Community Buildings and Places – Government

For the next several weeks, we’re going to talk about buildings and places in the community. All cities and towns in the United States have some of these places. This week, we’re going to talk about government buildings and what happens there.

City/Town Hall

Every city and town needs a place for the local government workers to work. A city hall or town hall might contain offices for the mayor (the head of government in a city or town) and other government officials, and it may have a space where the city or town council can meet. This council is a group of people who make decisions for a community. They decide which projects are the most important. These projects could be parks, playgrounds, sidewalks, new buildings, libraries, garbage collection, street lights, or many other things. A large city or town hall could have an auditorium where members of the community can come for meetings. At these meetings, community members can talk about problems in their neighborhoods or projects they want to do to improve their community.

Municipal Building

photo by WTCC instructor

photo by WTCC instructor

A municipal building is similar to a town hall, but it probably does not have an auditorium for town meetings. It probably only has offices and rooms for small groups, like the town council, to meet. Raleigh’s municipal building is called the Avery C. Upchurch Government Complex. It holds offices for city government administration, and Raleigh’s city council meets there. The building was named after a former mayor of Raleigh. It is located on Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh.


By Daderot (I took this photograph.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A courthouse is a government building for a county (not a city). All kinds of “legal” things happen there. You will probably need to go to the courthouse if:

  • you are arrested.
  • you take legal action against someone (or someone takes legal action against you).
  • you want to get married.
  • you want to get divorced.
  • you want to adopt a child.
  • you want to register a business.
  • you are called to jury duty.
  • you get a traffic ticket.

Judges and some kinds of lawyers have offices at the courthouse.

Capitol Building

By Jim Bowen from Fort Worth, US [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Because Raleigh is the capital city of North Carolina, it has state government buildings in addition to city and county government buildings. The NC Capitol is located in downtown Raleigh. Many years ago, North Carolina’s General Assembly (law-makers) met in this building. Now, the governor, Pat McCrory, and lieutenant governor, Dan Forest, have their offices here. A governor is the head official of a state. A lieutenant governor is the person who will become the governor if the governor dies or cannot continue in his/her office. The United States has a president and a vice president. North Carolina has a governor and a lieutenant governor.

Legislative Building

By Abbylabar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

As the population of NC grew, we needed more representatives in our state government. We needed more people to represent us, more people to make laws for us. These people make up the General Assembly. They used to have their meetings in the Capitol Building, but now there are too many of them for that space, so they meet in the Legislative Building, which is also in downtown Raleigh.

Your Turn

Can you answer these questions from this post?

  1. What is the difference between a town hall and a municipal building?
  2. What is a city council? What does it do?
  3. Where does Raleigh’s city council meet?
  4. Name three reasons you might go to the county courthouse.
  5. Name two state government buildings.
  6. Where does the NC General Assembly meet?
  7. Who is Pat McCrory, and where is his office?
  8. Who is NC’s lieutenant governor?
  9. Where is the NC Legislative Building?
  10. What happens in the Legislative Building?

How to Send Mail in the United States

Most countries have a postal service (a way to send mail). It’s a basic service, so you might think that it’s the same in every country. Have you noticed differences between the way we send mail in the United States and the way people send mail in your country? Today, we’re going to talk about how to send mail in the United States.

First, let’s talk about mailboxes.

There are a few different kinds of mailboxes. If you have a mailbox at your house, it might look like one of these:

Used with permission from

By ( [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons













If you live in an apartment or townhouse, you might have a group of mailboxes for your neighborhood or your building. Those look similar to these:

By Dmitry G (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dwight Burdette (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons









The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) also has mailboxes in public places all around the city. They are large, blue boxes like this one:

Coolcaesar at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

You can only RECEIVE mail in your home or apartment mailbox (not the blue Postal Service boxes). You can SEND mail from all of these mailboxes, but the way you do it is different for each one.

