"Generally speaking, punishment makes men hard and cold; it concentrates; it sharpens the feeling of alienation; it strengthens the power of resistance."

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), German philosopher
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This free ESL lesson plan on rehabilitation 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.

While punishments of longer prison sentences may appear logical in order to reduce crime, keeping a prisoner in jail is extremely expensive and not sustainable. On the other hand, if a criminal simply slips back into their old ways when released from prison, that is hardly going to help to reduce crime. The answer, according to many, is to focus on rehabilitation. That means equipping prisoners with what they need, such as education and employment opportunities, to pursue a normal life away from crime when they are freed. In this ESL lesson plan on criminal rehabilitation, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as the best ways to rehabilitate prisoners, the effectiveness of criminal rehabilitation and whether rehabilitation is even possible in the modern world .

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):

The Guardian | Prisoner rehabilitation does not work, says former prisons boss

The article contains a more sceptical point of view from a former prison officer towards rehabilitation and some of the challenges faced. 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 “Prisoners In Finland Live In Open Prisons Where They Learn Tech Skills” by Insider News which looks at the way Finland tries to rehabilitate criminals by teaching them skills they can use to find employment when they leave the prison system.


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 it is better to punish or try to rehabilitate criminals, the effectiveness of very short prison sentences, and what prisoners need to reintegrate back into society.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with rehabilitation in the criminal justice system such as reoffend, parole and the straight and narrow. 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 rehabilitation. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as whether or not prisoners should work in prison, how drug users should be rehabilitated, and how to prevent gang recruiting inside prisons.


After the class, students will write about their opinion of rehabilitation. 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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