Balloon Modelling Starter for A-level Sociology

Here’s a starter I use for my ‘sociology before Christmas break’ lesson. The aim of the starter activity is for each student to be able to make their own sausage dog or giraffe balloon animal – they’re essentially both the same, one just has a long neck, the other a long body!

You’ll probably want to make a few of these yourself before hand, to get familiar with the process!

Resources required

  • Enough animal modelling balloons, one for each student, plus a few more in case any get popped.
  • At least one manual balloon pump – these balloons are tough to blow up with your mouth!
  • An instruction video on how to make a balloon animal.

Activity instructions

If you’re short on time, then inflate the balloons yourself first of all. If you don’t have time, you’ll have to get students to inflate them, in which case it might be an idea to invest in two balloon pumps.

NB they can be quite difficult to tie.

You need to make sure you leave around two-three inches of un-inflated space at the end!

Once students have their balloons, you can play the video, or model the process yourself, pausing as necessary.

This video works nicely…

End result

Students should have their own balloon animal to take away for Xmas.

Extension work

There’s lots of more complex stuff students can make with balloons, I’m sure they’re capable of finding their way to instructional web sites and videos out there!

Relevance to A-level sociology

I’ve got half an idea that you could make this relevant to experiments somehow – what is the effect of doing this task on concentration? Or something like that? Why do some people choose Giraffes, and others choose sausage dogs?

You could get the students to analyse the sociological significance of balloon giraffes according to different sociologists/ perspectives – what would Foucault make of them, for example? (D’you know, I’ve no idea!)

Or maybe ask the students if they can think of any concepts the process of making a balloon giraffe – anomie maybe?

But TBH, it’s just a bit of fun before Xmas, and once you’ve done the balloon animal things, you can get on with your end of term socrative quiz or Xmas songs.

I’m something of a traditionalist, I believe the lesson before Xmas should consist of nothing constructive, for once!

A-Level Sociology Official Statistics Starter (Answers)

One of the supposed advantages of official statistics is that they are quick and easy to use to find out basic information.

To test this out, I use the following as a starter for my ‘official statistics’ lesson with my A-level sociology students:

I print the above off as a one paged hand-out and give students 10 minutes to find out the approximate answers to each of the questions.

If some students manage to find all of them in less than 10 minutes, they can reflect on the final question about validity. I wouldn’t expect all students to get to this, but all of them can benefit from it during class discussion after the task.

Official statistics stater: answers

Below are the answers to the questions (put here because of the need to keep updating them!)

How many people are there in the UK?

66, 800 000 estimated in 2020

Source: Office for National Statistics Population Estimates.


How many households are there in the UK?

27.8 million in 2019

Source: ONS Families and Households in the UK 2019.


How many marriages were there last year in the UK?


240 000 in 2017, latest figures available

Source: ONS Marriages in England and Wales

How many cases of Domestic Violence were there in England and Wales last year?

In the year ending March 2019, an estimated 2.4 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year (1.6 million women and 786,000 men).

Source: Domestic Abuse in England and Wales, November 2019.


What proportion of GCSE grades achieved 4 or above in 2020, how does this compare to 2019?

79% of GCSE entries in 2020 received 4 or above, up from 70% in 2019.

Source: The Guardian.

How many students sat an A level in Sociology last year?

38, 015 students sat an exam in A-level sociology in 2019.

Source: Joint Council for Qualifications (curse them for PDFing their data and making it less accessible for broader analysis).

Do any of the above sources lack validity?

It’s hard to make an arguement that the last two have poor validity – however, you can argue that these are invalid measurements of students’ ability, because of variations in difficulty of the exams and a range of other factors.

With the DV stats, there are several reasons why these cases may go under reported such as fear and shame on the part of the victims.

Marriages, there may be a few unrecorded forced marriages in the UK.

In terms of households, the validity is pretty high, as you just count the number of houses and flats, however, definitions of what counts as a household could lead to varying interepretations of the numbers.

The population stats are an interesting one – we have records of births, deaths and migration, but illegal immigration, well be it’s nature it’s difficult to measure!

The point of this starter and what comes next…

It’s kinaesthetic demonstration of the practical advantages of official statistics, and gives students a chance to think about validity for themselves.

Following the starter, we crack on with official statisics proper – considering in more depth the strengths and limitations of different types of official statistics, drawn from other parts of the A-level sociology specification.

A-level teaching resources

If you’re interested in receiving a paper copy of this, along with a shed load of other fully modifiable teaching resources, why not subscribe to my A-level sociology teaching resources, a bargain at only £9.99 month.

Unlike Pearsons or Tutor to You (however you spell it), I’m independent, all subscription money comes straight to me, rather than the resource designers getting a pittance and 90% of the money going to the corporates at the top, like with those companies.

Two-stage balloon rocket as an introduction to ‘experiments’ in sociology

The two-stage balloon rocket experiment is a useful ‘alternative’ starter to introduce the topic of experiments – a topic which can be both a little dry, and which some students will find challenging, what with all the heavy concepts!

Using the experiment outlined below can help by introducing students to the concepts of ‘dependent and independent variables’, ’cause and effect’, ‘controlled condition’s, ‘making predictions’ and a whole load of other concepts associated with the experimental method.

The experiment, including the materials you’ll need, and some discussion questions, is outlined here – you’ll need to sign up, but it’s easy enough to do, you can use your Google account.

Keep in mind that this link takes you to a full-on science lesson where it’s used to teach younger students about physics concepts – but modified and used as a starter it’s a useful intro a sociology lesson!

Also, students love to revert back to their childhood, and you can call this an activity which benefits the lads and the kin-aesthetic learners, Lord knows there’s precious little enough for them in the rest of the A-level specification, so you may as well get this in while you can!

