Reality TV


Age range: 13-18 and older
Suitable after 2 - 3 years of English
Theme: Reality TV programmes, the types of TV programmes in the UK, Interactive TV
Lexical area:Television, Types of programmes, Tastes
Cross curricular links: Media Studies

Instructions for language assistants in italics

Classroom materials


This is a series of activities to discuss preferences in TV programmes and the viewing habits in your students' country and includes two texts. It also considers the merits and dangers of 'Reality TV' formats. The depth of discussion depends on the level of your class.

Write the names of a couple of Reality TV programmes from your host country, if they exist. 'Big Brother' may be a good choice. Ask: What are these? Who watches these programmes? Can you describe the programme? Do you like this type of programme? If students have knowledge of these programmes ask them if they have ever voted or sent a text message to a programme. Have they ever been on a website for a programme?

Make it a mystery style introduction with a set of clues. For example: Nearly 80% of teenagers in the UK have one of these in their bedroom. Some people will do anything to get on it. Some people think it is a bad influence on young people.
What is it?

Start by describing what you saw on TV last night. Mention a couple of programmes and say if you enjoyed them. Grade your language to suit the level of your class. Then ask: 'What did you see? Did you watch TV last night? Have you got a TV?'

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1. Television programmes

If your students are an intermediate level you can elicit some types of programme before you give out the task. 'I saw a game show last night. What other types of programme are there on TV?'

  • Ask a couple of people around the class and then put students in pairs to tell each other which programmes they like best. Encourage higher levels to use degrees of preference:
      • I really love,
      • I'm not too keen on
      • I can't stand
  • Run through these with your own tastes to give an example.
  • The questions lead on to the idea of programming. Invite more fluent students to suggest ways that their TV is developing. You can feed in useful vocabulary and preview ideas at this stage. Don't do this with pre-intermediate students as it will overload them.

Task 1 Television programmes

Look at the list of television programmes.

  • Which do you like best?
  • Which do you not like at all?
  • Can you think of any other types of programme on your National TV?
  • Is there a lot of one type of programme?
  • Is TV the same as 10 years ago?
Soap operas
News and Current Affairs
Detective series
Music shows
Game shows
Chat shows
Children's TV shows

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2. Your tastes and interests

  • You could introduce the idea of different tastes by using an example of your own family. Perhaps you don't like gardening but your dad loves it so you go to your room to watch other types of programme. Expand on how much you like certain subjects and give a good idea to more advanced students. A simple sentence will do for lower levels: 'I'm very interested in the Moon and Mars so I like programmes about Space.' 'I love rock music so I like music shows.'
  • Put students in pairs or small groups to discuss their tastes. Then ask each pair or group to think of 3 types of programme that are very popular.
  • Hold a feedback session. This introduces the idea of the dominance of one type of programme.
  • At this stage you could introduce some information about the UK. Cookery and travel programmes are very popular. There are also a lot of programmes about moving home, decorating homes, buying homes or gardening.

Task 2 Your tastes and interests

Think about the types of programme you watch.

  • Which do you prefer?
  • What types of programme are most popular in your country?
  • What types of programme does your nation make well?
  • Do you buy in programmes from abroad?

    Programmes about…..

    Art and design
    Science and Technology
    Social issues
    Money and consumer goods
    People and their lives
    Space and Astronomy
    Crime and crime investigations
    Travel and foreign cultures
    Gardening and DIY
    Homes and house design or decoration
    Religion and beliefs

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3. Reality TV

Put students in pairs to do this task. Make sure students understand the terms 'swap' and 'fly-on-the-wall' before you continue. Help lower levels guess the meaning of ' the box'

You could discuss the implications of 'Wife Swap' with higher levels. Do you think the couples will agree with each other? Do you think this programme sounds silly? Why are so many viewers interested in it? Is there no privacy?

Task 3 Reality TV

Read the text 'Reality TV' and find

  • the most popular factual programme in 2003. (Wife Swap)
  • the most popular type of programme. (Fly-on-the-wall documentaries)
  • words which mean
The people who watch television viewers
Television TV telly the box
Television programmes which use real people Reality TV
To be on television To be on the box

Reality TV

In January 2004 the TV industry awards in the UK gave more awards to one programme than any other programme on TV. Channel 4's very popular Wife Swap was voted the best popular factual programme and the best selling programme abroad.

