New intercultural link up with UK secondary school

At the Hands up Project, we love doing intercultural link ups between young people in different places in the world. You can read in a book about what it’s like to live in a particular place but it all becomes so much more engaging, and the learning is much richer when you actually hear about it from young people of your age who live there themselves.

We did our first one more than four years ago between pupils at Kevics secondary school in Totnes, UK, and students at New Khan Younis Prep girls UNRWA school in Gaza. It was organised by long-standing HUP volunteer in Gaza, Amal Mukhairez. I dare you to watch the video below without being moved to tears.

So I was especially excited when a few days ago I had a really nice phone call with Ruth Sheard-Pearson, the assistant head teacher of Hazel Wood High School in Bury in the North of England. Ruth has an inspiring plan for an intercultural link up between young people in schools in Palestine and all of their classes in Grades 7, 8 and 9. We would love to be involved of course!

Pupils are being asked to prepare a piece of creative work to be performed or presented to our students in Palestine in a live link up. So we’re looking for classes of students of a similar age (11-15) who they can link to and who can present something back to them. We’ll make sure that there is plenty of time for students to share questions and experiences too.

Here are Ruth’s ideas for what the students’ presentations could involve:-

The link up will last for an hour and it will take place at some point in the UK school day (11-5 Palestine time ) in the week beginning Monday 29th March (Monday to Thursday). If you’re a teacher and you’d like your 11-15 year old students to be involved, please send us an email to telling us the grade and the number of students who’d like to take part, as well as an idea of what you’d like to do. It could be some of Ruth’s ideas above, or it could involve a performance of a remote play, or something else. We’ll need up to 5 classes for each of the three grades, so there are plenty of opportunities for lots of Palestinian students to be involved but please get in touch as soon as possible to reserve your place and so that the students have sufficient time to prepare.

A Sea of Solidarity

Organizing for change! Volunteer Sue Piper tells us about an evening of togetherness across the internet.

It was a dark and snowy night. The wind was howling through the town and snow blanketed the ground in deepest, darkest Manchester, England. Huddled inside their homes protected from the storm, a host of sisters and brothers gathered around their devices waiting for the call…..

The hands of the clock ticked slowly towards the half hour. “Welcome to the meeting! Norma (chair of Manchester PSC) exclaimed. “A special treat awaits you this evening. We are so honoured to be hosting the Hands Up Project!” 

We were separated physically but the wonders of technology have united us.

Nick introduced the origins of the project and then we were transported to a different world…Three plays, two of which were live and direct from Palestine. 

First a video of a play entitled ‘An Exile inside a Home Country’. This was a moving and powerful story of  a young boy who visits his father in prison. Then secondly came a live performance of  ‘I Couldn’t  say Goodbye’, a dramatic and emotional account of a mother speaking to her dead son. 

The heartrending “Oh My Home”

Thirdly came the  live performance of  ‘Oh My Home’ -the tragic story of a family seeking refuge who had to flee on a boat and were lost at sea had audience members glued to their seats.

Comments of support and appreciation flowed into the chat box.

“Thank you Hands Up Project for this incredible evening!”

“What a a fantastic group of young girls- this will surely be the generation that will overcome..”

“The teachers should be so proud of their students confidence and ability to perform such plays in their second language”

“Wow! These plays are so powerful- what an amazing evening you have given us”

“Absolutely wonderful, keep going, you are not forgotten!”

Afterwards, the authentic voices of the teachers- Amal Mukherez and Haneen Khaled left us feeling impassioned and gave us a wonderful insight into the whole process of playwriting. 

The finale was a cacophony of applause from unmuted audience members. Claps, cheers and thankyous were bountiful and clear.

What a spectacular evening of drama , performance and discussion!

International solidarity is about many things: practical actions, political actions, protest, support and raising awareness. Sometimes it’s about just standing together. But mostly for me it’s about friendship. As the Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano said, “ Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person and we have a lot to learn from other people”

We all second that!

Celebrate your toothbrush!

