Posted 29/5/12
In this activity, students visualise a castaway alone on a desert island. They collaborate and construct a narrative to explain how he got there, how he attempts to escape, and what he writes in his message in a bottle. Finally, students listen to the 1979 song by The Police.
  • Language level: Pre-intermediate – Upper intermediate (A2 – B1)
  • Learner type: Teens; Adults
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Activity: Building a story; Writing a message; Listening to a song
  • Topic: Castaways; Love and loneliness
  • Language: Present perfect; The verb to wish
Message in a bottle pdf [downloaded 12505 times]

Part one: Introduction

  1. Introduce the topic by showing students the first image (see below). Find out if anyone has seen the film. If so, ask them to recall the title (which is obscured on the image) and tell the rest of the class what the film is about.
  2. Confirm by showing the second image (see below). Students will now see that the title of the film is Cast Away which tells the story of a FedX employee stranded on an uninhabited island after his plane crashes in the South Pacific.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Part two: Visualisation

  1. Tell students the following:

  2. I want you to imagine a castaway,

    lost at sea on a desert island.”


    • This small description contains three pieces of target language contained in the song lyrics (the terms in bold). Write these on the board if necessary.
    • Don’t feel that you have to ask students to close their eyes for visualisations like this. Students can feel awkward about doing so and it isn’t actually necessary. After all, visualisation is an important part of reading and it is impossible to read with your eyes closed!
  3. Ask students the following questions:
  • Is the castaway male or female?
  • What is his or her name?
  • What else do you see in the image? (Popular suggestions = monkeys, parrots, sharks, palm trees, coconuts, a shipwreck, etc.)

Draw a picture on the board and add to it as the image develops. If you are bad at drawing, ask for a volunteer student to do the artistic work.

Part three: Narrative construction

  1. Dictate the following questions that relate to the scene:
    • How long has he/she been there? (Present perfect)
    • How did he/she get there? (Past simple)
    • How does he/she feel? (Present simple)
    • What is he/she thinking? (Present continuous)
  2. Put students into pairs or small groups. Ask them to consider answers to these questions.
  3. Feedback ideas and write new or useful language on the board (note that the PDF lesson plan contains suggestions for language to study during feedback).

Part four: Escape plan

  1. Ask your students if they could bear the loneliness of a desert island.
  2. Note that this question contains two pieces of target language contained in the song lyrics (the terms in bold). Write these on the board if necessary.
  3. Tell students that their character is feeling particularly lonely and needs a plan for escape. Ask students to suggest as many things as possible that he could do (build a raft, get a fire ready for a passing plane, send a message in a bottle, etc.)
  4. To the board drawing, add two thought bubbles coming from the castaway’s head.
  • In the first thought bubble write the words: I’ll send an SOS to the world.
  • In the second thought bubble write the words: I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle.
Note that these two lines come from the song Message in a Bottle. There is no problem if students realise this at this stage.

Part five: Writing messages

Ask students to write castaway messages (i.e. the messages to go in bottles). They should write in the first person and should include as much new language as possible (language that you have written on the board). They should include the following information:

  • The castaway’s name.
  • Roughly where the island is (the ocean, for example.)
  • A description of the island.
  • How he/she got there.
  • How long he/she has been there.
Note that if students are unaware of the idea of a message in a bottle, you could demonstrate the idea with a bottle with a screw cap and a piece of paper. Fold up the paper so that it fits into the bottle and drop it in. For real messages in bottles, plastic bottles are the most practical.

Part six: The song

  1. Tell students that they are going to hear a song called Message in a Bottle. Ask students if they know who it is by (answer = The Police).
  2. Tell students to listen to the song and pay attention to what happens after the castaway sends the message in a bottle.
  3. Ask students to form pairs and share what they understood.
  4. Play the song again.
  5. Give out copies of the song lyrics. These are included in the PDF download. Ask students to complete the ‘Find a word or term’ task (also included in the PDF download).
  6. Let students hear the song one more time. This time they can read and listen to the lyrics at the same time.
  7. Ask students to consider whether the song lyrics are to be taken literally or metaphorically. In the case of the latter, ask students to speculate on the meaning behind them.

So you probably already know this one. But just in case you’ve never seen it before:

Posted 29/5/12

36 Responses to Message in a bottle

  1. Angela says:

    This is a great lesson, funny and versatile, thank you very much for sharing it, your work is brilliant and inspiring!

  2. reena says:

    very inspiring and creative

  3. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Angela :)
    Thank you Reena :)

  4. Sarah says:

    great lessons-thanks so much for sharing them with the world!

