BBC Home
Explore the BBC


Teachers: Citizenship:

Last Updated: Friday October 05 2007 10:54 GMT

Reality TV

Citizenship Media and society

The kids who took part in the reality TV show

Kid Nation is a controversial new reality show from the USA.

It follows 40 eight to 16-year-olds as they try to create their own society in New Mexico, without any adults to help them. TV bosses have been accused of using the kids unfairly.

Students look at issues around reality TV and then design their own show.

Learning aims
  • Learn about the characteristics of 'reality TV'
  • Design their own reality TV show and critique others
  • Consider the effect that these shows have on the lives of their contestants

Read out this story to the class.
Some of the kids who took part in the reality TV show

Ask the class:

  • How many of them watch reality TV shows?
  • In what ways can being a contestant on these shows change a person's life?
  • What does the phrase 'reality TV' mean to you?
  • Why do people watch these types of programmes?
Brainstorm a list of shows that might fall into each of these categories:

1. 'Fly on the wall' reality TV shows (such as Airport, The Osbournes), the news, and documentaries.

2. TV-generated reality TV shows (such as I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and Big Brother, X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing).

3. Shows that blend the two (such as WAGs Boutique).

Invite students to share their opinions about what distinguishes these three categories from one another.

Main activity

First read through these comments from our website:

Children's comments on what makes good reality TV?

Written task

The class brainstorm what they think makes a good reality TV show.

These questions can be used as a prompt:

  • When there's a camera and a crew filming, does this change how people behave?
  • What do you think makes reality TV shows successful?
  • What are the ethical issues of having a camera following people around constantly?
  • What do you think the next generation of reality TV shows might be like?
Help students to compile a set of attributes that they feel distinguishes the best of the reality TV shows from the others.

Using the attributes that the class agrees determine a good reality TV show, students create their own scenarios for a new reality-based TV show.

When coming up with their ideas, students should keep these questions in mind:

  • Where will your show take place?
  • What types of people will be on it?
  • What will your show be called?
  • During what time of day or night do you suggest this show to be broadcast?
  • For how many days, weeks, or months should the show last?
  • What is the basic idea or storyline for your programme?
  • What makes this show different from those that are currently on the air?
Extension activity

Divide the class into groups and get them to agree on the best personality traits and characteristics for a reality TV contestant.

These prompts may be useful:

  • Physical attractiveness
  • Physical strength
  • Sense of humour
  • Sporty
  • Good listener
  • Good talker
  • Calm
  • Likes company
  • Creative
  • Musical
  • Good leader
Once the groups have finished their list, they could either give each characteristic a rating out of 10, or rank them in order of importance.

Gather the class' lists together and look for similarities and differences. Ask the groups to explain any differences.


Students share their reality TV show ideas with the class.

The rest of the class should then imagine that they are TV critics reviewing each new show that has been created.

Students should provide both positive and negative opinions, identifying aspects that will draw viewers to it, and types of things that might turn some people off.

Teachers' Background

  • Broadcaster and psychologist Oliver James has spoken to a number of those who had taken part in reality TV shows and he felt they were not aware of the impact their participation would have on their lives.

  • Dr James's comments were backed up by TV presenter and columnist Vanessa Feltz, who separately accused the makers of celebrity Big Brother of making her look like "Jack Nicholson out of the Shining".

  • Channel 4's Big Brother does use psychologists to help choose suitable contestants and also offer "aftercare" when the show has finished.

  • Former BBC One controller Lorraine Heggessey has agreed that many participants did not realise the impact of what they say on camera when it was screened on TV.

    For hundreds more news-based lessons, click on Teachers on the left hand side.

  • Most recent lesson plan

    Video clips for teachers
    Student quizzes
    Educational games
    Citizenship guides

    BBC Homepage >> | CBBC Homepage >>

    Meet the Team | Help | Contact Us | News sources | Privacy & Cookies Policy