‘Hey everybody! I’ve got this really useful tool! It’s made of purple and clear plastic, and it’s got bristles on the end (that’s the bit that you put in your mouth). I use it for brushing my teeth every day. It’s called a toothbrush!’

If I really said that to you, you’d probably think I was mad (perhaps you do anyway 🙂 ) but maybe we should celebrate our toothbrushes sometimes? Wherever we are in the world, we all know that a toothbrush does do a really important job. It’s something that we use every day of our lives and if we didn’t we’d inevitably suffer from bad breath and tooth decay, and experience a lower quality of life. It’s something so simple that we take for granted, but it can really contribute to our feelings of well-being and dignity.

This point is expressed beautifully and poetically in the play ‘Toothbrush’ originally performed by children from Khalil Oweida Prep. Girls School, Gaza. It takes place during the 2014 bombing of Gaza and a girl suddenly discovers that she doesn’t have a toothbrush with her and needs to go and buy one. She’s living under extraordinarily challenging circumstances, that no child anywhere should have to experience but, despite this, she just wants to feel like an ordinary child. She wants to be able to brush her teeth.

I wanted to make the point about toothbrushes too in our event last Friday in relation to drama and language learning. I’ve said this before, but I’ll keep banging on about it; drama isn’t just for the high achievers and extroverts, and those who already have an excellent level of English. It’s a seriously fun way to activate deeper long-term learning. Whilst our toothbrushes are a tool to look after our everyday dental health and hygiene, drama is a tool to look after our everyday mental health and hygiene.   

So as well as presenting the deserved winners of our Lockdown theatre competition with their Golden Toothbrushes, we also heard about how drama is being used in this way in classrooms in Gaza.

Sahar Salha, and her ex-student Ruquaya, talked about how they used a real event and cause for concern that was happening in their school -a girl suffering from cancer and needing to travel to Bethlehem for treatment – as a stimulus to create a play called ‘The fighter’. This served not only as a very personalised text in which their own English language development could be situated, but also as an awareness raising mechanism around the world about young people in Gaza who need urgent medical treatment and the difficulties they face in receiving it because of the blockade. It was a real tribute to Sahar and her students when we heard that some adult learners of English in Peru had acted and film their own interpretation of this play, and this version was shown on the night. Sahar and her students are currently rehearsing an Arabic version of ‘The fighter’ which they will perform remotely to children in hospitals in the West Bank on cancer awareness day.

Later in the event Jane Willis, Saida al Madhoon (a teacher at Asma Prep Girls UNRWA school A) and her ex-student Joudie discussed how drama might fit into a task-based learning methodology. They paid particular reference to Saida’s ingenious approach to scripting plays which involves all the students in the school. One play which was created in this way, again with a very worldwide universal theme,  was ‘Teddy and his teacher, Miss Thompson’. In fact two new versions of this play were submitted for the Lockdown theatre competition this year – one involving students from Argentina and Gaza working together, and the other which came third in the competition.

Finally, Adrian Underhill and Rida Thabet presented some wonderful strategies for processing, rehearsing, and eventually memorising the lines of a play so that learners can be helped to articulate them naturally, fluently, and from the heart. They demonstrated this with an extract from a play called ‘Live your life’. There have been so many different versions of this play performed by learners of English around the world, including one made by Japanese and Korean adult learners of English at Exeter University, and a live lockdown version made by young people in Argentina, Palestine, Romania and Spain (2nd place in the competition this year). Like all the plays shown in the event, I think it was chosen to be performed by so many different people because everyone can connect to it and because it’s so universal – just like a toothbrush!

You can watch the full recording of the event here.

Telling Tales Together – Storytelling with Little Un’s

A blog from Hands Up Project volunteer and storyteller, Cassandra Wye, full of brilliant ideas for storytelling with young learners. Thanks, Cassandra!

Why Tell Stories?

Stories introduce young audiences to the sounds of the English language. 

They may not fully understand the story but they can enjoy the experience of hearing a language spoken.

How can we make the sound of English exciting?

