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).

One Vision /ˈvɪʒ(ə)n/ by Queen and Love Profusion /prəˈfjuːʒ(ə)n/ by Madonna to practise /ʒ/, /ʃ/, and /dʒ/

The phonemes /ʒ/, /ʃ/ and /dʒ/ can be tricky to identify and sometimes produce in certain contexts for Spanish speakers of English. The song One Vision by Queen can help students get acquainted with the differences in sounds.

One Vision (Queen) -You can do this interactive exercise: click here or on the screenshot below:

Alternatively, you can download the worksheet below. Start watching the video from 1’15”:

Love Profusion by Madonna also contains plenty of words featuring those sounds (profusion, destruction, illusions…). It also contains examples of yod coalescence (I’ve got you –/ɡɒt juː/ becomes /ɡɒtʃuː/). 

Love Profusion lyrics

My Favourite Things (from The Sound of Music) to tell the difference between /s/, /z/ and /ɪz/

This activity is aimed at helping students tell the difference between /s/, /z/ (and /ɪz/) in plural endings (the same as in 3rd person singular present simple endings and possessive ‘s). It uses the song “My Favourite Things” from the film The Sound of Music, which makes a long list of plural things the singer allegedly loves.

Students are provided with the phonemic transcription of the singular word. By applying the rule, they can guess what sound(s)/phoneme(s) would be used to pronounce them in the plural. Then, they can check their answers against Julie Andrews’s performance, by paying special attention to the way she pronounces either /s/ or /z/. Can they tell the difference?

  • Exercise- click here
  • Key to answers- click here

 

Norwegian Wood, by the Beatles- vowel sounds, diphthongs, weak forms

This is an activity I came up with long ago for a course on phonetics and pronunciation. Ask students to listen to Norwegian Wood by The Beatles, and have them fill in the gaps with the vowel sound/diphthong they hear. To do so, students can have a phonemic chart in front of them. [The same number in brackets means the same vowel sound or diphthong is being used]

  • Exercise– click here
  • Key to answers– click here

Students can listen to the song twice. Then, they can share their answers with the other members of their group, or partners if they’re working in pairs.

The objective is to increase their phonemic awareness, and help them tell the difference between some tricky vowel sounds (/ɪ/ and /iː/, for example). As a follow-up, students are also asked to spot weak forms of grammatical words. These are marked green in the answer key.

Listening- David Bowie dismissed by the BBC

Listen to this report about David Bowie’s early years as an artist, and then fill in the gaps with up to four words. You can listen to it twice.

Open form in a new window 

After submitting your answers, you can self-check whether you were right or not.

Then, you can also listen again and read the transcript, paying attention to interesting vocabulary.

Listening- influential drummer Hal Blaine

Listen to this news report about drummer Hal Blaine, who has just died. He played the drums in such hits as ‘California Dreamin”, ‘Good Vibrations’, ‘Be My Baby’, ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin” and ‘Strangers in the Night’.

Listen to the report. Then listen again and read the transcript, paying attention to the highlighted expressions, or any others you may find interesting.

Transcript

 

Writing reviews- examples in real contexts

In this video you can find real examples of positive comments and adjectives to describe theatre plays and musicals. Many of these adjectives could be used as well to describe films or even books.

The pictures of the billboards were taken in London’s West End only some days ago to illustrate the language related to this topic in real use. Bear in mind, however, that these are all examples of rave reviews (extremely positive reviews), as they want to attract potential audiences.

pdf file of the slides here.

Some of the flyers we’ve used:

Remember you can use some of these tips to improve your writing tasks: