Remarkable Lives

This is a video activity based on the remarkable life of Dame Stephanie Shirley – ( for both older teenagers and adults at B2/C1 level.


“Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley was born Vera Buchtal to a gentile mother and German Jewish judge in Dortmund, Germany. They had fled to Vienna, and only weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War, her parents put her and her nine-year-old sister on one of the Kindertransport trains taking 1,000 refugee children across Europe to London to escape the Nazis.”

“She went on to create a multibillion-pound IT software consultancy, the F1 Group, from which she made a £150m fortune. When F1 was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1996, it was worth £121m, she gave a huge chunk of her shares away to the staff who ended up owning more than half the company. Seventy became millionaires.

“Shirley retired in 1993 at the age of 60. Since retiring, she has devoted her life to giving away most of her wealth – up to £135m to autism research.”


Step 1: Ask your students to read the brief biography of Dame Stephanie on the worksheet.

Step 2: Ask them to read the questions they need to answer after watching the video.

Step 3: Watch the video and then get your students to try to answer the questions – this could be done in pairs.

Step 4: Watch the video again and correct the students’ answers.

Step 5: Use the last question, “How would you describe Dame Steve and her life? ” as a springboard for a more general discussion. For example:

  1. What does success really mean?
  2. Does success always bring happiness?
  3. Is being famous the same as being successful?
  4. Do you think some famous celebrities are good role models? e.g. Kim Kardashian
  5. Are women treated differently in the workplace? If so, what can be done to create real equality?

Step 6: You could ask the students to prepare a  presentation on another “remarkable life” using videos, powerpoint,etc.

There is another interesting video, “Freelance Programmer: the Story of Stephanie Shirley” that gives more insight into her life and career.

Sources (Video with English subtitles)

Free Lesson Plan

Dame Stephanie Shirley Teacher’s

Student’s Worksheet

Dame Stephanie Shirley Student’s


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