Using Balloons in the EFL Classroom

One of the facilities on the hit counter that I use to keep track of the number of visitors to the ELT Notebook is the possibility to see what people have typed into the various search engines to bring them to this site. One search yesterday was for Using balloons in ESL.

The searcher ended up on this site because in the post Warm-Up Your Classroom! I’d mentioned the idea of using balloons to create a more fun environment in the classroom. But it got me thinking – how else could balloons be used?

Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with. If you’ve got any more, leave a comment.
  • Use them to present emotions : Draw different faces on each balloon to introduce She’s happy, he’s angry etc.

  • Dialogue presentation : There are occasions when you haven’t got, or don’t want to use, a recording of a dialogue you want to use, but students can sometimes get lost and lose track of who’s speaking if the teacher just reads it out. Use a different colour balloon with a face drawn on it for each character. Introduce the characters before you start, and then hold up the relevant balloon as each character speaks.

  • For practising numbers and colours with children : Take a large number of different coloured balloons into the classroom and put them in the middle of the room. Divide the class into three teams. They have three minutes to make as many balloons stick on the wall as they can, by rubbing them on their hair or clothes to create static electricity. At the end of the three minutes get them to count their balloons – the team with the most wins. And then take it on to other questions – How many red balloons are there? How many yellow balloons are there? How many balloons are there all together?

  • A general knowledge quiz for teens or adults (1), possibly as receptive practice for subject-object oriented questions : Write a series of general knowledge questions on slips of paper, fold them up and tuck one inside each balloon before you blow it up. Put all the balloons at the front of the room, and divide the class into teams of three or four. One person from each team runs to the front grabs a balloon and takes it back to the team who then have to burst it in any way they like. The team then tries to answer the question, writing down either the answer or We give up on the back of the slip of paper. Another member of the team then takes the slip of paper to the teacher, and goes to get another balloon. When all the balloons have been used up, the teacher reads out the questions which each team got, the other teams suggest what their answers would have been, and then the teacher reads out the original team’s answer. If it’s correct, they get a point. The team which answered the most questions correctly wins. (2)

  • A present perfect/simple past practice game: Before the game starts everyone thinks of a few questions they want to ask the group, starting Has anyone ever …… (for example, Has anyone ever climbed a mountain? Has anyone ever seen a UFO? Has anyone ever ridden an elephant ?) The students stand in a circle and the first person hits a balloon into the air and asks their question. Anyone who wants to answer steps forward into the circle and catches the balloon as it comes down. While they answer, explaining when, where etc they did whatever it was, they must keep the balloon bouncing gently in the air. When they finish they ask their own question, an if someone steps forward to answer, sit down. If no-one wants to answer, they must ask another question. The game ends when everyone has asked and answered a question and is sitting down.

  • To practise a particular lexical field – for example, fruit and vegetables, animals, clothes etc. The students are in pairs, and each pair has an inflated balloon and a marker. They write one word connected with the field on the balloon, and then at a signal from the teacher, everyone sends their balloons into the air and catches a new one as they come down. They write a new word and the balloons go up again. Each time they get a new balloon they must, of course, write a word which is different from those already written there. The game goes on till there are nine or ten words written on the balloon, at which point the teacher gives each pair a second, plain balloon. They then have to draw on the new balloon all the items that were written on the old one, and the picture balloons are then sent into the air and redistributed. At that point there are two possibilities : each pair looks at the pictures and writes a list of all the objects it shows. The first pair to take a correct list to the teacher wins. And/Or : the pairs then have to go and find the balloon with words written on it which matches the balloon they now have with pictures. (3)
OK, balloons aren’t strictly necessary for all of these games – you could do them just using pen and paper. But if you want to get your students moving around a bit, to add a kinaesthetic element to the lesson, then balloons can be a useful aid.

1. Games involving bursting balloons are not recommended for children’s classes.

2. An article describing another game along similar lines can be found on
One Stop English
3. Another balloon game practising lexical fields can be found on Genki English

No comments: