Knockout Template“You are in a hot air balloon that is losing height rapidly. It will soon crash into the side of a mountain because it is overweight. To prevent the certain death of everybody on board, only one person will be allowed to stay in the balloon!”

Balloon debates are a great way of promoting research and presentational skills, and invariably make for a very lively lesson!

Lesson 1: Students research a character and prepare their presentations

  • In the first lesson, each student needs to choose (or will be allocated) a character relating to the topic of study (for example, eminent Victorians).
  • Names can be allocated randomly to the students using the ClassTools Random Name Picker.
  • Each student should then be given a copy of the PowerPoint Template which they can use to frame their research:

Note: Defining “Importance”

To be historically important, a person must do some or all of the following:

When? Had an impact both in the short- and the long-term
Who? Had an impact on a lot of people’s lives
Where? Had an impact over many countries
What? Had an impact on many areas of life – for example: politics, economics, society, religion…it is a good idea to define these in discussion with students.

Lesson 2: Conducting the Balloon Debate


A. Getting Ready for the First Round – focusing on ‘positives’

▪ Give the students 10 minutes to refresh their memories and to revise the material.

▪If they had homework time before the lesson, they will hopefully have made a mask ready for the debate.

▪ Get the PowerPoints saved into a public area so they can be shown on the whiteboard.

B. The first round of the debate – focusing on ‘positives’

▪ Four or five students stand at the front. Choose these randomly using the Classtools name picker.

▪ The first student’s Powerpoint is put onto the screen. The student is not allowed to read the slide – it’s there for the benefit of the audience – and they can only speak for 60 seconds, explaining what they did and why they deserve to stay in the balloon (note: they should speak in the first person, i.e. as if they ARE the character).

▪At the end of their speech, invite questions from the audience. These can be answered directly, OR the student concerned can nominate a ‘researcher’ to make a note of these questions and start finding the answers to them.

▪ Repeat this format for the other four students.

▪Go back to each of the nominated ‘researchers’, one after the other, to get answers to the questions raised during the debate.

▪ Each member of the audience then has to vote for just one character to be thrown OUT of the balloon.

▪ The two characters who get the least votes are then ‘thrown out’ (or even bottom three, depending on the size of the class / time available).

▪ This process is repeated with the remaining people in the class.

C. Getting ready for the final round of the debate – focusing on ‘negatives’

Round 2: Dish the Dirt

▪ Each finalist now works with a team consisting of the people they defeated in Round 1.

▪ Their task is to gather evidence AGAINST the other finalists, for example suggesting that they were insignificant, unheroic, and so on.

▪ In this way, the focus of the whole debate is changed, everybody remains engaged, and the final will not merely consist of rehearsing the same old points a second time.

D. The final round of the debate – focusing on ‘negatives’

▪ The finalists should line up at the front of the class.

▪ The first finalist should explain why the person to their left does NOT deserve to stay in the balloon. The person criticised in this way should be given a chance to respond before they in turn criticise the person to their left. The person at the end of the line should criticise the person who started the discussion.

▪ The audience then has to vote who should be thrown out. It is important that they don’t vote for who should stay in – because there is too much of a tendency for students to vote in favour of the finalist whose team they belong to.

▪ The ‘Two hands / One hand” voting system works well here: in this format, students raise two hands (=two votes against) their least favourite character, and one hand against the second least-favoured. This makes for a slightly more sophisticated voting outcome.

Step 4: Written outcomes

As a written “outcome” you could get students to answer the questions:

  1. Who were the last three people to survive in the balloon, and why were they considered so important?
  2. How could you argue that your character was more important than any one of the three finalists?

Taking it further


Balloon Debate: Knockout Template!

Knockout Template

Balloon Debate: Quickstart Guide for Teachers

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Balloon Debate: Research Template

Balloon Debate: Research Template