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).

Starting secondary school: icebreaker ideas

Starting secondary school can be a nerve-racking experience for students. These are some suggested activities you can use on the first day of your English/literacy classes with year 1 secondary students.

  • Shonny’s first day at secondary school: the day before (Newsround). This British girl describes her feelings when making the jump from primary to secondary school, something most of your students can relate to. You can download the worksheet with some questions based on the video, as well as the transcription.

As a follow-up, you can also use Shonny’s video describing her actual first day at school.

  • What to expect when you start high school (Newsround). Some year 7 students (11-12 year-olds) who have been in a secondary school in the UK for some weeks now are asked about how they feel now. Based on the questions the kids on the video are asked, you can ask these questions to your own students:

    • How do you feel on the first day of high school? (elicit adjectives from your students, and suggest synonyms using a thesaurus).
    • What is the hardest thing about starting school?

Further ideas: Secondary school struggles: captioned video and article

Screenshot 2019-09-04 at 16.18.16

  • Time-capsule: one of my favourite activities to start school. Ask students to answer these questions individually. Nobody else will read their answers unless they want to share anything with their classmates by reading them aloud. Then, a ‘digital time-capsule’ can be created, which can, in turn, become the first element in a digital portfolio. Their worksheets can be scanned and then uploaded, for example, to Seesaw. That way, they could also record their voice explaining some of their answers.

What I did back then was to scan all the answer sheets as pdf files that I have kept on my drive. The students I did this activity with are in their year 4 secondary this year: it would be a nice end-of-year giveaway to show them what their thoughts and hopes were on their first days at secondary school.

  • Finally, another possible nice activity is for students to write a letter to their future selves. The website https://www.futureme.org/ allows you to write text, and schedule it to be sent to your email inbox at a given point in the future. The letter can be scheduled, for example, for the last class of the year, and it can describe, for example, students’ expectations, hopes, fears, and/or resolutions. Then, by the end of the school year, they can check what they wrote in the letter against what actually happened.