A balloon debate is so called because the typical example is one where you have to decide who to throw out of a sinking balloon from a given list of equally worthy individuals. They are business games of the type you might get at an assessment centre (where they are designed to test your decision making and analytical skills as well as your ability to put forward a persuasive case). See here for more on balloon debates.
The example below is a variation on a balloon debate, and holds a wonderful solution.
1 Write these three lines on the board:
1. An elderly lady who looks ill.
2. A good friend who you haven’t seen for years and who once saved your life.
3. The perfect partner you have been dreaming about. You met once but you don’t know how to contact him/her again.
2 Present this scenario to the students:
You are driving down the road in your car on a wild, stormy night, when you pass by a bus stop and you see three people waiting for the bus. They are described on the board (see above). In your car there is space for only ONE passenger. Which one would you offer a ride to?
You could pick up the elderly lady, because she looks ill. Or you could take the friend because he once saved your life, and this would be the perfect chance to pay him back. However, you may never be able to find your perfect partner again.
3 Divide the students into small groups and ask them to discuss this dilemma (set a time limit). Tell them you want someone from each group to present their solution to the class at the end.
4 As a class, listen to the solutions from each group. Then, right at the end, give them this solution, and say that it shows a good example of ‘thinking outside the box’:
Give the car keys to your friend and let him take the lady to the hospital. You stay behind and wait for the bus with the partner of your dreams.
5 (optional extension) For homework, ask the students to type ‘Thinking Outside the Box Puzzle’ into a search engine, and come back to the next class and report on their favourite one. As an example, click here for a simple, funny site I found on this topic (bit native-speakery I know).
Alternatively, you could ask them for an example from their own lives where they ‘thought outside the box’.