Sustainable Development Goals: A Balloon Debate

A good activity to get students to think about the SDGs is a balloon debate. A balloon debate is commonly done in History where students take on a historical figure to argue for the importance of their role in history. The exercise imagines that the people are in a hot air balloon which will crash into a mountain so they must increase their height by throwing weight out of the balloon – and they do this by throwing out the least influential historical figure.

For the SDGs we can use a balloon debate to more deeply consider the strengths and weaknesses of each Goal, while adding an element of fun and competition to the classroom. Balloon debates are also great opportunities for cross-curricular integration with languages, as persuasive speech is an important aspect of the activity.

To do this for the SDGs,

  • Each person finds out about one SDG (for a smaller class you may want to select the SDGs that are most pertinent to your students)
  • They present the reasons why that SDG is the most important one
  • After all the goals have been presented, the group votes and throws out the least important goal
  • Repeat the presentations, eliminating the least important goal each time until there is one goal left

Alternatively, hold rounds of four goals at a time, or eliminate more than one goal at each stage – e.g. cut from 17 goals to just the top 5 in the first round, and allow more in-depth argument for the remaining goals.

Set the criteria first

The most important element of the balloon debate is the criteria used to judge the arguments for each SDG. While persuasive speaking and connecting with the audience are important, the debate should also have clear links to the area of study. Criteria for this balloon debate could be:

  • The goal statement should be realistic; vague or overly ambitious goals will be thrown out of the balloon
  • The indicators used for the goal should be clear, specific, easy to collect appropriate data etc.
  • The goal should be fundamental to other aspects of human development, i.e. it should be key to multidimensional development. For example, SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) would be hard to achieve without SDG 5 (Gender Equality).

This last goal is perhaps the most important because it helps to develop synthesis. As students make links to other SDGs, they are really making links to other areas of Geography, and the syllabus can be used to reinforce these links.

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