Gliders: lesson plans for secondary students

A Problem Solver’s Balloon Debate


Share views (and a basket) with the world’s most skilled orators

An ethical dilemma adapted for the ELT classroom, the balloon debate encourages students to flex their moral muscles, armour themselves with a persuasive language and pit problem solving skills against the opposition.

Students are four key-note speakers at an international problem-solving summit which they are travelling to by hot air balloon. A gust of wind blows it off course and the group are forced to make some tough decisions. Only three experts can continue on their journey. Each must convince their peers that only their place in the basket guarantees the planet’s most grave challenges are faced!

Who takes part?

I’ve balloon debated with secondary students (Year 10/11- KS3). But the activity is for all who give presentations, write articles/essays and/or who are interested in oracy (the ability to articulate ideas, develop understanding and engage with others through spoken language). I’ve found it particularly effective to use with groups as an ice-breaker early on in a programme of study. There are cross-curricular links with history and drama.

Which skills are practised?

The implication is that whether the speech givers prepare themselves mentally (researching arguments) and/or physically (by writing these ideas down), they need to ‘do their homework’.

“The most effective off the cuff speeches are premeditated, and the best premeditated speeches appear off the cuff.”

Sam Leith, ‘You Talkin’ To me?’

Speaking personally, whilst I’ve been astounded at teenager speakers delivering rousing speeches with zero notes, I’m not able to think clearly until I’ve got something down on paper.

What’s the procedure?

  • The balloon flying off-course context is shared
  • Roles are assigned at random (I divide students into teams and each is given a role)
  • Ethos, logos and pathos are presented as public speaking tools and applied to persuasive language techniques e.g. alliteration, triplets, personal pronouns
  • Students play Obama, Merkel, Thunberg and Gates Bingo where they watch a speech and spot techniques
  • 10-minutes to plan their speech through the lens of ethos, pathos, logos
  • 3/4 minutes per individual or team to present 
  • whilst students are delivering their speeches, classmates fill in the SHAC feedback jamboards, kindly shared by @vickymagari (see her brilliant post on freeed for more info.)
  • Students distance themselves from their persona
  • Students consider the jamboard feedback 
  • Students comment on how ethos, logos and pathos were used to good effect
  • Students take a position and vote on who should go to the conference

Points to consider…

Who you talkin’ to?!

It’s best that learners state who the speech is being delivered to (i.e. peers the same age or other politicians) and adapt level of formality accordingly. 

Is it hurtful to whoever is kicked out of the balloon?

I’ve mulled over this point. Year in, year out (delivering a version of the debate using famous figures from the history of science) Darwin was always the first to go; Einstein or Newton never went! This demonstrates where the students’ focus is: on their adopted persona. Whilst discontent with the scientist assigned was expressed, students accepted their roles because they were given randomly. Sorry Darwin!

 Many thanks…

for reading and to my fellow lessonjammers for your input. 

Sticky Spelling with Jamboard

“They know secret spelling rules.”

Mo, Year 10 EAL Student

Mo, who had spent some formative years in a refugee camp, was sharing anxieties around the importance of accurate spelling in GCSE Chemistry. 

What did he mean by ‘spelling rules?’ Although a handy aide-memoire, the well-know rule ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ is sadly unreliable (exceptions: proficiency/ seize/ albeit/ glacier). More often than not, English spelling rules come unstuck. 

Method to the Madness

‘Virtually every word’s spelling can be explained by its language of origin, meaning, and/or sound structure’.

 ‘How Spelling Supports Reading’, Louisa Moats.

Louisa Moat’s reassuring and enlightening quote provides clues in the unravelling of the spelling mystery. It’s the sticking process that makes the word more memorable. For example, once we know the word ‘breakfast’ is to do with ‘breaking the night’s fast’, we’re more likely to spell the compound noun correctly (so long as we know how to spell ‘break’ and ‘fast’). 

Making Spelling Sticky

The traditional (LookSayWriteCoverCheck) method used in UK primary teaching has been enhanced by Johanna Stirling. My Jamboard condenses Johanna’s work slightly by adding a brain-friendly ‘stick’ stage (LookSayStickWriteCoverCheck).



Count the number of vowels and consonants. Highlight the vowels using a contrasting colour.

What shape is the word? Are there tall stems or curly letters? Trace around it.


What does the word sound like? Do the spelling and the pronunciation match up? What similarities and differences are there?


The fun bit! Get creative and make the word stick in your mind.


Close your eyes and take a moment to visualise the spelling.


Now it’s time to put pen to paper and test out your new spelling skills.


Admire your handiwork!