We can use our voices to help the teaching and learning of “phonics” – the sounds of English language

You can:

  • Elongate the sound of a word. 
  • Enunciate every syllable
  • Exaggerate the sounds in every word. 

Try making the sound of rain – plip, plop. 

How can you exaggerate that sound? 

So that the children can hear both the “pl” and the “op”?

We can use sound effects – to help the children understand a new word.

For example “Splish splash” – to emphasise the sound of the verb “swim”

We can use rhythm. Make patterns of sounds and words that are repeated over and over  so the children can recognise and join in with them.

We can use the MINIMUM of words to MAXIMUM effect.

Make a story short and simple. 

Then, it is easy to say and easy to remember – for both you and your children

But – we don’t have to use words at all

Storytelling communicates meaning with the minimum of shared language knowledge. I can work with audiences of 1000’s – 90% of whom do not speak English

How can I communicate a story without words?

Body language! 

We can use the whole of our body to communicate meaning. 

This is essential for young or new learners. 

If you show them the meaning of a word – it is much easier for them to understand.

  • SHOW how to swim with your arms
  • SHOW how to jump with your hands
  • SHOW how the rain falls with your finger-tips. 

Find a movement that shows the meaning of every word. 

  • Repeat the movement every time you say that word. 
  • Better still, as the children get more confident, ask them to suggest a movement.
  • Research has shown that combining a movement with a sound or word, improves a child’s ability to remember.
  • Asking them to suggest a movement for a new word – passes the ownership of the story onto them, putting them in control of the development of the tale

Working across modes of communicate reinforces learning

  • Small children learn through their bodies – so harness the power of movement to help develop their vocal and verbal skills. 
  • This is especially important for children with delayed language development

Repetition, repetition, repetition 

  • I use a LOT of repetition – of sounds, words and movement. 
  • This gives young children the cues they need to recognise a new word, understand its meaning and to join in. 
Another way that children can actively participate in a story

Active participation rather than passive listening

Encouraging children to join in – helps them to gain the confidence to speak aloud in English, WITHOUT pressure

  • First they follow you. 
  • Then they start to anticipate and say it before you do. 
  • Then they take over – and begin to tell the story without you. 

Grow Your Own Stories

You can guide children through the process of listening, joining in, taking over and creating their own version of a story heard- step by step over the course of your lessons  

It is a really effective way of helping children develop their story-making skills- without having to write.

There are so many ways very young children can be actively involved in language learning through storytelling.

  • Even beginners can come up with an idea for a new character, a new movement, a new sound effect.
  • Even a shy child can say or show “Yes” or “No”
  • Even a toddler can join in with the actions

    Why not give it a go – it is easier than you think!

Cassandra Wye is live on Facebook with Hands Up Project every Friday at 10am Palestine time . Come and join her demonstrating these techniques every week!

Hands Up Project Remote Theatre Debut in the USA

This week’s blog comes from volunteer Becca Young whose tireless efforts have led to our first contact in the U.S.A.

It’s understandable if you think that, for people in the USA, the inauguration of a president was the most spectacular event in the month of January 2021. But that means you must have missed out on a much more auspicious occasion: the North American debut of Lockdown Theatre by the Hands Up Project, via a live broadcast on Facebook with the Palestine Museum US, on Friday, January 24th.

The Palestine Museum is located in Woodbridge, Connecticut, and operates under the directorship of Faisal Saleh. According to its website, the purpose of the museum is “to celebrate Palestinian cultural and artistic achievements, [and] … to tell the Palestinian story to US and global audience through works of art, film, literature, and mixed media”. Therefore this new cooperation between the Hands Up Project and the Palestine Museum is a wonderful fit, and an excellent way to introduce Hands Up to a US audience. After an introduction by Nancy Nesvet of the Palestine Museum, Nick Bilbrough had a chance to tell the story of how Hands Up Remote Theatre came about, from a 2017 conversation of English teachers who decided to have a play competition in order to provide a forum for Palestinian children to tell their story to the world.

