Desert Island Discs as an ice-breaking/mediation activity

Desert Island Discs is a BBC Radio 4 show which has been on air since 1942. The premise behind the show is that the guest has been cast away on a desert island, and they are left with eight recordings, a luxury item and a book, all of their own choosing, together with the complete works of Shakespeare and a copy of the Bible or any other religious/philosophical book. During the show, the guest and host discuss the former’s life, while explaining the reasons why they decided on those particular tracks, book and item.

The guests tend to include world-class celebrities from the fields of culture, literature, Science, entertainment…You can access the archive on the BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs archive. You can find a selection of shows here (literature and music-related podcasts).

This same concept could also be used as a speaking activity for a unit on music/entertainment; to practise second conditionals; or as an ice-breaking activity on the first days of the school year, for students to get to know each other, or for teachers to get to know their students better.

  • What eight recordings would you take to a desert island? Why have you chosen every one of them? How relevant are they to your life? (If you are pressed for time, ask students to pick fewer recordings- it’s a rather time-consuming decision-making process).
  • What luxury item would you take and why?
  • What book would you take and why?

It could even be regarded as a mediation activity: in the Companion Volume to the CEFR, mediating a text includes descriptors for expressing a personal response to creative texts (including literature) [p. 116]. In a way, the student describing their choices (the ‘guest’) would actually be mediating those songs and their lyrics to their partner  (the ‘host’), as they…

  • may express his/her reactions to a work, reporting his/her feelings and ideas in simple language, and say in simple language which aspects of a work especially interested him/her  (A2)
  • might be relating emotions they have felt to those in the song, describe the emotions he/she experienced at a certain point in a story, or explain briefly the feelings and opinions that a work provoked in him/her (B1)
  • could describe his/her emotional response to a work and elaborate on the way in which it has evoked this response, or express in some detail his/her reactions to the form of expression, style and content of a work, explaining what he/she appreciated and why (B2)
  • could be asked to describe in detail his/her personal interpretation of a work, outlining his/her reactions to certain features and explaining their significance (C1/C2).

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