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ESL / EFL Lesson Plan on Corporate Corruption

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85 years in jail for ex-WorldCom CEO


Date: March 17, 2005
Level: Intermediate +
Downloads: This Lesson (Word Doc) | Class Handout (Word Doc) | Class Handout (PDF)

THE ARTICLE

It’s tough at the top for some. Bernie Ebbers, the former CEO of telecommunications giant WorldCom, was found guilty today for his part in the $11bn accounting scandal that forced the company into bankruptcy. It was the largest financial collapse in US corporate history. Mr. Ebbers, 63, failed to convince the jury he knew nothing of the financial side of WorldCom’s operations and was thus convicted for fraud, conspiracy and falsifying documents. He could face up to 85 years in prison. He accused his CFO Scott Sullivan of cooking the books, telling the court he had been kept in the dark about WorldCom’s accounts. US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the decision was an important one as it showed fraud was found to extend “from the middle management levels of this company all the way to its top executive.” Ebbers is protesting his innocence and has been released on bail until the final sentencing on June 13th, during which time his lawyers will be appealing the verdict.

Ebbers started his career as a milkman, basketball coach and nightclub bouncer, before investing in a small telecom company called Long Distance Discount Service (LDDS). In 1985 the company changed its name to WorldCom and grew to become the second largest provider of long distance telephone calls in the USA. The dot-com bubble helped WorldCom and Ebbers become high profile corporate players. In 1998 the company’s stock hit a record $64 per share high. Unfortunately for Ebbers, the technology bubble burst and at the same time the energy giant Enron collapsed, also due to fraudulent mismanagement. This brought the Securities and Exchange Commission to his doorstep. They began examining WorldCom's accounts and a $400m personal loan to Ebbers himself. From then on Ebbers was on the slippery slope to ruin and was no longer a Wall Street darling.

 

WARM UPS

1. CHAT:  Talk in pairs or groups about executives / big companies / dot-com / bubbles / prison / cooking the books / milkman / Wall Street / darling …

To make things more dynamic, try telling your students they only have one minute (or 2) on each chat topic before changing topics / partners. Change topic / partner frequently to increase conversation.

2. PRISON BRAINSTORM: Spend one minute writing down all of the different words you associate with the word ‘prison’. Share your words with your partner / group and talk about them.

3. IN PRISON: In pairs/groups, talk about what it would be like to spend a long time in prison. Write down the five worst things about being in prison. Talk to other partners/groups and share the points you wrote down.

4. 85 YEARS: Decide whether you will be Student A or Student B. Students A get together and write down reasons why 85 years is too long as a sentence for Bernie Ebbers. Students B write down reasons why 85 years is the correct sentence length. Have a courtroom role play defending your arguments and attacking those of the other side. 

5. OPINIONS: In pairs/groups, discuss whether you agree or disagree with the following opinions:

  1. 85 years is too short – 20,000 people lost their jobs and livelihoods.
  2. It’s great to see the guys at the top being sent to prison for a long time.
  3. What he did is normal in many companies. Why single him out for punishment?
  4. It is very possible he wasn’t aware of the complicated accounting techniques. The jury has made a mistake.
  5. His rags-to-riches story is an inspiration to us all. He should not be punished so severely.
  6. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
  7. Justice is justice.
  8. Why give such a huge sentence because money is involved? Murderers and rapists can get away with five years in prison. Something is wrong here.

 
 

PRE-READING IDEAS

1. WORD SEARCH: Students look in their dictionaries / computer to find collocates, other meanings, information, synonyms … of the words ‘accounting’ and ‘scandal’.

2. HUH?: In pairs/groups, look at the following expressions from the article and try and guess their meaning:

  1. tough at the top
  2. cooking the books
  3. kept in the dark
  4. dot-com bubble
  5. high profile corporate player
  6. the bubble burst
  7. to his doorstep
  8. slippery slope to ruin
  9. Wall Street darling

