Lindsay Clandfield explores the outer reaches of the universe.

In 2008 it was NASA's fiftieth birthday, which means there have been more space stories than usual in the news recently. The latest is that NASA says the survival of humankind will depend on space exploration. (They would say that though, wouldn’t they?). We’ve done so much damage to this planet, it’s time to move on and find another one.

The whole area of space exploration is a great starting point for activities to get younger learners talking. First is a variation on the 'desert island' activity. Students imagine that they are going to live on a space station for three months. They can each take four things with them from home, apart from clothes. What will they take? Once students have made their lists, put them in pairs and tell them they are going to the space station together, but they have to reduce their eight items to five. Can they agree what they will give up?

There is always the classic speaking activity, 'saving-humanity-by-sending-people-to-start-over-on-a-new-planet' situation. Prepare a list of twelve people, each with different jobs and interesting, potentially controversial, characteristics. For example: a police officer with a gun, a doctor with a drinking problem, a soldier with excellent survival skills but a bad temper, a sixty-five year-old science teacher, a pregnant shop assistant...

Following an environmental disaster, these people have arrived at NASA and will be sent into space to inhabit a new planet. The problem is that the spaceship only has room for nine people and the pilot. The students have to decide which people go and which people stay. Push them to produce more by asking them to give reasons, and then counter reasons (e.g. "Are you sure you want the doctor? What if he/she starts drinking again?").

There are lots of other space lessons you can do too. Create a quiz on the solar system. Ask students to make a list of their own top five science fiction films. Bring in a text on the first moon landing, or the first space tourist. Hold a design competition for a a new space suit and ask students to present their ideas. The sky’s the limit.