Share the load by assigning a tricky spelling to a group of 3 or 4 students. Differentiate by matching step to student. Students come together for the ‘Write’ step and collaborate to produce a correct spelling.

Sticky spellings

How creative can you get with your spellings to make them stick? I’d love to hear any mnemonics or visual tricks you come up with to memorise spellings.

Further Reading

The 5 minute lesson plan

The 5 minute…. plan

A versatile tool that organises your thoughts and banishes procrastination, based on the 5 Minute Lesson Plan.(@TeacherToolkit).

What is the 5 minute…. plan?

I love the 5 minute Lesson Plan (@teachertoolkit) and wondered if it could be adapted for planning of any kind. From how to plan a piece of writing to preparing for a lockdown violin lesson. How does the planning tool stand up to some fearsome fiddling? I put it to the test with #4 example plans.

An overview

Here’s a template:

The template

Example # 1

Here’s a 5 Minute Writing Plan made earlier, with a little help from Goldilocks and the Three Bears….

This plan is intended for a class of tween/teenagers or adults who are rewriting a well-known fairy story, one less widespread or even their very own.

example #1

A cascade of ideas is channelled into a coherent stream…

First off, we process the task by considering its title: zooming out to view the bigger picture. We consider the key questions: Why are we writing? Who are we writing for?

The ‘how’ is considered next. Our readers, children, expect the story to contain a lot of repetition, rhymes perhaps and onomatopoeia. Rhetorical questions are a given as well as a lexical field concerning bears, their dietary habits and a golden haired intruder.

When is the story unfolding? A timeline corresponds to the main events- namely the beginning, middle and end. As a fairy story, there are vocabulary conventions to uphold. The End.

Example #2

The 5 minute IELTS Task 2 Writing Plan

example #2

This plan helps the IELTS candidate to consider the question in hand and their response before putting pen to examination paper. It’s a chance to remind themselves to up-level their formality now a certain distance from the writer is expected and consider how this is achieved. There’s an opportunity focus on how to weed out those niggly errors (by avoiding them in the first place) and to figure out vocabulary and paragraphing models.

The 5 Minute….Plan draws on schema theory, a branch of cognitive science concerned with how the brain structures knowledge.

If you have experience of the DELTA qualification, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the lexical chunk ‘activate schemata’. With the 5 Minute…Plan, the learner auto-activates by reflecting on their knowledge of communicative conventions.

‘A schema is an organized unit of knowledge for a subject or event. It is based on past experience and is accessed to guide current understanding or action.’ (

no brainer?

So… when we engage brain, mouth AND hand, the 5 minute plan captures the ‘thinking through’ process visually and kinaesthetically.

It motivates- belief in our ability to complete a task, in its relevance; in its value: we are more likely to resist the desire to postpone its completion or get distracted.

#3 Violin Lesson Plan

Lockdown violin- I have very understanding neighbours

Mapping out my thoughts before practising a new piece has given me confidence and more control over where I position my hand= more tuneful playing!

Test #4 Lesson Jam 9

Thanks to the Lesson 9 Jamers who provided me with valuable feedback. We discussed the degree to which the tool is learner-centred and agreed that a certain amount of training was necessary. But, we also noted that the individual components (mini plans) could act as differentiated springboards into the creative process. Discreet tasks could be assigned to each individual and ideas pooled before embarking on a task.

That’s it! In a nutshell: a versatile tool for transforming thought into action.

Teaching Swimglish in Sri Lanka

Swimming and learning English at the same time?
Sounds like fun. But as I discovered first hand, for women in Sri Lanka, it’s more than a lifestyle choice. It’s a matter of life and death.

Teaching in Sri Lanka

The sun is a scorching 40 degrees. Women begin to arrive for their ‘Five Day Crash Swimming Course’ wearing a colourful and eclectic mix
of western clothing and traditional saris. But they have just one question on their minds. Is it safe to swim?

In Sri Lanka, that’s not a casual question. Instead, it’s a life-threatening conundrum, especially for women. Eighty per cent of those who drowned in the 2004 tsunami were women and children. In fact, more Sri Lankans drown every year than die of dengue fever. And yet death by drowning is not recognised as a major public health issue.

Keen to volunteer abroad and develop my swim teaching, I came across the Sri Lanka Women’s Swimming Project , whose mission is to tackle the country’s tragic drowning statistics. Christina Fonfe, BEM, its director, accepts my application. She had seen something in my skillset that was of value to
her project.

A month or so before departure, I receive my week’s duties. In addition to teaching 18 hours of swimming, I am expected to deliver 10 hours of English as a Foreign Language (EFL). I’d applied for a volunteership role 8,185 miles away when I experience English teaching through my role at an international
school 10-minutes from home.

