Who is Victor Lustig?
Written by Ian Kime
This lesson plan is my own creation and it has been through several revisions over the past 12 months. I hope this "final" version can help you in one of your future classes! Suitable for B1+ - C1 students. Duration: ~ 90 minutes.

Who is Victor Lustig?

This lesson plan is meant for B1+ – C1 students mainly as a discussion class. We will not focus on any grammar points, but your students will learn plenty of vocabulary, test their reading and listening skills, and have ample opportunity for discussion.

Your students will learn about con men and scams and associated vocabulary by listening to the story of Victor Lustig, the con man who sold the Eiffel Tower twice. Then, they will create their own scams!

Before the lesson

  • print 1 copy of page 1 for the class;
  • print 1 copy of page 2 for each pair or group and cut out the cards;
  • print enough photos of Victor Lustig on page 3 so every pair or group receives an example;
  • print 1 copy of page 4 for the class and cut out the cards;
  • print enough copies of page 5 so each student gets a questionnaire;
  • print 1 copy of page 6 for the class and cut out the cards. 

1.) Pass around the “Catch Me if You Can” movie poster and ask if anybody has ever seen this movie. I have never done this with a class where nobody has seen this movie. Those who have seen it can explain to the rest of the class what happens in the film. If you find yourself with nobody who has seen the film, show them trailer on YouTube and then ask them what the movie is about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-7pyIxz8Qg

Once you have gotten your responses from the class (and maybe had a small discussion about how good the movie is) explain to them that we call this type of person a “con man” which is short for “confidence man.” Here you can ask them if they have a word for this type of person in their language.

2.) Next, you will ask your students what skills does a good con man need? Let them respond freely.

Put your students in pairs or groups. Give each pair or group a set of cut out cards from page 2. Explain to them that ten of these cards are the “Ten commandments for a con man” from a very famous con man named Victor Lustig, and ten of these cards are tips for “How to be a better boyfriend” you found on the internet. 

Their job is to organize them into those 2 groups. Give the class 3-4 minutes to complete the task. Once they finish, groups compare their choices with one another before you give the correct answers. Each group should count how many they got correct. The group with the most correct guesses wins. 

It shouldn’t be easy for your students to make the correct guesses. You can deepen the discussion by asking them why they think it was difficult to make the correct choices. 

3.) Now, pass out the pictures of Victor Lustig. This is the man who created the “Ten Commandments for a con man.” Ask each group to think about the connection between this man and the Eiffel Tower. Every group will make a guess out loud before watching the video. The first time you watch the video as a group, your students need only answer 1 question: Was your hypothesis correct? 

watch the video with your class and then verify which group was the closest!

Depending on the skill level of your class, it’s usually best to listen, watch, or read authentic material twice. So, unless your students can all quote nearly verbatim what they have just listened to, go ahead and do the next activity. 

4.) Now, it’s time to look at some relevant vocabulary in the video. To save you time cutting, you can do this simple vocabulary matching exercise as a class. Cut out the cards from page 4 and put the vocabulary words face down on the table, and the definitions next to those face down, too. Students will take turns playing the “memory” game in order to match the vocabulary and definitions.

5.) Once you have made sure all the vocabulary is understood, watch the video once more with your students. Then, pass out a copy of the questionnaire on page 5 to every student. Give them about 90 seconds to complete the true or false questions. Then, they correct each others’ answers.

Now, as a group you can answer a few supplementary questions:

  • Who was Victor Lustig’s mark?
  • Who did he pose as? (Or, who did he pretend to be?)
  • What was the scam? How did he pull it off?
  • How did he get away with it the first time?

You can continue the discussion as long as you would like and ask any other questions you want, but these 4 we will be using in the next activity, so make sure to introduce them now.

6.) For the final activity, cut out the cards on page 6 with the different examples of common scams. Distribute one of these cards to each group at random. Groups will now need to describe how they would pull off this particular scam and get away with it! They must answer these 4 questions:

  • Who will be your mark?
  • Who will you pose as?
  • What is the scam? How are you going to pull it off?
  • How will you get away with it?

Students will have 6-8 minutes to discuss in their groups and come up with a plan. They must answer these 4 questions but should elaborate as much as possible. Encourage them to think about unique or novel ways to pull off these well-known scams. Once everyone has finished, groups will present their scams to the class and you will all vote on the best con man in the class. 

I have done this lesson with several different groups and it is always a big hit! I usually reserve it for a full 90-minute course with a big group. If you do use it, leave a comment and let us know how it went! 

Would you be a good con man?

Download the PDF by clicking the button below and use it in your own classroom!

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