How to Send Mail

Here is how you send mail from each kind of mailbox:

  • Home Mailbox – To send mail from your home mailbox, put the mail inside the mailbox, and raise the red flag on the side. When the flag is up, the mail carrier will take out the mail that is inside.
  • Neighborhood Mailbox – Most neighborhood mailboxes have a special box that says “Outgoing Mail.” You can put mail into this box, and the mail carrier will take it.
  • Postal Service Mailbox – Just put mail into the box. There is a sign on the box that tells you what time the mail carrier will pick it up.

You can also take your mail to a post office. Near the entrance, there is an “outgoing mail” box. You can put your mail there if it is ready. In order to send mail in the United States, you must pay. We pay to send mail by buying stamps. You buy a stamp and put it on your mail. It is very important that you put a stamp on your mail. If you don’t use a stamp, the mail carrier will not deliver your mail. You can buy stamps at the post office. You may also be able to buy stamps at Wal-Mart, a gas station, a bank, a pharmacy, an office supply store, or a grocery store. You can buy stamps online at or Look for the word “forever” on the stamps. You can use those even if the price of stamps goes up in the future.

How to Address an Envelope

In different countries, people address envelopes differently. It’s important to do it correctly so that your mail goes to the right place. Here is an envelope that is ready to mail:

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

In the United States, we write the “to” address in the middle of the envelope. This letter is going to Bob Vance. Bob is the recipient of the letter (the person who will receive it). On the first line, we write the person’s name. On the second line, we write the number of the building (house/apartment/townhouse/office) and the name of the street. If we need to add an apartment number, we can put it in the same line or a different one. Below that, we write the city, state, and zip code. You can also write the zip code on a different line if the city and state are very long and you don’t have space.

In the top-left corner, we write the return address – the “from” address. This letter is from Phyllis Lapin. Phyllis wrote the letter. She is sending it to Bob. If there is a problem with the letter, the mail carrier can return it to Phyllis at this address. We write it the same as the “to” address:
Street Address (number of building + name of street)
City/State/Zip Code (*Notice that we put a comma between the city and the state.)

The stamp always goes in the top-right corner.

Your Turn

Find a partner in your class. Write your partner a letter and send it to him/her. When you receive a letter from your partner, bring it to class. Is the U.S. Postal Service fast or slow?

Discuss these questions with your classmates:

  1. Can you send letters from your home mailbox in your country?
  2. Can you receive mail at home in your country, or do you have to pick it up from another place?
  3. Is sending a letter in the United States cheap or expensive?
  4. Have you ever been to a U.S. post office? What was your opinion of it?
  5. Is the postal service in the U.S. the same as in your country or different? Explain your answer.
  6. In the United States, postal mail is sometimes called “snail mail.” What do you think that means? After you discuss it with your classmates, ask your teacher to explain.

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to the Civics, Culture, and Community Blog! We didn’t write new posts during the winter break. Now it is January, and we will begin to write new posts again. Happy New Year!!

How often will new posts be up?

This year, you can read one new blog post every other week. That means there will be a new post one week, but not the next week (week 1, not week 2, week 3, not week 4). Posts should be on this website every Monday morning.  If there is something specific you want to learn about but you can’t find it on this site, please post a comment or tell your teacher. We will write a topic for you or your class. This blog is for YOU, our ESL students, and we want to write information that will help you.

How do I use the blog?

There are several options to use the blog.

  • You can SEARCH for a specific topic by using the searchbox on the right.
  • You can click on the links at the top.
  • You can click on the links on the right.
  • You can read the posts in order.

What topics are on this blog?

This is the Civics, Culture, and Community blog. There are many topics related to local events, government, citizenship, and living in the United States. For example:

If you want to learn about something that isn’t here, please tell us!

What are comments and links?

You can comment on every post. Click this blue link to read how to comment. 

There are lots of links in blogs. Links are blue. They open a new window and go to a different webpage. You can always return to the original post.


In the comment section or on paper, write YES or NO. If the sentence is wrong, re-write it correctly.

