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).

Words to avoid in a writing task (B2-C1)- alternatives

If you’re writing an essay, report, article, formal letter/ email…and you find yourself using words such as ‘people’, ‘things’, ‘something’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, please look at this infographic for alternatives:

Click on the picture for a larger version

Click here for a pdf version of the infographic.

Or better still, if you are not pressed for time, go to a thesaurus, like the Oxford Thesaurus, and you will be able to find a more accurate synonym, depending on the context and the exact notion you want convey (the exact meaning of the word you’re looking for).

Further tips to improve your writing:

Girl with Balloon, by Banksy, shredded

You may have read / heard the story of how a canvas copy of Girl with Balloon, signed by street artist Banksy, self-destructed last Friday moments after it had been sold at auction at Sotheby’s, in London. This is the report from BBC radio 4 six o’clock news (original source here):

Banksy is shrouded in secrecy and mystery (his real identity has never been revealed, for instance). The motives for this action, and the circumstances surrounding it, as well as its consequences, are only a matter of speculation. You may ask your students to speculate on the questions below (or even, ask them to come up with further questions and wonderings of their own):

  • Where was Girl with Balloon originally painted?
  • Was it actually an original Banksy? If so, how did Sotheby’s get hold of a copy of Girl with Balloon signed by Banksy?
  • How could anyone get a shredder inside the painting?
  • What’s going to happen with the £1 million paid for the painting?
  • Some reports claim that the work now will be worth double the amount of money paid for it at the auction. How can that be when it is apparently destroyed?
  • Who did it? Was it Banksy? Why would he do that? Or was it somebody else? Did they need accomplices? Were the gallery in on it? Are Sotheby’s going to get even more profit out of it, or will they be losing money?

Possible answers to these questions might be found in the articles and news reports below:

And this is the video Banksy posted on his instagram account after the incident: (Going, going, gone!)

Follow-up on the story (5th Feb 2019)

tips and language to prepare an oral presentation in English

If you need to prepare a topic presentation in English as part of your course, or for an English language test, here are some tips and language that may be useful to you:

Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 10.32.53

Past simple – irregular verbs

You can see the list of irregular verbs (by group) here:


If you want to do the exercise again:

irregular verb list_exercises

el traductor de internet es tonto

Es lo que siempre os digo, ¿no? Si no me creéis, leed esta noticia:

President More

Da igual que haya pasado en política o en el ámbito que fuera: el traductor es una máquina que no razona. No se da cuenta de si está traduciendo nombres propios, o de diferentes significados de una palabra. Por lo tanto, para aprender inglés o hacer cualquier trabajo de clase



Education-film clips

If you want to watch the clips again (and properly!) you may find them here:

Dead Poets Society:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1):

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2):