But the more I learn about the project, the more teaching Swimglish makes sense. Preventing drowning through teaching women and teenage girls to swim, ensures that they, in turn, can teach their own children and families. What’s more, the best are trained in English as swimming teachers to international standards which provides an immediate micro-economy benefit and elevation of social status to those women in the community. This
closely fits with the UN’s Millennium Goal, outlined in 2015, to Promote Gender Equality and to Empower Women.

Vinila is one such success story; a nonswimmer who has mastered the finer points of bilateral breathing and who not only teaches, but also runs the programme at its Ahangama HQ. Vinila’s broad skillset ranges from pool maintenance to swimmer recruitment- all this alongside roles of wife and mother. Our English lessons will support Vinila in extending her students’ knowledge of ‘Swimglish’ and facilitate communication with Christina.

Day 1: Vinila meticulously records attendance and checks each woman’s
Passport to Swimming (more on this later).

The swimmers use the changing rooms to
get into costumes, leggings and swimming hats, before taking a refreshing shower overlooking the balustrade separating the centre’s palm-fringed lawn and swimming pool from the Indian Ocean. “Is it safe to swim?”,
they ask before entering the water. Later, the importance of this
question will keep me awake at night.

Always ask a local whether the water is safe to swim in; never swim alone; always swim in clear water: Golden rules shared on day one. By day three,
more confident of my surroundings, craving exercise and not wanting to disturb my hosts, I decide to have a dip in a nearby bay. I admit
my mistake on my return. As the salty drips slide down my back, my host reveals the bay’s dark secret. He informs me the water is unclean with effluent centrifuging before sweeping back out to sea. The water droplets
pool as he continues. On New Year’s Day, an ‘I’m a good swimmer’ tourist was dragged outside the reef and drowned.

That night, as I lie awake, the dichotomy between swimming as sport and swimming as drowning prevention crystalises. The sea is no longer a playground but a force of nature to be treated with respect. Our swimmers may have lost friends and relatives in the tsunami or, through drowning in the many rivers, pools, ditches on the island. My humiliation is a fraction of that which the swimmers experience when initially taking to the water.

And thanks to my misadventure, the value of the project appreciates.
Christina’s teaching method deals sensitively with these cultural, historical and psychological factors. In a discreet setting, away from any male eyes, our female students are first taught how to float-and-breathe, then how to swim. Research indicates that floating and breathing should be the immediate
reaction to sudden unexpected immersion in water. Once floating on your back, you can catch your breath and call for help. I notice Christina’s swimmers rolling onto their backs to float if fatigued or struggling. When ready, they flip over to their front, coolly returning to
their swimming practice.

Thanks to the project, over 6,000 women have challenged the prevailing view of swimming as frivolous and have accepted its relevance to saving their lives. They have improved their drowning survival odds and overcome fears of immodesty and have acquired a whole lot of confidence and self-esteem building on the way. A smaller, yet significant number have freed themselves
from the poverty trap. One star pupil, Indu, has recently graduated as an attorney at law from the University of Colombo. Her application was strengthened by the hard work she put in to gaining her swim coach qualification, almost unheard of for a woman in Sri Lanka, alongside her proficient level of English.

Vinila and Indu have reached and exceeded all the passport milestones on their journey into water. The passport booklet records the 30 skill steps of a course to take a beginner to be a competent, safe swimmer. It’s a document
that Christina has developed over 40 years of honing her craft. On days one and two instruction takes places on a one-to-one basis.

Learning is fun, with exercises like shouting your name underwater and monkey walking, arms swinging like an orangutan, building
confidence. By step 30, Christina’s swim teachers slice gracefully through the water, perfectly balanced and breathing bilaterally, so their continuous motion is fluid. I think back to my learners, who equate splash with
speed, and how they would benefit from these techniques.

On the final day of the course, we celebrate the beginners’ achievements. Of the group, some have gained their ‘I can Survive One Minute Award’: able to swim 10 metres and float for one minute; others their ‘‘I can
Survive Two Minutes Award’: swim 25 metres and float for two minutes. The magic words ‘I can SWIM’ do not get used until the float last for 10 minutes and the distance is 100 metres. The session finishes with a game involving
spelling the first letter of a name in English using your arms and legs. Once dry, and, still laughing, we are warmed
up by a hot cup of sweet, milky Ceylon tea.

The relaxation, joy and sense of fortitude that comes from being in the water glows on our faces. We are sharing a worthwhile endeavour and know we are looking after ourselves
and one another. Christina remarks that the project likes its parties and I sense a playful side to her, despite the weight of responsibility
she shoulders for Sri Lanka’s women.

José Guadalupe Posada

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