  1. You can learn about American history on the Civics, Culture, and Community blog.
  2. There is one new post every week.
  3. New posts are ready on Monday.
  4. You can study grammar and vocabulary on the Civics, Culture, and Community blog.
  5. This blog is for teachers only.
  6. You can comment on any post.

See you in two weeks!

What should I do if I am stopped by the police?

By Scott Davidson from United States (Police Car Lights) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Imagine that you are driving in your car. Suddenly, you see blue lights behind you. The police want you to pull over (stop on the side of the road). When this happens, most people are nervous or scared. You might be confused or worried. These are normal feelings. Try to remember two important things in that moment:

  1. The police officer’s job is to keep us safe.
  2. The police officer has a dangerous job, so he/she is probably a little anxious (worried/nervous about what will happen) too.

Here is some more advice about what you should do when you are stopped by the police:

  • Stay calm.
  • As soon as you see the police emergency lights or hear the siren (the sound an emergency vehicle makes), you should slow down and stop your car at the first safe location off the road. Do not stop in the middle of the road. Use the shoulder (the area beside the road, not for walking), or go into a parking lot.
  • Stay in your car and wait for the officer to come to you. Do NOT get out of your car. You should only get out of the car if the officer asks you to do so. Getting out of your car does not help the officer. In fact, he/she might think that you are going to attack. For everyone’s safety, stay in your car.
  • If you are stopped at night, turn on the inside lights in your car.
  • Keep your hands in a place where the officer can see them. Your steering wheel is a good place.
  • Don’t make any sudden movements, such as reaching under the seat or into the back seat or glove box. You may need to get something, but wait for the officer to ask for it, and then do it calmly.
  • If you have weapons in your car, tell the officer of the location immediately. Do not reach or point to the location.
  • When the officer arrives at your car, he/she will tell you of the purpose of the stop. He/she will then ask you for some information. When the officer asks to see your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, this is normal. Stay calm, and find your license, registration card, and insurance card.
  • Answer all questions honestly.
  • The officer might decide to give you a citation (ticket) for a traffic violation. The best time to explain your actions is before he/she writes the citation.
  • If the officer asks you to sign a citation, sign it. Your signature does not say, “I agree that I am guilty.” It only says, “I received this citation.” The officer will explain what you can do next.
  • Do not be mean, rude, or threatening to the officer.
  • If you feel that you are innocent, you should go to court on your court date to talk to a judge about the charges. The side of the road is not the place to argue.

But my English is not good!

If you are worried about your level of English, I understand. Don’t worry. If you speak Spanish, many police officers can communicate with you in your language. If you speak a language that the police officer does not understand, he/she can call an interpreter. If an interpreter is not available, the officer will work hard to make sure that you understand why he/she stopped you, what you did wrong, and what you can do next.

Getting Involved – Organize a Neighborhood Event

In many countries people know their neighbors and speak to them often. In the United States, this is less common. When you are new to the U.S., this can be difficult and confusing. It is possible to meet your neighbors, but you must be brave and outgoing (starting conversations with many people/not shy). If you are shy or nervous about starting conversations, you can still meet your neighbors if you have a little help from a friend.

Here are some ideas for getting all your neighbors together. They require some organizing skills and some advertising, but they can be very simple.

Donation Drive – A donation is something that someone gives. A drive, in this case, is an event where you try to get a lot of something. If you want to get money for a charity, people can donate money during your event. If you want to collect food for the Raleigh Rescue Mission or the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, people can give food during your event. A donation drive is always an opportunity to help a person or charity. You could collect blankets or coats for homeless people in the winter. You could ask for book or toy donations for a preschool. People could donate crayons, pencils, and glue to a school. Think of a charity that is important to you. What do they need? You can organize a donation drive in your neighborhood! And when your neighbors bring their donations to you, you can meet them!

Fundraising Event – A fundraising event is like a donation drive, but it is only for getting money (not things). Again, think about a charity or group that needs money. Invite your neighbors to a fundraising party, and when they arrive, they can donate money. They can pay to attend the party, eat food, or play games. Use your imagination! Just make sure all the money really goes to the charity.

