Organised Crime

"All I ever did was supply a demand that was pretty popular . . . The country wanted booze and I organized it. Why should I be called a public enemy?"

Al Capone (1899 – 1947), American gangster
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This free ESL lesson plan on organised crime has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

Organised crime occurs when criminals treat their activities as they would a regular business. Whether it’s dealing drugs, robbing banks, or credit card fraud, the money has to be accounted somehow. Usually, this happens through money laundering, where criminal gangs ‘clean’ their money to make it appear it was earned though legitimate means. While the mafia might make for great TV or cinema, organised crime has a huge impact on ordinary people. Once quiet neighbourhoods are transformed into warzones, police resources are drained, and corrupt politicians maintain their grip on power. In this ESL lesson plan on organised crime, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as what organised crime involves, how it affects society, and what to do about it.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for the Day of International Criminal Justice, which takes place in July. For more lesson plans on international days and important holidays, see the calendar of world days to plan your classes for these special occasions.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.


Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

History | Mafia in the United States

The article looks at the origins of the mafia in the United States, including its Sicilian origins, its activities during the Prohibition Era, and how it evolved into a nationwide criminal network. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was said? Can they think of any ways they might disagree with the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. The questions for the video are styled in a way similar to an exam like the IELTS.

The video for this class is a called “How does money laundering work” by TED Ed which explains what money laundering is, and the techniques criminals use to hide the origins of their dirty money.


The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including countries that have a problem with organised crime, why people join gangs, and the best TV shows and movies about organised crime.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with organised crime such as racketeering, black market and hitman. This vocabulary has been chosen to boost the students’ knowledge of less common vocabulary that could be useful for preparing for English exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about organised crime. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as whether legalising drugs could reduce gang violence, the link between organised crime and corruption, and whether the fight against organised crime has failed.


After the class, students will write about their opinion of organised crime. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.


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