The two-stage balloon rocket experiment

(Modified version for an intro to experiments in A-level sociology!)

  1. Set up the two-stage balloon rocket experiment in advance of the students coming into the classroom. Set it up with only a little amount of air, so it deliberately is a bit naff on its first run.
  2. Get students to discuss what they think is going to happen when you release the balloon along the wire.
  3. Release the balloon.
  4. Discuss why it didn’t work too well.
  5. Get students involved with redesigning the experiment
  6. Do round two.
  7. Use the examples of ‘balloon speed’ as ‘dependent’ and ‘amount of air/ fuel’ as independent variables’ when introducing these often difficult to understand concepts in the next stage (excuse the pun) of the lesson.

Questions you might get the students to consider:

  • What variables did we find had the biggest impact on how far the rocket traveled?
  • Did any variables have a very small impact or no impact at all?
  • If we had more time or other materials available, what changes would you make to make the rocket travel even farther?

Don’t forget to save the animal modelling balloons you would have bought for this and use them for the ‘Balloon Animals Starter’ in the next lesson on field experiments.

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Starters for A-level Sociology

A few of my favourite starters for A-level Sociology Lessons:

Draw Society

While the drawing task may seem a little juvenile, it is typically quite revealing – you usually get a mixture of pictures which show harmony and conflict/ division and some which are ‘whole society’, while others more individualised, but most of them tend to illustrate on the various different perspectives.

This is my very first task in the introduction to sociology unit.

After basic housekeeping, handing out the introductory hand-outs, and a quick discussion about ‘what does the word sociology mean to you?’ I then ask students to ‘draw society’.

I issue students with mini Whiteboards (but paper and pens would work) and simply give them the following instruction (which is on a PPT, and written in the main hand-out)

It takes 5-10 minutes, no more than 10. I then invite students to show and explain their pictures – and then do a quick PPT on perspectives in sociology, using the pictures to illustrate the Perspectives.

NB the reason for quickly introducing the perspectives in Lesson one is to remind students this is a difficult subject, not just about discussing social issues, which is an all too common misconception.

Find someone who Bingo

This icebreaker works a treat: it consists of 20 ‘activities’, 5 of which hardly anyone is going to admit to because they are ‘too deviant’ and people have been socialised into NOT doing them.

The instruction box below is embedded into my main intro hand-out, and on the PPT I use for the lesson:

Intro task – Find someone who bingo   Using the sheets provided, stand up, circulate, and try to match at least one name to each of the actions on your bingo sheet. First one to complete three lines of completely different names (no repeats) and shout bingo wins a chocolate bar, if they can identify the people whose names they’ve put down.   NB – Yes, it’s an icebreaker, but also relevant to the content of today’s lesson!

This activity is also handy to get students talking to one another for the first time – I let it run until the point where you get a large group of students giggling which each other while at the same time a couple of them are starting to look a bit lost, then it’s time to bring it back together – lasts about 5-10 minutes!

Follow up

Ask students if they’ve got any gaps, and if so why…. This introduces the concept of deviance.

When do you want to get married? Marriage and Divorce starter

Students answer the questions below on Socrative. Link to the quiz here.

Intro task – answer the following questions

•           Do you want to get married?

•           If you want to get married, then why, if not, then why not?

•           At what age do you expect to get married?

•           Note down 3-5 words you associated with marriage.

Follow Up

Use Socrative to show the class trends, you can compare these to some of the historical trends as they come up in the lesson.

You can ask students how common they think the answers to the qualitative questions are or ask for volunteers to explain their answers. If no one volunteers, ask ‘why might someone has said this’, just be careful to remind students to be sensitive!

Match the crime to the trend

Hand out the ‘intro to crime trends’ supplementary sheet, this only shows the trends, project up the PPT slide which shows the trends and the ‘crime’s they need to match.

  • Students then match the crime to the trend
  • Show students the answers – on the PPT, see bundle below.
  • Get students to rank the crimes in order of how valid they think the statistics are.

Follow Up

You might want to point out that more serious crime is very low, but some of the ‘softer’ crimes have much higher rates.

You should point out that ‘crime stats are socially constructed’ and that there are several reasons why some of these crimes might go unreported.

20 Starters for A-level Sociology

All of the above resources are available in my latest teaching bundle which contains 20 starter activities for A-level sociology lessons. There are five starter activities for ‘introducing sociology’, three for education, two for methods, five for families and five for crime and deviance.

The activities are quite varied, and include a mixture of the following:

  • Drawing concepts
  • A Walk-about and finding out from other students’ activity
  • Brainstorming reasons why/ differences between.
  • A Making the links dice game
  • ‘What do you think’ personal Socrative intro questions.
  • One musical intro
  • Key terms recaps
  • Applying perspectives starters.
  • Classic data response
  • Classic ‘quick recap tests’

I’ve used all of these activities in my own teaching, they are tried and tested and work well with classes of 10-20 or more students.

Over page is an index of all the activities and (in brackets) when in the specification you can employ them.

Most of these activities are paper based, and where this is the case, I’ve included a copy of the ‘worksheet’ here, as well as individual files in a separate folder, clearly labelled.

Some of the activities require a PPT so I’ve included the relevant slides on a separate PPT.

A-Level Sociology Teaching Resources

NB – you get All of these starters and more as part of my A-level sociology teaching resources, available as a monthly subscription, for only £9.99 a month! The subscription includes lesson plans and modifiable student hand-outs and PPTs. Activities such as these starters are embedded into the student learning materials.

I hope you find these resources useful, and happy teaching,

Karl, September 2020.