Then Nick shared the video of a play from the first year of the competitions, entitled, ‘I have a dream’. The play opens with a group of young people, who have lost their parents, speaking about their dreams: one girl wants to be a model and another wants to be the president so she can “make life worth living”. Of the three boys in the play, one wants to be a doctor, one an astronaut, and the third wants to be a professional musician. As each person tells his or her dream, the audience sees that person living out their dream. Next, an actor named Deema recites the words to the Abba song, ‘I believe in angels’. The video concludes quite movingly with the students’ teacher Esraa writing them a note, “Pain is temporary, but glory is eternal.” After the video ended, Nick shared the happy news that Deema was able to live out her dream when she was able to study in the US for a year as an exchange student. He added how the young people of Palestine often speak about their dreams, not only as just seen so vividly in this particular play, but in many of the plays done for the Hands Up Project. 

Faisal Saleh & Nancy Nesvet welcome The Hands Up Project for a very special collaboration

Nick explained that, for the second year of competitions, the organizers decided to ask students to record their plays in a single take rather than being able to edit them. In that way, the actors would be challenged to learn all their lines, as would happen for a live performance. It also adds a stronger participatory dimension to the plays, because even with only a cellphone, people can record a play. Then, in the third year, the world went into lockdown, including in Gaza, but Nick explained that, “The people of Palestine didn’t give up. They developed a new genre of remote performances called Lockdown Theatre.” 

As examples of each of these major developments, Nick shared two more recorded plays. First, he showed a play performed in a single take, called, ‘I can’. It portrays a boy who can see his dreams and tries to show them to his friends, who look down on him (literally and figuratively), telling him the many reasons his dreams can’t come true and placing barriers in front of him. The final barrier has the all-too-familiar red circle with a white center stripe indicating, ‘no entry’ or ‘wrong way’. The play ends with the boy breaking through the barriers, arms held high, and the words, “I am a human” written across his arms as he comes towards the camera, shouting “Yes, yes,” as dramatic music plays in the background.

The next play was recorded from a live performance in a Zoom session. The name of the play was, ‘An exile inside the homeland’. The play begins powerfully with only two hands appearing in an otherwise black background. One of the actors moves into view in the Zoom window. The actors are two girls, playing the role of a father and son who have been separated from each other. The son speaks of the pain at not having his father to share his achievements in life. The father speaks of the pain of the bitter reality of exile inside his own homeland, because he is in prison. The play ends with their hands reaching out for each other, a reminder of how, when visited in prison, families aren’t allowed to touch their loved one, but can only touch the two sides of the glass barrier between them. In the current lockdown, similarly, many can only reach out to their loved one through the barrier of the glass Zoom screen, so it resonates strongly with the audience as well.

“I couldn’t say goodbye”
A play written & performed by Eman and Marwa with support from their teacher Amal Mukhairez

After these remarkable videos, Nick introduced two plays performed live by the actors during the event. The first play was from the 2020 competition and was called, ‘I couldn’t say goodbye’. It tells the story of a mother grieving for her son who has died. At the end, the son comes to her as if in a vision and reassures her that he is now safe and at peace, bringing her great comfort and setting her free, just as her son has also been set free.  The second play, ‘Oh my home’, makes innovative use of the green screen in order to have a girl play the role of the sea. As the sea, she speaks of its pain as the place where people lose their lives as they try to escape the occupation by boat. The play ends with a plea for people not to risk escape by the sea but to remain in Palestine, despite the dangers and suffering, because it is their home, without which, we are told, their hearts will not beat.

Asked about the significance of performing live plays via the internet, Nick pointed out that although it is nerve-wracking and stressful, there is an important connection with the audience. At any moment, something could go wrong. That makes it beautiful because, while something could go wrong, something could also go wonderfully right, as seen in these incredible performances. 

The two actors Nour and Haya from “Oh my home’ spoke movingly about their feelings when performing the plays. Nour said they are able to clearly and effectively share their message to the world because they do so honestly. Being able to participate in the plays, she added, makes her very proud, because she can share an important international issue that everyone should be aware of. Haya continued that thought by saying, “Being able to give our message to the whole world is the greatest achievement of my life”. 