Wife Swap takes two married women from very different social backgrounds. The wives change roles for two weeks and viewers watch to see how their husbands and children react. It attracts more than 5 million viewers and involves real people in their own homes. It is just one of the many programmes using real people in a documentary-style format. These documentaries are called fly-on-the-wall programmes because the viewer sees everything with a secret camera.

This real TV or Reality TV is very quickly taking up a lot of programming in the UK. These programmes are hugely popular. At their best, they give us a good look into the lives of different people in our country. At their worst, they are a very cheap way to make programmes and sometimes involve people making total fools of themselves. Is it your dream to get on telly? It seems that plenty of people will do anything to be famous or to get on the box for 20 minutes.

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4. Your favourite programme

This can be a written or an oral task. Put students in pairs to tell each other about their programmes. If appropriate to the class you can get pairs to write a programme description together if they agree. Build a model on the board for lower levels to follow. Use an example of your own favourite.

Task 4 Your favourite programme

Describe you favourite programme.

      • Say why you think it is so good. Include
      • information about the type of programme
      • the people in the programme
      • the time you watch it
      • the types of episode you have enjoyed most

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5. A Nation of Square Eyes

  • Use the information on the UK to elicit the sorts of questions that might have been in the UK survey. Prompt lower levels with : How often? How much? How many?
    Lower levels can work in pairs or small groups to think of questions for their survey or they can work with you if this is too challenging.
  • Then they can do a full class survey. Put all questions on the board and ask them to go round and get the answers. Instead of a whole class survey this can be a small group survey or pair interview.
  • Higher levels should be allowed more freedom to experiment with questions and encourage them to think of more types of information.
  • This whole class task might not be appropriate to your situation. You can do the survey with a show of hands: Ask; 'Who watches TV more than 2 hours a day?' 'Less than 2 hours?' etc.

Task 5 A Nation of Square Eyes

Recent surveys in the UK show that adults watch more than 4 hours of TV a day. Nearly 80% of 12 to 15 year olds have a TV screen in their bedroom and people can choose from many channels, including free terrestrial digital channels, satellite and cable.
Some people have called the UK a nation of square eyes because people watch so much TV.

Class survey: Are you a class of square eyes?

    Think of questions to find out:

    • The amount of TV students watch on an average day or week
    • The favourite types of programmes
    • The number of TVs in their house
    • Their experience of interactive TV

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6. Choose a programme

The text for this task can be modified to suit your needs.

  • With lower levels only give out 3-4 programme descriptions. To make this more interesting photocopy each description and give groups of 3-4 students one description each. Ask them to read the description and try to explain the programme to their group. They can then all read the descriptions.
  • For higher levels you could do a pre reading exercise. Give the descriptions without the titles of each programme. Call out the programme title and get the students to match them to a description.
  • To make a reading and speaking game for higher levels you can give half the class programme titles and the other half descriptions. The students with the titles must try to imagine what their programme is about and make questions to find out more about it.
  • The students with the descriptions read and learn their programme. Take away the slips of paper. Ask the students with just a title and questions to go round asking them until they find their partner. The first pair to find each other are the winners.
  • Put students in pairs or groups to discuss the task questions. Tell them that it is also possible that they do not like any of the programmes. That's OK.
  • Hold class feedback on the last 2 questions. You could also ask them if they would agree to go on one of these types of programme.
  • This topic could form the basis of a presentation next lesson or a written essay. If students need exam practice they can write to a newspaper giving their views on the state of TV in the digital age.

Task 6 Choose a programme

Read the descriptions of Reality TV programmes showing in the UK

  • Which programme would you prefer to watch and why?
  • Which programmes do you not like? Why?
  • Have you got any similar programmes in your country?
  • Do you think they are a good or a bad thing?

Reality TV programmes in one season - 2004.