3. TRUE / FALSE: Look at the headline and guess whether these sentences are true or false:

  1. A CEO was part of the largest financial collapse in US corporate history.  T / F
  2. The CEO pleaded guilty to everything in court.  T / F
  3. The CEO enjoyed cooking and reading books.  T / F
  4. The CEO was locked in a closet and kept in the dark for a long time.  T / F
  5. The CEO used to be a milkman.  T / F
  6. WorldCom grew to become the largest telecommunications company in the USA.  T / F
  7. The CEO was a high profile player on the WorldCom basketball team.  T / F
  8. The CEO was once a Wall Street darling.  T / F

4. SYNONYM MATCH: Match the following synonyms from the article:

(a)

tough

boom

(b)

collapse

deception

(c)

fraud

failure

(d)

cook the books

exploded

(e)

verdict

entrepreneurial

(f)

coach

difficult

(g)

corporate

lie

(h)

bubble

downfall

(i)

burst

trainer / manager

(j)

ruin

judgment

5. PHRASE MATCH: Match the following phrases from the article (sometimes more than one combination is possible):

(a)

tough

into bankruptcy

(b)

telecommunications

largest provider

(c)

forced the company

his innocence

(d)

he had been kept

bubble

(e)

Ebbers is protesting

at the top

(f)

investing

darling

(g)

grew to become the second

in the dark about WorldCom’s accounts

(h)

dot-com

to ruin

(i)

the slippery slope

in a small telecom company

(j)

Wall Street

giant

 

WHILE READING ACTIVITIES

1. GAP-FILL:  Put the words on the right into the gaps.

85 years in jail for ex-WorldCom CEO

It’s __________ at the top for some. Bernie Ebbers, the former CEO of telecommunications giant WorldCom, was found guilty today for his __________ in the $11bn accounting scandal that forced the company into bankruptcy. It was the largest financial collapse in US corporate history. Mr. Ebbers, 63, failed to __________ the jury he knew nothing of the financial side of WorldCom’s operations and was thus convicted for fraud, conspiracy and __________ documents. He could face up to 85 years in prison. He accused his CFO Scott Sullivan of cooking the books, telling the court he had been kept in the dark about WorldCom’s accounts. US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the decision was an important one as it showed fraud was found to extend “from the middle management levels of this company all the way to its top executive.” Ebbers is protesting his __________ and has been released on bail until the final sentencing on June 13th, during which time his lawyers will be appealing the verdict.

 

 

innocence
tough
convince
falsifying      part

Ebbers started his career as a milkman, basketball coach and nightclub __________, before investing in a small telecom company called Long Distance Discount Service (LDDS). In 1985 the company changed its name to WorldCom and __________ to become the second largest provider of long distance telephone calls in the USA. The dot-com bubble helped WorldCom and Ebbers become high profile corporate __________. In 1998 the company’s stock hit a record $64 per share high. Unfortunately for Ebbers, the technology bubble burst and at the same time the energy giant Enron __________, also due to fraudulent mismanagement. This brought the Securities and Exchange Commission to his doorstep. They began examining WorldCom's accounts and a $400m personal loan to Ebbers himself. From then on Ebbers was on the slippery slope to __________ and was no longer a Wall Street darling.
 

grew
collapsed
ruin
players
bouncer

2. TRUE/FALSE:  Students check their answers to the T/F exercise.

3. SYNONYMS:  Students check their answers to the synonyms exercise.

4. PHRASE MATCH:  Students check their answers to the phrase match exercise.

5. QUESTIONS: Students make notes for questions they would like to ask the class about the article.

6. VOCABULARY:  Students circle any words they do not understand. In groups, pool unknown words and use dictionaries to find the meanings.


 
 

POST READING IDEAS

1. GAP-FILL: Check the answers to the gap-fill exercise.

2. QUESTIONS:  Students ask the discussion questions they thought of above to their partner / group / class. Pool the questions for all students to share.

3. VOCABULARY: As a class, go over the vocabulary students circled above.

4. STUDENT-GENERATED SURVEY: Pairs/Groups write down 3 questions based on the article. Conduct their surveys alone. Report back to partners to compare answers. Report to other groups / the whole class.

5. ‘ACCOUNTING’/ ‘SCANDAL’: Students make questions based on their findings from pre-reading activity #1.

