Hands-on English current events activityfor ESL

February 2000 (latest update: February 24, 2000)

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ESL reading activity:

Census 2000

Here's a simplified reading about the upcoming census in the U.S. You can print this out and share it with your students. We hope that this information will encourage your students to participate in the census, as it is to their benefit to be counted!

This text was adapted by Jill Kramer and Anna Silliman from from a Census Bureau publication for Adult ESL and Literacy students, called "Census 2000; from Understanding to Participation." This teaching guide includes a large map of the USA and student lessons. Teachers may request a free copy at www.census.gov. Look for the page on "Census in Schools," then click on "How to order." You'll see a phone number and email address for Adult ESL/Literacy.

One very helpful feature of the Census Bureau teaching guide is that it includes a printed Sample Short Form which you and your students can discuss and practice filling out. There are also some good ideas which you might be able to adapt to your classroom.

For example, to demonstrate how the census information is used, ask each student to write down the month they were born on a piece of paper. Collect the papers, then compile the information and write it on the blackboard. For example, March=3, June=2, etc. The students can see that although the information is about them, there is no way to trace it back to an individual. The idea is to give those who might feel reluctant to share information some confidence in the process. If you are working on the Sample Short Form in class, perhaps you could try this same exercise with the census questions themselves--have a mini-census within your classroom and post the resulting data on charts (obviously without using any of the students' names).

Following is a text you can read with your students:

Census 2000

Ten years ago, in 1990, about 248,000,000 (two hundred forty-eight million) people lived in the USA. How many people live here now? To find out, the government will count every person living in the USA on April 1, 2000. This is called a census. It is held every ten years.

Who lives here?
The census gives us important information about the country. It tells us how many people live here, where they live, how old they are, and what they need. Do they need new schools? New day care centers? Who needs new roads, hospitals, apartments, or ESL classes? The government looks at the census numbers, and then decides how to spend money for these things. Businesses also look at these numbers when they decide where to put new stores. That's why the census needs to count everyone--young and old, citizens and non-citizens, workers and non-workers.

Your information is private
The information you write on the census form is private. The Census Bureau cannot give this information about you to anyone. It is illegal. No other government department such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS=taxes) or the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) can get this information about you. Census workers must promise to keep the information secret. If they don't, they will go to jail.

There are two census forms, called 'questionnaires.' Most homes, 83%, will get the short form. There will be questions about your home and all the people who live in the home. Some people will receive the long form. The long form asks about 34 different subjects.

When is the census?
In the middle of March the census form will arrive in the mail. You can get help filling out the census form at Questionnaire Assistance Centers from March 8 to April 14. They will have information in 49 languages. You can also call the phone number on the census form for help. Later in April, census workers will visit homes that didn't send in their forms.

Try these sample questions from the short form:

1. How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment or mobile home on April 1, 2000?
___ ___ Number of people

INCLUDE in this number:

  • foster children, roomers or housemates
  • people staying here on April 1, 2000 who have no other permanent place to stay
  • people living here most of the time while working even if they have another place to live

DO NOT INCLUDE in this number:

  • college students living away while attending college
  • people in a correctional facility, nursing home, or mental hospital on April 1, 2000
  • Armed Forces personnel living somewhere else
  • people who live or stay at another place most of the time

2. Is this house, apartment, or mobile home--
Mark with an X

____ Owned by you or someone in this household with a mortgage or loan?
____ Owned by you or someone in this household free and clear (without a mortgage or loan)?
____ Rented for cash rent?
____ Occupied without payment of cash rent?


(Note to teachers--the actual form has boxes to mark in. It would be a good idea to have copies of the actual form so that students get familiar with its format.)

Editor's note: I'd be very interested to hear what you and your students thought of this activity! Thank you! We welcome teaching suggestions.--Anna Silliman.


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