There are at least 2 of these programmes on every day

Interactive programmes

  • I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here: A group of 10 minor celebrities live in the Australian jungle and their adventures and daily tests are broadcast live. Viewers can vote to remove a celebrity and can text their comments during the live show. The person who stays in the jungle longest wins a lot of money. This programme is shown 7 days a week for up to 3 hours.
  • Fame Academy: A group of wannabe singers are put in a large house in North London for 10 weeks and they prepare songs and sing every week. Viewers at home can vote for the best singers until there is a final programme with 2 finalists. The winner gets a recording contract and wins a year as a pop star. Over 8 million viewers watched the last final.
  • Shattered: A group of young people live in a house for a week and must stay awake. Each day there are tests to see how well they can function. They must leave the house if they fall asleep. Viewers vote and text their comments every day.

Makeover programmes

  • Changing Rooms: 2 couples exchange houses and redecorate a complete room. The programme shows the reaction of each couple when they see their home transformed.
  • Faking it: A member of the public is chosen to learn a new job and then they must convince a panel of judges that it really is their job. Previous challenges involve someone who cannot cook becoming a top chef in 4 weeks and a motorcycle courier learns the skill of playing polo to pretend he is a professional polo player.
  • Celebrity Fit Club: A group of overweight celebrities go on a diet together and are filmed every week doing fitness challenges and talking about what they eat.
  • A Place in the Sun: This show follows people as they buy their holiday home in a hotter climate. There are lots more programmes like this with people starting a new life in another European country.
  • Relocation Relocation: This show follows people deciding on a new place to live in the UK. They are filmed during the process of changing town and house.


  • Boss swap: Two Managers change jobs and try to run a different company. The camera
    follows them as they try to make good working relationships with their new employees.
  • Club Reps: This series follows the lives and work of holiday representatives working abroad. You see every detail of their private and working lives. It is sometimes very shocking.
  • Airport: The television cameras film all day and night in an airport for many weeks. Different airport workers are filmed doing their jobs and talking to passengers.
  • The Salon: The television cameras film all day in a hairdressing salon over a long period of time.
  • Learner Drivers: This show follows people as they learn to drive. People are filmed while they fight with their driving instructors, test the patience of other motorists and pass or fail their driving exam.


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7. Discussion questions

These discussion questions for higher levels can be group or class debates. If dealing with a large number of students vary the discussions by giving each group a different set of questions. Then ask a group secretary to report back to the whole class. This provides more extended speaking practice. In a very good class keep 2 sets of questions per group in case they exhaust a topic and need to move on to another.

Task 7 Discussion questions

People are watching more TV. Interactive TV, digital TV and the Internet mean that people spend more time looking at screens.

    • Think of two positive effects of having more TV programmes on offer
    • Think of two negative results for people watching more TV
    • Is having a TV in your bedroom a bad thing?
    • Is it possible for people to have too much choice?

Many Reality TV programmes exploit people. Some people are prepared to do anything to win the money. The TV programme Shattered was criticised for putting the contestants in a very dangerous situation. It is dangerous to go without sleep for a long time.

  • Do you think there should be more control over the types of contests on TV?
  • Are the people on the show Shattered really being exploited?
  • Do you have shows in your country which go too far or ask people to do dangerous things?
  • Are some things too private to show on TV?
  • Are you happy to see more of these shows?

Reality TV is not the best type of programming on UK TV. There are many excellent dramas, documentaries and comedy programmes. Viewers complain that the good programmes are decreasing and the channels are putting on too many Reality TV programmes.

  • What do you think of the balance of programmes in your country?
  • Is there a good mix?
  • Do some types of programme dominate?
  • Are there any types of programme you would like to see more of?
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Further suggestions

For creative groups who need fluency practice give them a group planning task. Students are programme makers at the very early stages of developing a new Reality TV game. This game is called Student Swap and they should try to work out in groups:

  • A brief description of the programme
  • A prize for the winner
  • A set of rules
  • One or two tests that participants must do

Internet links This is one of the Guardian's excellent Special reports and gives complete background information to the issues and programmes.

Essential UK archive

Pester Power looks at young peoples' spending habits to extend the work on surveys

ICT in Education can bring in the topic of television and learning. Link this theme by looking at Schools programmes in the UK.

Game on looks at more use of screens with computer use in the UK

Fundraising UK style looks at how a TV programme can have such a positive impact on the public and their participation in helping others.

A Generation of Couch Potatoes links TV viewing to declining health and obesity in young people and extends the topic to how students use their free time.

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