The teacher Shoroq, discussing her students’ play, ‘Exile in my homeland’, said that in order to convey the reality of the situation in Palestine, they must express the deep feelings of their hearts, and she believes her students are able to do so with remarkable poise and style. She thanked Nick and the Hands Up Project for connecting her with Gaza, a chance she had never had before and that has moved her deeply. Another teacher, Imad, whose students performed the play ‘I can’, said that the Hands Up Project is a unique outlet for the children of Palestine. Through it, he has discovered remarkable talent among his students. He also said that doing the plays has provided a bridge for him both emotionally and physically to the outside world. 

Teacher Shoroq Daraghmeh discussing “Exile in my Homeland”

Nick pointed out that the students and teachers from the winning plays each are given the opportunity to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank. For Imad and his fellow Palestinians, it is like going to Paradise. “Offer me a trip to London or to Jerusalem, and I choose Jerusalem every time”, Imad said with conviction. Haya, the student, spoke of her joy at getting to visit the West Bank and of the friends she made there, with whom she continues to stay in contact. The teacher Amal, whose students’ performances have won in two of the past three years of the competition, said that the plays are her students’ only connection to the world outside Gaza, and also serve as a peaceful response to their difficult situations. They are acting, of course, but what they are communicating to the world is what is all too painfully real in their lives. 

Faisal Saleh of the Palestine Museum noted that the music at the conclusion of the plays was “Mawtini,” considered the informal or “second” national anthem of Palestine. The lyrics were composed by the Palestinian poet ʾIbrāhīm Ṭūqān.

The Hands Up Project is deeply grateful to the Palestine Museum US for its willingness to hold this joint event and allow the voices of the people of Palestine to reach a wider audience in the USA. It was the first event with the museum but we certainly hope it will not be the last.

Popcorn, Welcome To Earth, and Toothbrush, the three anthologies of plays from the competitions, are available online, both from the Palestine Museum, for those in the US, and directly from the Hands Up Project’s website.

To view the live event and witness these remarkable plays directly, they are available on the Palestine Museum’s Facebook page at the following site:

One word, one world…

Here’s another activity that will be going in ‘The Remote Theatre Handbook’ (again from the chapter on Physical Activities). We’d love to hear from you if you try it out with your own students. In the summer I ran a remote theatre taster course for English teachers from all over the world and the video below, demonstrating the activity, is from that course.

The basic procedure is that students work in groups and prepare a short piece of physical theatre around a single word (we used the words time, freedom, family, lockdown, covid, the future etc). They can say only that word during the performance but they can repeat it as many times as they like, and in as many different ways as they like.

This is a good activity for students to develop some basic remote theatre techniques like entering and leaving the stage, using their voices to convey emotion, and presenting themselves physically though a webcam. It’s also great (as you’ll see in the video) for starting a discussion about the themes presented.

The video’s quite long (almost 20 minutes) but I decided to include it all because it shows the stages we used to set it up and feed back on it (which you may want to replicate with your students) and because of the discussion it promoted – not only about remote theatre but about life in general.

This is what two of the participants (one in Venezuela and one in Italy) said at the end of the extract..

Jefferson: And I think something curious we are doing here is that we are from different countries around the world and it’s incredible how the body language is the same for all of us. We are universally connected.

Kate: Well that’s the beauty of theatre!

The many audiences of our Facebook live sessions..

I’m reposting Diana’s blog as I think it’s good to be reminded that, although we can’t see our audience’s faces or hear their voices, there’s a whole world out there sharing in what we do.

I work as an English teacher of young learners in Gaza and also a lecturer at university as well. I would like to share my  reflection about Hup sessions. I think they are important not only to students but also to many other groups of people as well:-

1 Newly appointed teachers:

Curriculum based sessions give them golden tips on how to teach each period effectively and interactively at the same time. They become more aware of the importance of each step. After following these sessions , they become more confident as they imitate lessons delivered by experts.


