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
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?
News and Current Affairs
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
- 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?
Art and design
Science and Technology
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
|Television TV telly
|Television programmes which use real people
|| Reality TV
|To be on television
||To be on the box
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?
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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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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?
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
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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