Topic: Whistle-blowing (Advanced ESL Lesson Plan)

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Advanced Whistle-blowing ESL News Lesson Plan : Warm-up

1) What was the worst thing you did as a child? Did you get caught?
2) What does it mean if someone is a rat in your language?
3) Have you ever taken a complaint to your boss or the police?
4) What does it mean to blow the whistle?

Topic: Jeffrey Wigand the Whistle-blower

Jeffrey Wigand began working as a researcher at Brown & Williamson (B&W), an American tobacco company, in 1989. He and other scientists put forward the idea of developing a safer cigarette that would be less likely to cause cancer. His boss, however, told him to abandon the idea because a safer cigarette would highlight the harmful effects of other cigarettes. Wigand bit his tongue and gave up the project. He turned his attention to investigating the ingredients in his company’s products and found harmful additives that were poisonous and highly addictive. He also uncovered documents that showed company executives knew the truth about these additives, despite having made public statements to the contrary. Wigand asked to have these additives removed from their products. He was dismissed shortly after in March 1993.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) began an investigation of the tobacco industry in 1994. They contacted Wigand, who agreed to talk with investigators. Afterwards, Wigand says he received two death threats at his home. He claims one anonymous telephone caller stated "Leave tobacco alone or else you'll find your kids hurt." Despite this, Wigand testified in the criminal investigation against the industry. He also participated in a TV interview in which he accused his former company of intentionally lying to the public and using chemicals to boost the effects of nicotine, an addictive chemical found in cigarettes.
In response, B&W launched a smear campaign against Wigand to undermine his credibility in the eyes of the public. They combed through Wigand’s past to find lies that would make him appear untrustworthy. Their efforts were to no avail. Wigand’s testimony helped forty-six American states win a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The industry was forced to pay $368 billion for the burden it had placed on the country’s health care system. (303)
[Research sources:,,,]

Whistle-blowing ESL Lesson Plan : Comprehension Questions

1) Why did Wigand’s boss tell him to cancel his project to make a safer cigarette?
2) True or False: Wigand was fired for giving private documents to the media.
3) How does Wigand claim he was threatened?
4) What is a smear campaign? Who does Wigand claim started such a campaign? Why?
5) What was the result of the lawsuit?

1 – He was told to cancel the project because promoting a "safe cigarette" would make other cigarettes look unsafe.
2 – False.
3 – He claims he received two death threats over the telephone. The threats threatened the safety of his family.
4 – A smear campaign aims and ruining the reputation of a person or thing. Wigand believes his former employee launched such a campaign against him in order to discredit his image in the eyes of the public.
5 – Tobacco companies were forced to pay billions of dollars to the U.S. government.

Whistle-blowing ESL Lesson Plan : Vocabulary Matching

Match the words with their meaning as used in the news lesson.
put forward (an idea, etc)
bite your tongue
dismiss (verb)
smear (verb)
undermine (verb)
comb through (verb)
no avail
  • put forward (an idea) – to suggest
  • bite your tongue – stop yourself from speaking although you want to
  • contrary – opposite
  • dismiss – fire, sack, give someone their notice
  • testify – state sth is true in a court of law
  • smear – make sth appear dirty or damage sb's reputation by telling lies
  • undermine – make sth weaker and less effective
  • comb through – examine thoroughly
  • no avail – of no use, useless

Whistle-blowing ESL Lesson Plan : Connect the below idea(s) to make a sentence.

government / uprising
put forward / proposal
bite your tongue / boss
dismiss / whistle / blow
scandal / undermine / credibility
testify / mafia
politician / smear / reputation
comb through / newspaper
efforts / no avail
Possible Answers:
  • The company has put forward a proposal to open a manufacturing plant in Kenya.
  • I thought the idea was stupid, but I had to bite my tongue because it was my boss' idea.
  • I knew that I would be dismissed if I blew the whistle
  • The scandal undermined the credibility of the politician during his campaign.
  • The man was scared to testify against the mafia.
  • The politician launched a smear campaign to destroy the reputation of his opponent.
  • Andy combed through the newspaper for any reference to the fire on his street.
  • Barb's efforts to lose weight were to no avail.

