“Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty”

Henry Ford (1863 – 1947), founder of the Ford Motor Company
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This free ESL lesson plan on crime and punishment 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.

Punishment is one way of learning right from wrong. At home, you were punished by your parents if you did something wrong, and at school, teacher punished those who misbehave. Society also punishes those who don’t follow the rules, in other words, criminals. The threat of the consequences of breaking the law is intended to act as a deterrent, yet despite this risk, people continue to commit crimes. In this ESL lesson plan on punishment, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as the purpose of punishment, different kinds of punishments, and how effective punishment is.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for World Day Against the Death Penalty, which takes place in October. 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):

Psychology Today | Why Punishment Doesn’t Reduce Crime

The article looks at a number of justifications for punishing criminals and assesses whether punishment has been successful in preventing crimes from happening. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. 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. There are intermediate listening questions and advanced listening questions so teachers can decide which would be more appropriate for their students. Check the answers in the class.

The video for this class is called “Do The Death Penalty And Longer Prison Sentences Deter Crime?” by Business Insider questions whether calls for tougher sentences will have the desired effect of reducing crime.


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 whether prison sentences are too short, which crimes should not result in a prison sentence and whether or not children should be sent to prison.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with punishment such as serve time, deterrent and community service. 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 punishment. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as why criminals commit crime when they know what the consequence will be, whether life should mean life, and the difference between punishment and revenge.


After the class, students will write about their opinion of crime and punishment. 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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