Desert Island Discs

Nick Caine, University of Nagasaki

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Writing, discussion, popular music, Padlet, YouTube
  • Learner English level: Intermediate and upwards
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Preparation time: 30-60 minutes
  • Activity time: 90 minutes
  • Materials: Computers with Internet connection, hand out (optional—see Appendix) 

This is an activity based on the long-running BBC Radio 4 programme, Desert Island Discs. Each week on the show, a different guest chooses eight pieces of music, a book, and a luxury item that they would take if they were cast away on a desert island while giving their reasons behind each choice. They also talk a little about their life. The format has been adapted here into a writing activity.


Step 1: Go to the BBC Desert Island Discs homepage ( and download one of the shows (archives date back to 1956).

Step 2 (optional): Prepare a listening comprehension worksheet based on the show you have selected (see appendix for example). It is suggested that you use short clips as each show lasts 45 minutes.

Step 3: Visit the Padlet website ( and open a free account.

Step 4: Create a new page in Padlet and give it a title such as “My Desert Island Discs.” Customize it from the menu bar as required.

Step 5: Search YouTube for three songs that you would take to your desert island and link each video to your Padlet page.

Step 6: Upload pictures of a luxury item and book that you would also like to take (the latter can be a link to an Amazon page).

Step 7: Under each selection write a brief explanation of the reasons behind your choice.


Step 1: Introduce students to the concept of Desert Island Discs by playing a snippet or two from the downloaded show.

Step 2: Set the group a similar challenge and get each student to write down the names of three songs, a book, and an object that they would take to their desert island. Advise students to choose songs that invoke special memories—for example, those that act as reminder of a life event.

Step 3: Make pairs and share ideas, reminding students to give reasons for their choices.

Step 4: Group feedback. Ask for volunteers to share some of their ideas with the class.

Step 5: Tell students to open a web browser, go to the Padlet website, and open their own free account.

Step 6: Show students your Desert Island Discs page and talk about your choices.

Step 7: Ask each student to create his/her own Desert Island Discs page (explain steps 4-7 in the preparation above, if necessary).

Step 8: Check the finished pages by getting students to mail you their page URLs and, if you have prepared one, give the worksheet for homework.


Whilst this lesson plan presents an outline for a writing activity, you can stay closer to the original concept by placing a greater emphasis on speaking. For example, students could record their own radio interviews, or perhaps do a short presentation of their Desert Island Discs page. Either way, choosing less than five songs is a more realistic target as most students have probably had fewer “life experiences” than the guests on the real show!

As for Padlet, it offers an effective means of presentation that gives students the option of viewing and commenting on each other’s pages. It is also easy to listen to short clips of the song choices due to the fact that video links are embedded on each page. This is particularly useful if the songs are unfamiliar.


The appendix is available below.