Eat Alberta Potluck used with permission by]Mack Male, on Flickr

Eat Alberta Potluck used with permission by Mack Male on flickr ( )

Block Party – A block party is just a party for your neighborhood. Maybe it’s one block, maybe more. A lot of people will go to this kind of party, but they don’t want to organize and plan it. If you do the work, you can meet many of your neighbors. For a truly American party, make it a potluck. That means everyone brings food to share. You can also plan activities, games, and contests for adults, children, and families! This website has several fun ideas to help you get started!

Holiday Event – You don’t need a special reason to have a block party, but if you want a reason, you can have a holiday party! Your American neighbors might be more comfortable attending a party for an American holiday. However, when you know your neighbors better, you can introduce them to your culture by hosting a party for a non-American holiday.

Your Turn

Talk to your teacher, your classmates, your family, and your friends about your ideas for a neighborhood event.

  1. Which kind of event would you most enjoy?
  2. Do you like planning events?
  3. Who could help you plan your event?
  4. Work with 2-3 classmates to plan an event for your neighborhood. What kind of event will you have? What will you need to do? How will you invite people? Where will you have your event?

Getting Involved – Volunteer

I hear the same two questions from a lot of students:

  1. How and where can I meet more Americans?
  2. What can I do after I graduate from ESL/ERV?

Many students want to know how they can get involved in the community. American communities aren’t the same as communities in other countries. Neighbors don’t always know each other, and if you don’t have a job, it can be difficult to meet Americans.

Over the next few months, we will look at several ways you can participate in your community. This month, our topic is volunteering. Volunteering is very common in the United States, and there are many organizations that accept volunteer workers. You just have to find an organization that you care about. Here are some suggestions.

photo credit: P1000275 via photopin (license)

photo credit: P1000275 via photopin (license)

Rebuilding Together of the Triangle – Do you like building things, working with tools, painting, learning construction skills, or helping people? You might want to volunteer with Rebuilding Together! This organization fixes (repairs) and updates homes for low-income people. Many of them are retired (too old to work) or disabled (not able to work, physically), and their houses have a lot of problems. Rebuilding Together uses volunteers to make these houses safe and comfortable again, and they can teach you how to do simple jobs if you don’t know how.

Wake County Public Libraries – Do you like books, reading, or organizing? The public library system might have the perfect job for you! Volunteers at the library help keep the library organized and pretty. Click here for an application to volunteer at your local library. Print the application, and take it to the library where you would like to volunteer.

Raleigh Rescue Mission – Did you know that more than 1,100 people in Raleigh don’t have a place to sleep at night? The Raleigh Rescue Mission is a Christian organization that helps these people, but you do not have to be a Christian to volunteer. You can volunteer to prepare and serve food, work with children, work in a store, answer the phone and talk with visitors, or help an adult who is preparing to take the GED test. Go here to see which volunteer jobs are available and fill out an application.

SPCA of Wake County – Do you love animals? The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is an organization that protects animals and tries to find good homes for them. Click here to see a list of volunteer opportunities.

Ten Thousand Villages – Do you like shopping, sales, home decorations, talking with people, or helping people earn money to support their families? You should consider volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages. It is a store that sells fair trade products. This means that the people who make the products earn a fair amount of money for them. Many people in other countries work very hard to make products, but they receive only a little money. Fair trade means that people get paid a good price for their products.

Hospitals – Do you like helping people who are sick? Are you interested in healthcare? Maybe you should look for volunteer opportunities at one of the hospitals in the area. You don’t need medical knowledge or experience to volunteer at a hospital. They have many different ways for you to get involved. For volunteer information at Rex Hospital, click here. For information on volunteer opportunities at all Wake Med Hospital locations, go here. And to find out how you can volunteer at Duke University Hospital, visit this site.

