This isn't my idea, but it's an activity that deserves to be on Dave's site as it's adaptable and fun, and so here's the version I've used. It's useable with pre-intermediate students (as long as they are confident) to advanced students, and requires at least forty minutes.
Firstly, you need to set the scene for your students, and create a little atmosphere, as you are going to strand them on a desert island.
Start with drawing a picture of the sea, and then add a ship. Tell them that they are on the ship, and then get them to name it and give the destination... Elicit a story! Then draw a giant rock or iceberg, and sink the boat just like in "Titanic". Tell them that just as the ship goes down they spot an island on the horizon, and so they start to swim for it. As they are swimming they come across a box floating in the sea, and they open it up to discover several items.....
At this point, what you really want is a bag full of objects that you've kept under you desk, some should be obviously useful for life on a desert island, and some should require more imagination to use. Now, reveal them one by one.
a pencil, a radio, a knife and fork, a metal bowl, a towel, a sewing kit, a camera, a minature bottle of whiskey, a map of the world, a box of matches, a toothbrush, a mirror, a novel, some antiseptic ointment, a compass, and a magnifying glass. I also use an axe and a rope, but as I don't have either of these I have to draw them on the board.
Why not throw in a cuddly toy, jar of chillis, etc?
Get the students to name them as you reveal them, and teach any unknown vocabulary.
Ask the students how each item could be useful. I do this as a class. Then tell the students they can only carry five items to the island, and that they must choose which five. This usually stimulates questions about the island, such as, "are there any dangerous animals on the island?" "Are there any mountains, trees, etc?"
You can decide on these details.
Get each student to write their list of five items individually, and then place them in groups and get them to compare, and write a new list together.
Finally, the lists can be written on the board, and similarities and differences discussed.
My students are not always the most willing to speak or the most able, but they got into this activity, and came out with some imaginative uses for objects, eg using some physics to turn the radio into an SOS transmitter.
Adapt the items, and the number of items as you wish. If you wanted you could get them to rank order them, or possibley the "stranded students" could discover Ben Gunn's Shop on the island and have to bid for them.
Remember, at all times, be an enthusiastic storyteller and creater!
I wish you many a happy class,
G, Xipu, Chengdu, Sichuan.
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