They can spot tips, activities, and suggestions and share them with teachers. Supervisors can give opportunities to motivated teachers to be co-teachers with specialists in curriculum based sessions. Furthermore, they can recommend following hands up curriculum- based sessions to their teachers as part of their  CPD ( continuous professional development)

3-Experienced teachers:

Hup provides them with a new variety of activities such as different warming up activities that are used in every session. In addition it gives them an opportunity to participate as co- teachers in curriculum –based sessions. They can also lead storytelling sessions as well.

4-Student in faculty of education who receive field training in teaching.

The Curriculum based sessions are free demonstrative lessons presented by experts. They are the practical version of the teachers guide book. These sessions assist those students to answer their questions about how to teach lessons effectively. Moreover, they increase their pedagogical dictionary by listening to educational tips. The most interesting thing here is that the teachers in curriculum based session don’t only focus on teaching but also they share with audience anticipated problems and how to overcome them.


Parents always want to know how the teachers teach. Similarly, teachers want the parents to understand how they teach. Parents can develop a deep knowledge of the content objectives because of the Curriculum- based sessions. They know how to help students to master key structures. How to consolidate the content in their minds. Parents’ pronunciation becomes much better as they listen to native speakers. Thus, there will be fewer students’ fossilized pronunciation errors because of their parents pronunciation.

5- Researchers: The hands up sessions spark new topics to be investigated  such as the power of storytelling, co –teaching, and many others educational and intercultural topics.


Storytelling sessions support students in linguistic and  cultural aspects:

First, the linguistic aspects:

1-Vocabulary: each session they learn new vocabs presented in various ways ( puppets, flashcards , context …ect.).

2- Pronunciation by listening to native and more advanced speakers.

3-Speaking -learning new chunks, collocations and phrasal verbs in an authentic context.

Secondly , the cultural aspect :

Students know more about other cultures because of  international storytellers from different background who tell stories from all over the world.

Researchers: they can find new topics to investigate and new topics such as The power of storytelling, co-teaching etc.

Finally, nothing more important than values and skills:

  1. Discussing the morals of the stories helps in creating good citizens.
  2.  Creative & critical thinking skills ( the story telling sessions are loaded with divergent questions that evoke thinking)

T/ Diana Abu Zayed /Gaza

United we stand, divided we fall

Here’s another activity from our forthcoming, Remote Theatre Handbook, this time from the chapter on physical activities. As always we’d love it if you could try out the activity with your students, and give us some feedback. We’d especially like to have some video versions of students doing some of the ‘body idiom’ mimes, and, with permission of course, may be able to include these in the book.

Chunky mimes

1) Tell the group that you’re going to do a mime of a chunk or a sentence which uses the particular area of language that you’d like to focus on (see examples in the boxes below). Mime the sentence to them and then ask them to write what they think it is in the chat. The first person to write an accurate sentence which reflects your mime is awarded a (virtual) prize. See some examples with students in this video.

2) Divide up the chosen examples so that each group has a few each. Ask them to prepare to mime them to each other in a way that will make it as easy as possible to guess them through the webcam. Once they’ve done that see if they can add their own examples which use the same pattern or area of language, and to mime these to each other too.

3) Each group present some of the mimes they’ve been working on (either as a group or individually) for their virtual partners to guess.

Past continuous and past simple

1) I was hanging up the washing and it started to pour with rain.

2) I was having a shower and the phone rang.

3) I was watching TV when we had a power cut.

4) I was washing up when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my back.

5) I was writing an email when my computer suddenly froze.

6) I was talking on the phone when it suddenly died.

7) I was eating some soup when I suddenly noticed that there was a cockroach in it.

8) I was digging the garden and I found a gold necklace.

9) I was playing tennis and the ball hit me in the face.

10) I was ironing my clothes when I suddenly got an electric shock.

Problems (using the present perfect)

Note: These sentences all use the present perfect to show the present impact of an event which has already happened. So the mimes should show this rather than the event itself (eg with the first one, students should mime their annoyance and trying to get the coffee stain out, rather than the actual act of spilling the coffee)

1) You’ve spilt coffee all over your favourite shirt.