Inter-Faith Food Shuttle – Do you care about food education, feeding hungry people, nutrition, or gardening? You might be interested in the work of the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. This organization’s goal is to end hunger in our area. Many people don’t have enough money to buy food for their families. There are also areas where it’s difficult to find fresh, healthy food. The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle gives food to people who need it. They also teach people about food, cooking, nutrition, and gardening so that they can get jobs, make healthy meals, and grow their own food. Go here to see all the ways you can volunteer with this organization.

photo credit: IMG_0248 via photopin (license)

photo credit: IMG_0248 via photopin (license)

Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts – The Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts of America are two organizations for children and teenagers. Both groups teach young people about responsibility, character (being a good person), team work, and citizenship so that they can make the world a better place. Click here to learn more about volunteering with the Girl Scouts. Go here if you are interested in volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America. And if you have children between the ages of 5 and 18 years old, these organizations are a great way for them to get involved in the community!

Schools – Did you know that you can volunteer at your child’s school? Many teachers love having parent volunteers in their classrooms, but you can also volunteer in the school’s office or library. In middle and high schools, you might be able to volunteer with a sports team or club. You can also join the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) or PTSA (Parent-Teacher-Student Association) at your child’s school for more volunteer opportunities. Check your school’s website for PTA/PTSA information, or ask your child’s teacher or the school secretary how you can help.

InterAct – InterAct is an organization that helps, protects, and educates women who have been victims of domestic violence (violence, danger, harm, injury at home), rape (sex without permission/agreement), or sexual assault. If a woman’s husband/boyfriend hurts her, she (and her children) can go to InterAct for help. There are many ways you can volunteer with InterAct. You can work with the women and their children, you can help in the office, you can help with special projects, and more. Click here to see all the ways you can volunteer.

Other Volunteer Opportunities

If you aren’t interested in any of the organizations above, there are PLENTY more places you can volunteer. The following websites can help you find a volunteer job that you will love:

Your Turn

Discuss these questions with your classmates:

  1. Is volunteering common/popular in your country? Why/why not?
  2. Have you ever done volunteer work?
  3. Is volunteering a good way to spend your time? Why/why not?
  4. Why do you think there are so many opportunities to volunteer in the US?
  5. Which programs listed here would be good for people who don’t speak much English? Which programs would be good for advanced students?
  6. What kind of volunteer job would you like to do? Why?
  7. What kind of volunteer job would you NOT like to do? Why?
  8. Do you think children should volunteer? Why/why not?
  9. What kinds of volunteer projects can families do together?
  10. Choose an organization above that has group volunteering activities. Would you enjoy volunteering there with your classmates? Why/why not?

Pick Your Own Strawberries!

Spring is here! That means that you can get fresh, delicious fruits and vegetables from the State Farmers Market. It also means that you can get some things even fresher by going to the farm and picking them yourself. Strawberry picking is a great activity for families to do together when the weather is good.

photo credit: Darwin Bell via photopin cc

photo credit: Darwin Bell via photopin cc

Before you go to any of these farms, call or email to make sure the farm is open. The opening times can change depending on the weather and when the fruit is ripe (ready to be eaten). Click on the name of a farm to get more information.

  • Buckwheat Farm – 2700 Holland Road Apex, NC, 27502. Phone: 919-303-0339. Email: Open: Mid-April to Early June; Monday to Saturday, 8AM to 7PM, Sun. 10AM to 6PM. In addition to strawberry picking, you can see animals on the farm. They have horses, goats, chickens and other kinds of birds.
  • Hilltop Farms – 6612 Kennebec Road, Willow Springs, NC 27592. Email us at: Open: Saturdays each weekend in May. For $4.50, you get a pound of organic strawberries and a basket to carry them. This farm also has other fruits and vegetables.
  • Hunts Strawberry Farm – 4505 Watkins Road, Raleigh, NC 27616. Phone: (919) 266-1619. Open: Sunday noon-7 pm, Monday to Saturday 8 am to 8 pm. Hunts also has cantaloupe, watermelon, potatoes and tomatoes.
  • Page Farms – 6100 Mt. Herman Rd, Raleigh, NC 27617. Phone: 919-596-3227. Alternate Phone: 919-451-5534. Email: Open: Saturday and Sunday; 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
  • Pope’s Strawberry Farm – 1007 Fayetteville Street, Knightdale, NC 27545. Phone: (919) 266-3767. Open: Sunday 1pm-7 pm, Monday to Saturday 8 am to 8 pm.

