Balloon / Rocket Debate

A fantastic activity that has been a staple of every ESL classroom for decades. There are a number of varieties but this is perhaps the most ‘vanilla’ of the the known permutations.


  1. Explain to the students (or draw on the board) a hot air balloon is running out of fuel and is about to hit the top of a mountain. The people on board can not be saved unless one or two of the passengers are thrown overboard.
  2. Explain to the students who the passengers are. The teacher can choose whoever they like, but generally aim for people they all know. For instance, famous inventors (past and present), world leaders, scientists, and even members of the teaching staff, if you are so brave to have your confidence shaken by the students.
  3. The students are to work together in a small group, of threes or fours, and decide who should be pay the ultimate sacrifice to save all the others in the balloon.
  4. Students are to make a selection of who should be thrown over the side of the balloon, but most importantly, and create a criteria by which the passengers are to be judged. They could focus on;
    1. their contribution to society
    2. their net worth
    3. their sense of civic responsibility
    4. how they have influenced people
  5. Once the group have made their choices they are then their groups are mixed with other students and given the chance to compare selections. They could even be given a chance to debate their choice and force a run off between the two candidates.


Instead of a balloon you can use the following:

  • A rocket is travelling to the moon and the oxygen tank is being depleted faster than expected. Select one person to be thrown out of the rocket to conserve the amount of air available.
  • A plane is currently flying over the Pacific ocean and doesn’t have enough fuel to make a hard landing at the nearest airport. To stop the plane from diving into the ocean, students select one person to be thrown out of the plane.

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