2) Your phone has died.

3) You’ve lost your door key.

4) You’ve twisted your ankle.

5) You’ve forgotten what you came into the room for.

6) You’ve bitten your tongue.

7) You’ve eaten too much.

8) You’ve forgotten to bring an umbrella.

9) You’ve lost your voice.

10)Your car has broken down.

Body idioms

Note: Since these chunks don’t really follow a similar pattern to each other, they are much harder to guess. Therefore, the students may decide to say the answer after they’ve mimed it to avoid a frustrating wait. This isn’t a problem; the learning happens in the way that idiomatic language is represented physically.

1) I’ll give you a hand (I’ll help you)

2) I’m up to my ears in work (I’m very busy with work)

3) I’m up to my neck in it (I have a lot of problems right now)

4) That went over my head. (I didn’t understand it)

5) I’m going to give you a piece of my mind. (I’m going to tell you off)

6) We don’t see eye to eye (We don’t agree about things)

7) She looks down her nose at everyone (she thinks she is superior to everyone else)

8) Biting the hand that feeds you (treating a person badly when they treat you well)

9) A sight for sore eyes (a nice thing to see that cheers you up)

10) He gave her the cold shoulder (he ignored her)

General Notes

1) This activity works well as revision so it’s good if you choose an area of language that the students are already somehow familiar with. However, mime is an excellent way to clarify meaning, to activate what may have previously been passive knowledge, and to make language memorable, so they certainly don’t need to know the language area inside out beforehand.

2) Students don’t need to be experts at miming in order to take part and benefit from this activity. In fact, in terms of language development, there may actually be more language produced by the guessing students if the student doing the miming doesn’t do it very well.  

3)  We could, of course just ask the class to shout out their answers when they are guessing. This would be quicker but probably less rich in terms of learning. If students have to write, there is the chance for more people to be involved (both in guessing and in seeing what others guess) and they are also more likely to try to be accurate.

4) Exercises like this are a great way to develop students’ awareness about how they can present themselves physically through a webcam, which in turn is great preparation for working on a remote play.

If socks could talk

We’re all very excited at the Hands up Project about one of our new ventures. In collaboration with four language schools (in Croatia, Italy, Romania and Spain), we have been awarded an Erasmus plus KA2 grant from the European Union to create lots of free to access materials related to remote theatre. We’ll be building a huge searchable database of remote plays on different themes, and supporting teachers and students to write their own ones.

But first we’ll be writing ‘The Remote Theatre Handbook‘ which will be a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to use Remote Theatre techniques with their learners of English around the world. From now on I’ll be spending a few hours a day working on this, writing up activities that we’ve already developed, and tips that we’ve already learnt, about this exciting new way to learn a language.

I’ll also be regularly sharing some activities from the book here, and we’d love it if you tried them out with your own students and gave us some feedback in the comments below. Your students’ examples may even be included in the finished book like Antonio, Sara and Valeria’s will be for our first activity…..

If socks could talk

1) Show two inanimate objects through your webcam (ideally as close as possible and without showing your face) They could be anything really that you can find around you, such as two household objects, either from the same context (eg. a knife and a spoon) or different ones (eg, a pen and a sink plunger). Nick used an external webcam to show his two odd socks (see below)

2) Elicit some suggestions from the students as to what the two objects could be saying to each other if they could talk.

3) Put the students into pairs and ask them to write a short dialogue between the objects.

4) If there is time, have a look at their dialogues and correct/ reformulate what’s been written to make it more accurate or natural. Help the students with the pronunciation of the utterances. It may be more appropriate and save class time if you do the reformulation stage between sessions.

5) With their webcams turned off, invite some of the pairs to perform their dialogues as a voice over for the conversation. Where possible, move the objects in an appropriate way (like puppets) so that it fits with what is being said.

The following unedited ‘odd sock dialogue’ was written by Antonio Labate, Sara Caridi, and Valeria Amedeo, three young adult learners of English at IH British School Reggio Calabria. Thanks to their teacher Lucie Cotterill for supplying this.

