Posted in Conversation Classes, Grammar Classes

3rd Conditional: Balloon Debate


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This is a conversation lesson plan to practise past (3rd) conditional structures whilst debating the value of specific professions to society. Credit to the university of Kent for the inspiration for the activity. I have changed the wording of the task slightly so that students must imagine a world without the achievements and inventions of some famous names from history.

You will need the handout, I have made 4 versions:

Intermediate teens:

Balloon Debate intermediate teenagers

Intermediate adults:

Balloon Debate Intermediate adults

Advanced teens:

Balloon Debate Adv teenagers

Advanced adults:

Balloon Debate Adv adults

I planned this as an activity to practise uses of advanced 3rd conditional structures such as:

But for + noun phrase, would/could/might have….

But for Thomas Edison, the lightbulb would have been invented much later.

Or inverted past conditionals:

Had it not been for Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have such a rich vocabulary.

You may want to preteach these structures using my other materials which you can find here and here.

Below you will find they advanced adults version of the activity.

Balloon Debate

You are in a hot air balloon which is losing height rapidly and will soon crash because it is overweight. You are travelling with a group of school children who will grow up to be very famous. You have to decide which 7 to throw over the side; if the balloon crashes you will all die. The passengers are:

  • Mother Teresa
  • Mao Tse-tung
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Florence Nightingale
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Mikael Gorbachev
  • Charles Darwin
  • William Shakespeare
  • Diego Maradona
  • Albert Einstein
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Beethoven
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Jane Austen
  • Steve Jobs



Conditionals Making Decisions
If_____ hadn’t invented_____, _____ wouldn’t have happened. There’s no way we’re throwing ______ overboard because______
But for ________ we wouldn’t have________. Throwing _______ is out of the question because________
If it hadn’t been for ______, we wouldn’t have _______ now I think ________ is expendable.
Had it not been for _______, we wouldn’t have________. What did _______ really do for us?


If Charles Darwin hadn’t discovered evolution, society wouldn’t have developed like it has.

If it hadn’t been for Gandhi, India would still be a British colony.

But for Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have such a rich language.

Had it not been for Abraham Lincoln, the slaves wouldn’t have been freed.

Homework Activity:

Students write an essay examining two of the people from the balloon and deciding which one has contributed most to society. They must compare and contrast the achievements of the two and reach a conclusion as to which should be crowned as the most inspiring person in history.

Posted in Conversation Classes

Rebuild civilisation conversation lesson

mushroom cloud

My take on a conversation class classic. There have been many different versions, I did this one in my Spanish class and then translated it into English to use with my students. I am afraid I don’t know the Spanish textbook title so can’t give a credit.

Click here to download the handout:

Rebuild Civilisation

Rebuild Civilisation

Below or in the handout above you will find the conversation task. Before you start the activity you might want to pre-teach some vocabulary. For example some verbs and nouns:

cultivate – cultivation

procreate – procreation

populate – population

Or for lower levels you can give the students more of a framework. For example:

I think we should / shouldn’t / ought to /ought not to take ………………… because……………….

This handout on language of agreement and disagreement might also be useful:!247&authkey=!ANBIbEVteXyYHnY

Encourage students to justify all their decisions, don’t let them get away with simply crossing the banker off the list because they’re angry at bankers. Try to play devils advocate too; stand up for the banker, the computer programmer or the economist to encourage the students to think critically and find justifications.

Class instructions:

  1. Give out the handout and explain the situation to the students.
  2. Put the students into groups of 3-4, or if you have less students pairs is fine. Try to have at least two groups, the more groups there are the more opinions there are and the more discussion there will be.
  3. First have the students individually read the list and select a provisional list of 7 people. Tell them not to worry if they have trouble choosing only 7.
  4. Then in their groups they must share their thoughts and try to convince their classmates which people to choose.
  5. Give them plenty of time to do this and make sure they justify everything.
  6. Then have a feedback session; each group reads out their list of 7 and explains their reasons for choosing them.
  7. Then try to come up with a universal list of 7 for the whole class. So each team must defend their choices and try to talk the other teams round to their way of thinking.

There has been a nuclear catastrophe. Everyone on the planet has died except the 20 people listed below. There is a small aeroplane with only 7 spaces. The aeroplane will take the 7 people to a desert island in the Indian ocean where they will rebuild civilisation.

In your groups you have to decide which 7 people will travel on the aeroplane.

  • A 50-year-old male judge.
  • A 25-year-old female economist.
  • The 52-year-old Chief of an African tribe.
  • The Chief´s pregnant wife.
  • A 30-year-old male professional ballerina.
  • A young, male soldier from an island close to the one they are going to.
  • A 35-year-old female agricultural engineer.
  • A 35-year-old male priest.
  • A 28-year-old female opera singer.
  • A 24-year-old handsome, well-built man.
  • A 25-year-old hot, buxom blonde woman.
  • A 26-year-old nun.
  • A 37-year-old male witch doctor from the African tribe.
  • A 52-year-old male psychiatrist.
  • A 14-year-old male child-genius.
  • A 27-year-old female history teacher.
  • A 32-year-old male computer programmer.
  • A 37-year-old male biologist who specialises in the evolution of species.
  • A 31-year-old female painter.
  • A 41-year-old male banker.

Wrap up:

If you were in this situation what do you think you could offer the new civilisation?