2010 office in your area has free pencils and other items that you can obtain for students. You can find your local office on the website.


  • make copies
  • decide how to explain the vocabulary
  • make up some fictional names and ages for the people in the picture


confidential Representatives Congress

official business census personal information

temporary permanent related


  1. Prepare students to read the story by doing a pre-reading activity and teaching the vocabulary listed above. If you have a copy of a 2010 Census envelope, use it to help explain the vocabulary.
  2. Hand out and read aloud the story of “Juanita and the Census.” Ask students to write a question mark next to any sentences that they don’t understand.
  3. Answer students’ questions and then read the story again.
  4. Check comprehension of the story. For example, “Why do they count people?”
  5. Show students the fictional family. Tell students the names and ages and how they are related.
  6. Show students the census form. Elicit from students how to fill out the form for the fictional family.
  7. Hand out the census form to all students. Help students complete the form. Encourage them to copy this completed form when they fill out the official census form.

Note: Question 9 in the form asks “what is person’s race?” The advice to Hispanic/Latino students is to write “Mixed” if they don’t call themselves White or Black.

For more information on Census 2010, go to the government website at

Juanita and the 2010 Census

Yesterday, Juanita got a letter in her mail box. It is for “Resident” at 3828 35th Ave. S. Minneapolis, MN 55407. That is Juanita’s address.

Juanita doesn’t know what to do with the letter. Should she open it? It says “Official Business” on the envelope. Juanita brings the letter to her teacher. She asks her teacher if she should open it.

“Yes,” her teacher says. “This letter is sent to everyone in the United States. It is called the Census. The Census counts how many people live in this country.”

“Why do they count?” Juanita asks.

“The census is important. It helps the government choose how much money to give to schools. It tells the government how many Representatives in Congress each state will have. This year, Minnesota might lose one Representative. If they count everyone, maybe we will not lose a Representative.”

“Do they count every year?”

“No, they count every ten years,” her teacher says.

“I am not a citizen,” Juanita says.

“The census counts everyone. They count immigrants, citizens, and unemployed people. They count all the men, women, children, and babies.”

Juanita is nervous. She doesn’t want problems because she filled out the form.

Her teacher says, “All the personal information is confidential. This means only the Census Bureau will have the information. The police will never see it. Immigration services will never see it. The President will never see it. Only the Census Bureau will see your name.”

Juanita opens the envelope. There is a form with ten questions. She asks her teacher, “How do I fill out the form?”

Her teacher helps her with the form. It takes about ten minutes.

If you don’t fill out the form and mail it, someone from the Census Bureau will come to your house. They will ask you the ten questions.

You can get help with the form in English if you call 1-866-872-6868. You can also get help in Spanish if you call 1-866-928-2010. The telephone call is free.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

English Only, Please!

Purpose: Encouraging learners to speak English at all times can be challenging. Here are some ways to encourage the use of English during class.

1. Ask students to raise their hands to show who in the class speaks Somali, Hmong, Oromo, Spanish, etc. Help students understand that talking to each other in English helps them understand people they will encounter outside the classroom, too.

2. Make a STOP sign with the words “Speak English” on it. Hold it up at the beginning of an activity or during class when you hear a lot of other languages being spoken. The sign speaks for itself! Learners may start using the sign to remind each other, too.

3. Insist that, when doing pair work, students work with a partner who speaks a different first language.

4. When learners come into class, give them each three buttons, coins, or pieces of paper (something that won’t roll off or blow off the table!). Explain or demonstrate that every time you hear them speak a language other than English, you will take one of their buttons. For the first few times, you can give a warning before you take a button, but make sure to follow through. This is not meant to be punitive. It is simply a visual reminder. Learners will soon start to monitor themselves and each other.

Note: For higher levels, try enforcing the English-only rule for half of the class at first. For lower levels, try it for 15-20 minutes.

5. Help the class generate a list of sentences they can use when they don’t understand each other: I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Can you repeat, please? Could you please speak more slowly? Encourage students to practice these in class and when working in pairs and small groups.