  5. Jamie Keddie says:

    My pleasure Sarah. Thank you for your comment. Jamie :)

  6. Sylwia says:

    Thank you. These are really wonderful ideas. I hate being bored when I teach :-) so I’m always looking for new, exciting material. This is great!

  7. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Sylwia
    Jamie :)

  8. Fokina Tatiana says:

    really great

  9. kathy says:

    Dear Jamie I attended a course you presented in the city of Córdoba, Argentina last year and have since used several of your lesson plans with great results ; I am now planning on using ‘Message in the Bottle’ with my 16 year olds next week and already smiling at their reaction to listening to the song which I know is a favourite amongst several of them. I cannot thank you enough for all the inspiration and wonderful feedback I have obtained from my students with your hard work. Kudos to you!!!!

  10. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Kathy
    Hope that all is well in Córdoba.
    Thank you very much for your nice comment. It’s nice to get kudos!
    Hope to see you again in Argentina one of these days.
    Jamie :)

  11. Joleen says:

    Dear Jamie, last week I used one of your lessons for the first time. My pupils were delighted with the story of the actor doing an audition. Next week I’m going to do this lesson. Thank you so much for all the fun we’re having!

  12. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Joleen! Good luck – I hope it goes well.
    Jamie :)

  13. Héctor says:

    Hey, your work is really inspiring, i use your lessons very often, thanks for sharing them to the world.

    Regards from Vasque country

  14. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you for your very nice comment Héctor!
    I am happy to know that you are making good use of the site.
    Hope everything is well up north (I am in Barcelona)
    Jamie :)

  15. Grammarman says:

    Used it today and the students enjoyed it a lot. I’ll definitely try this again, but probably tweak a few things here and there.

  16. JO says:

    This is brilliant thank you so much for sharing it .I work with teenagers who are so bored with their English classes at school that I always try to give them a fun way of learning when they come to my class. They loved this lesson. Thank you again.

  17. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Jo! I am very happy to hear it.
    Jamie :)

  18. Nataliya says:

    Well developed and creative lesson. Thank you for sharing!

  19. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Nataliya
    Jamie :)

  20. Stephen J says:

    I love this lesson, and use it now and again to perk up a class. It hasn’t failed yet with Italians, Catalans, French or Eastern Europeans.

    For a slightly twisted take on the castaway theme, this video is hilarious:

  21. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Stephen. Like the video!
    Jamie :)

  22. Claudia says:

    Hello from Argentina ,Jamie. Excellent lesson plan.My name is Claudia. I attended your presentation on video telling last year in Bahia Blanca.
    I´ve been using your great lesson plans since then.They are really useful and enjoyable.Students of all ages and levels like them very much.Thank you very much for sharing your ideas.Are you coming back to Argentina this year?I hope so. Bye.

  23. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Claudia
    Nice to see you here. Glad you have been making good use of the site.
    No plans to come back to Argentina at the moment but that could change. Fingers crossed!
    Jamie :)

  24. Valeria says:

    Brilliant! Looking forward to trying it

  25. Jamie Keddie says:

    Good luck Valeria!
    Jamie :)

  26. Eva says:

    Hi, Jamie, thanks for this brilliant lesson! I love it and my students do too! :-)

  27. Jamie Keddie says:

    Happy to hear it Eva
    Thanks for your comment :)

  28. Flor says:

    Hi, Jamie!
    Thanks for sharing these amazing ideas!
    Hope to see you again in Argentina soon!

  29. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Flor.
    I would love to come back to Argentina!
    Jamie :)

  30. Mark Swinhoe says:

    Hi James

    I have used this lesson several times, it works really well, thank you!

    Mark, Japan

  31. Mark Swinhoe says:

    Oops, Jamie, not James!

  32. Jamie Keddie says:

    No worries Mark – a lot of people call me James!
    Great to hear you like the activity
    Thanks for the comment
    Jamie :)

  33. Fouzia says:

    Thank you Jamie, you rock!! Hope to see you again in Algeria, Love :)

  34. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Fouzia. Hope to see you soon :)

  35. steve says:

    I don’t quite understand the aim of using the present perfect. Where does this feature as a learning objective? It seems they are using all sorts of tenses throughout.

  36. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Steve
    I’ve had a very quick look over the activity and I’m not too sure myself – I could probably give you a better answer if I had time to get a bit more involved.
    However, I never use the term ‘learning objectives’ on this site. The real objectives are to immerse students in a two-way exchange of meaningful language through story.
    Hope that helps