Topic: Whistle-blowing (Upper-Intermediate ESL Lesson Plan)

With Answers! | Download the Whistle-blowing ESL Lesson plan here: Topic-Whistleblowing-Wigand-Tobacco-UppIntermediate-01082011.doc

Whistle-blowing ESL News Lesson Plan : Warm-up

Blow the whistle!

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 two harmful additives that were poisonous and highly addictive. He also uncovered documentation that showed company executives knew the truth about these additives, although it had denied its cigarettes were harmful or addictive to the public. Wigand asked to have these additives removed from their products. He was fired 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 also 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 damage his image in the public. They combed through Wigand’s past to find lies that would make him seem like an untrustworthy person. Their efforts were in vain. 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. (308)

[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
smear (verb)
comb through (verb)
in vain
  • put forward (an idea) – to suggest
  • bite your tongue – stop yourself from speaking although you want to
  • addictive – habit-forming
  • uncover – reveal
  • anonymous – unnamed, unidentified
  • testify – state sth is true in a court of law
  • boost – increase, enhance
  • smear – make sth appear dirty or damage sb’s reputation by telling lies
  • comb through – examine thoroughly
  • in vain – useless, ineffective
  • burden – heady load, large difficulty

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

government / uprising
representation / women / government
put forward / proposal
bite your tongue / boss
uncover / addictive
anonymous / letter
testify / mafia
politician / smear / reputation
comb through / newspaper
efforts / in vain
burden / health care system
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.
  • Scientists have uncovered that nicotine is addictive.
  • I received an anonymous letter that said I was being watched.
  • 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 in vain.
  • The harmful effects of smoking have put a burden on the health care system.

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: You 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

English Current recommends Grammarly as a learning tool to reduce English mistakes. If you found this page helpful, consider a donation to our hosting bill to show your support!

4 comments on “Topic: Whistle-blowing (Upper-Intermediate ESL Lesson Plan)

  1. Susy (Posted on 9-6-2011 at 15:37) Reply

    I’m quite pleased with the ifnrmoatoin in this one. TY!

  2. Patricia... (Posted on 9-28-2020 at 11:33) Reply

    Loved, love this topic. Created lots of talking points and my students all had something to contribute during our “conversational” lesson. The on-line version was equally as great and FAB as the printable version.
    Many thanks. I know it was an older lesson but thoroughly enjoyable.
    WELL DONE for putting this together and most appreciated with only a couple of hours to spare before my lesson. No adaption needed. BRILLIANT.

  3. Stratvat (Posted on 3-9-2021 at 10:25) Reply

    Vera good. O like a lot

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.