6. DISCUSSION:

  1. What was interesting in this article?
  2. Were you surprised by anything in this article?
  3. How safe is your job?
  4. Do you feel sorry for Bernie Ebbers?
  5. Is 85 years the correct sentence?
  6. How tough do you think it is at the top?
  7. Is cooking the books such a serious crime?
  8. Have you ever been kept in the dark about anything?
  9. Do you think this judgment will pave the way for more white-collar convictions?
  10. Do you think this judgment will create more honest accounting in future?
  11. Is it easy to be totally honest when lying a little can make billions of dollars in profits?
  12. Would you lie a little to make a billion dollars?
  13. Is the story of Bernie Ebbers an inspirational rags-to-riches one?
  14. What do you remember of the dot-com bubble?
  15. What do you remember of the WorldCom and Enron collapses?
  16. Would you like to be a Wall Street darling?
  17. Did you like this discussion?
  18. Teacher / Student additional questions.

HOMEWORK

1. VOCABULARY EXTENSION: Choose several of the words from the text. Use a dictionary or Google’s search field (or another search engine) to build up more associations / collocations of each word.

2. INTERNET: Search the Internet and find information on the WorldCom or Enron corporate collapses. Share your findings with your class next lesson.

3. DARLING: Imagine you are a darling of all of the world’s stock exchanges. Write your rags-to-riches story of how you grew from a humble English student to a high profile corporate player in just six months.

4. 85 YEARS: Write a list of questions you would ask someone who is about to spend 85 years in prison. Use these questions for an activity in your next class.

ANSWERS

TRUE / FALSE:

  1. A CEO was part of the largest financial collapse in US corporate history.  T
  2. The CEO pleaded guilty to everything in court.  F
  3. The CEO enjoyed cooking and reading books.  F
  4. The CEO was locked in a closet and kept in the dark for a long time.  F
  5. The CEO used to be a milkman.  T
  6. WorldCom grew to become the largest telecommunications company in the USA.  F
  7. The CEO was a high profile player on the WorldCom basketball team.  F
  8. The CEO was once a Wall Street darling.  T

SYNONYM MATCH:

(a)

tough

difficult

(b)

collapse

downfall

(c)

fraud

deception

(d)

cook the books

lie

(e)

verdict

judgment

(f)

coach

trainer / manager

(g)

corporate

entrepreneurial

(h)

bubble

boom

(i)

burst

exploded

(j)

ruin

failure

PHRASE MATCH:

(a)

tough

at the top

(b)

telecommunications

giant

(c)

forced the company

into bankruptcy

(d)

he had been kept

in the dark about WorldCom’s accounts

(e)

Ebbers is protesting

his innocence

(f)

investing

in a small telecom company

(g)

grew to become the second

largest provider

(h)

dot-com

bubble

(i)

the slippery slope

to ruin

(j)

Wall Street

darling

GAP FILL:

85 years in jail for ex-WorldCom CEO

It’s tough at the top for some. Bernie Ebbers, the former CEO of telecommunications giant WorldCom, was found guilty today for his part in the $11bn accounting scandal that forced the company into bankruptcy. It was the largest financial collapse in US corporate history. Mr. Ebbers, 63, failed to convince the jury he knew nothing of the financial side of WorldCom’s operations and was thus convicted for fraud, conspiracy and falsifying documents. He could face up to 85 years in prison. He accused his CFO Scott Sullivan of cooking the books, telling the court he had been kept in the dark about WorldCom’s accounts. US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the decision was an important one as it showed fraud was found to extend “from the middle management levels of this company all the way to its top executive.” Ebbers is protesting his innocence and has been released on bail until the final sentencing on June 13th, during which time his lawyers will be appealing the verdict.

Ebbers started his career as a milkman, basketball coach and nightclub bouncer, before investing in a small telecom company called Long Distance Discount Service (LDDS). In 1985 the company changed its name to WorldCom and grew to become the second largest provider of long distance telephone calls in the USA. The dot-com bubble helped WorldCom and Ebbers become high profile corporate players. In 1998 the company’s stock hit a record $64 per share high. Unfortunately for Ebbers, the technology bubble burst and at the same time the energy giant Enron collapsed, also due to fraudulent mismanagement. This brought the Securities and Exchange Commission to his doorstep. They began examining WorldCom's accounts and a $400m personal loan to Ebbers himself. From then on Ebbers was on the slippery slope to ruin and was no longer a Wall Street darling.

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