Whistle-blowing ESL Lesson Plan: Idiom Focus

1a) On the contrary
used to state that the opposite of what sb said is true
A: Cobras are the deadliest animals on Earth.
B: On the contrary, mosquitoes cause far more human deaths than cobras.
1b) to the contrary
showing or suggesting the opposite
“Regardless of what people say to the contrary, I know Alan would never steal.”
Read and complete the below sentences where necessary.
  • A: You spent your vacation at HOME?? It must have been terrible.
  • B: On the contrary, .
  • Although B&W had made public statements to the contrary,.
Possible Answers:
  • On the contrary, it was very relaxing.
  • Although B&W had made public statements to the contrary, it had acknowledged the poisonous and addictive affects of the additives in its internal documents.


2) of/to (little/no) avail
of no use, producing no benefit. (*usually used in the negative)
Efforts by workers to fix the crack were of no avail. / They worked to no avail.
Read and complete the below sentences where necessary.
  • Peter’s charisma was of no avail because he wasn’t given a chance to speak.
  • The doctor tried to,but his efforts were of no avail.
  • I argued to no avail. My wife .
  • , but to no avail.
Possible Answers:
  • The doctor tried to revive the patient, but his efforts were of no avail.
  • I argued to no avail. My wife did not want to watch football.
  • The firemen tried to break the door down, but to no avail.

Whistle-blowing ESL Lesson Plan: Brainstorming

Why might someone NOT blow the whistle on his or her employer? Think of reasons for 1-2 minutes and then discuss your ideas with the class.

Whistle-blowing ESL Lesson Plan: Debate (Pair Work)

Background (read aloud):
You and your partner are board members of the XYZ Company. Some members of the company believe it should adopt a whistle-blowing policy. The policy would include:
     a clearly-defined procedure for reporting issues.
     trained people to receive and investigate reports.
     a commitment to take appropriate action.
     guaranteed protection for whistleblowers against retaliation (punishment).
Roles (each student reads his/her role to himself/herself):
Student A
Your support this policy. Think of reasons why adopting this policy would be beneficial (1-2 minutes). Start the debate when you’re ready by presenting your ideas to your partner.
Student B
You are against this. Think of reasons why such a policy might harm the company [for example, it may contribute to an environment of mistrust, it might make it hard to fire bad employees, etc]. Your partner will begin the debate.

Whistle-blowing ESL Lesson Plan : Discussion Questions

(Write your answers in the Comments section below if you wish).

  1. Is Jeffrey Wigand a hero?
  2. What are some questions a person should consider before deciding to whistle-blow?
  3. LOYALTY: should employees be loyal to their company or the public good?
  4. COMPENSATION CULTURE: do smokers have the right to sue tobacco companies for damages?
  5. WIKILEAKS: Wikileaks publishes private information, often obtained from whistleblowers, to the public. Do you support Wikileaks?
  6. What whistle-blower cases do you know of?
  7. What kind of protection does your government provide for whistleblowers?
  8. Do you believe the company really made death threats to Wigand?

Lesson plan copyright Matthew Barton of


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8 comments on “Topic: Whistle-blowing (Advanced ESL Lesson Plan)

  1. Yeyen Sladden (Posted on 8-8-2011 at 06:28) Reply

    Very good topic. My students likes it very much. Thank you for the idea.

  2. admin (Posted on 8-11-2011 at 02:00) Reply

    Thanks, Yeyen. Where are you teaching? I am teaching an advanced class here in Prague so that’s the main reason I’m making these advanced lessons. I try to make the vocabulary as challenging as possible for them. It’s good to hear that someone else is using the lessons =)

  3. Yahocaun (Posted on 4-5-2012 at 03:03) Reply

    Hello! My name is Frank. I’m engineer.

  4. Teacher Pete (Posted on 6-13-2012 at 23:33) Reply

    Brilliant. I love lessons with a role play, debate or some type of speaking activity at the end. The students seem to love it too!

  5. admin (Posted on 6-13-2012 at 23:47) Reply

    Great Pete. Thanks for the support.

  6. RACHELLE (Posted on 10-4-2013 at 12:08) Reply

    very good, thank you. I’ll be using today in a private 1-1.

  7. Hanna (Posted on 7-21-2014 at 12:18) Reply

    Great topic! My students loved it! Thanks!

  8. sandra Egloff (Posted on 3-5-2017 at 16:02) Reply

    Brillinat topic, goes with a lesson I am doing on ethics. Thank you

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