Your Turn

How do you like to eat strawberries? Write a comment to tell us your favorite strawberry recipe! Or better yet, make something with strawberries, and share it with your class!

R-LINE Buses

R-LINE bus

Capital Area Transit Bus 1288 R-Line by bendertj, on Flickr

If you live, work, or visit downtown Raleigh often, there is something very important that you should know. DOWNTOWN RALEIGH HAS A FREE BUS! It’s called the R-LINE.

When you are downtown, you can take these green and blue buses to many other downtown locations. It goes in a circle from Peace University in the north to Shaw University in the south, and from Glenwood Avenue in the west to Wilmington Street in the east. Most downtown restaurants, stores, museums, concert halls, and art galleries are within 4 blocks of the R-LINE, making it very convenient.

When can I use the R-LINE?

These buses are available:

  • Monday-Wednesday – 7:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
  • Thursday-Saturday – 7:00 a.m. – 2:15 a.m.
  • Sunday – 1:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

There are always 2 buses running, so the longest wait time for a bus is about 15 minutes.

For more information on the R-LINE, including a map and a list of bus stops, click here.

First Friday

Downtown Raleigh has LOTS of great things to see and do. There are restaurants, museums, art galleries, stores, and interesting people. The best time to see everything is First Friday.

What is First Friday?

On the first Friday of every month, there is a special event downtown. The museums and art galleries stay open later, so you can go in the evening, after dinner. Sometimes they have live music as well as art to look at. Also, many restaurants and stores have special prices! For example, at The Cupcake Shoppe Bakery, you get a free cupcake when you buy one cupcake on First Friday! In the summertime, there are often outdoor concerts on Hargett Street and in City Market.

Click here for a complete list of museums, galleries, and participating businesses.

How can I get around downtown?

Parking on the street downtown is free after 5:00 p.m., and there are lots of parking decks. When you are downtown, you can use the R-Line bus, which is free, or you can pay for a rickshaw (a small car pulled by a bicycle). Of course, you can also walk.

Your Turn

What would you most like to see and do at First Friday on May 1? Do you prefer looking at art or listening to music? Would you rather shop or eat? How would you like to get around downtown? With your classmates, make the perfect First Friday plan!

  • Where/What time will you meet?
  • Where will you eat? Why?
  • Which galleries/museums will you visit?
  • How will you travel?

Fun Facts about North Carolina – Beginner

NC Flag

By Dave Johnston ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With a partner, practice asking and answering these questions about North Carolina. For each one, “Q” means question, and “A” means answer. Take turns asking and answering the questions. When you see “NC,” you should say “North Carolina.” We write NC because it’s shorter, but we usually say the whole name of the state.

  1. Q: Who is the governor of NC?
    A: Pat McCrory is the governor of NC.
  2. Q: What is the capital of NC?
    A: Raleigh is the capital of NC.
  3. Q: What is the largest city in NC?
    A: Charlotte is the largest city in NC.
  4. Q: When did NC become a state?
    A: NC became a state in 1789.
  5. Q: What is NC’s state flower?
    A: NC’s state flower is the dogwood.
  6. Q: Which famous basketball player went to the University of NC at Chapel Hill?
    A: Michael Jordan went to UNC Chapel Hill.
  7. Q: How many counties are there in NC?
    A: There are 100 counties in NC.
  8. Q: What is the tallest mountain in the eastern United States?
    A: Mount Mitchell, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC, is the highest mountain in the eastern United States.
  9. Q: What are people from NC called?
    A: People from NC are called North Carolinians.
  10. Q: Which states border (touch on one side) NC?
    A: Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina all border NC.