(phone rings)

BS (Black socks): Hey Sokka! How are you doing?

Sokka (white socks): oh hi BS, I’m good. Why you called?

BS: Nothing, I just wanted to ask if you’d go out with me since I don’t work tonight.

Sokka (rolls eyes): Ew just me and you?

BS: You don’t have to be so mean.

Sokka: I don’t think that’s a good idea

BS: What’s the problem? It’s because I’m black?

Sokka: Well….. at least you are fun (?)

BS: Just a yes could have been enough

Sokka: Sorry last time you delivered pizza at my house you smelled terrible!

BS: Wow, sorry if I run to deliver your pizza as fast as possible.

Sokka: ….

BS: Bye Sokka, I thought there was something between us.

Sokka: Just stay a foot apart from me. Bye.

(Sokka ends call)


1)Invite students to show their own pair of objects to the webcam for the others to create dialogues for.

2) Instead of asking students to write a dialogue, they could be asked to spontaneously add a voiceover whilst the objects mime. This is obviously more challenging but, as we have seen before in this book, improvised conversations can sometimes be more engaging for the actors and the audience, and more fun to watch.

The 2020 Lockdown Theatre competition

I wrote this at the beginning of , ‘Popcorn and other plays’

‘”This book is dedicated to Sahar Salha and Saida Al Madhoon, UNRWA teachers in Gaza whose students remotely performed two traditional Palestinian stories (Jbene and The farmer who followed his dream) to a large audience of English teachers from around the world at the 2017 IATEFL conference in Glasgow. By doing this they launched the concept of remote theatre as a tool for learning and for raising awareness about the Palestinian cause

Of course young people and teachers in Palestine have been creating and performing remote theatre pieces for quite a long time now and have become leaders in this emerging field. And while the rest of the world have been trying to catch up because of the corona pandemic, Palestinians involved in HUP have been busy creating a brand new genre of remote theatre which we’re calling Lockdown Theatre.

Live Lockdown theatre performance of ‘I couldn’t say goodbye’

What is Lockdown theatre?

Quite simply it’s theatre performed remotely through Zoom and/or Facebook, but where there is only one actor per webcam. This a challenge of course, but, like all challenges, it can lead to new ways of being creative. Have a look at our new Youtube playlist with some examples of how people have risen to that challenge.

Live lockdown theatre performance of ‘The farmer who followed his dream’

The competition

First of all, it’s important to say that this isn’t a competition with a prize of travel, like our previous remote theatre competitions. We simply don’t know when that is going to be possible again in the current situation and don’t want to offer something we can’t deliver on. What the winner or winners will receive is an opportunity to perform their play at some important online events, such as the 2021 Hands up Project conference as well as trophies recognising their achievement.

Live lockdown theatre performance of ‘Oh my home’

There are some other big differences to the rules too ;-

  1. This competition is open to young learners of English as a second language aged 15 or under anywhere in the world – not just in Palestine. Since everyone will be connecting from their own homes, the performance could involve actors in different locations around the world.
  2. This isn’t about writing a play. It’s purely about putting together an interesting well-acted lockdown theatre performance. So we’re asking participants to work with a play that has already been written. In fact the play must be taken from our first book, ‘Toothbrush and other plays’ which is available to download here. The play can be adapted and edited slightly, but the starting point must be one of the 30 scripts included in this book.
  3. As before, there must be a maximum of 5 actors in the play and each young person can only participate in one play. Because we recognise that Lockdown theatre may take a little longer than Remote Theatre, we’re extending the time limit to 8 minutes.
  4. The turnaround period is much shorter. We need to receive an email at with a link to an unlisted Youtube recording of your lockdown performance by midnight Palestine time on Friday 8th January 2021. The recording needs to be done through Zoom and must be an absolute maximum of 8 minutes unedited recording (you can cut the beginning and/or the end off of course) The virtual background or any other effect available through Zoom is allowed. In the email you’ll need to include the name of the play from “Toothbrush and other plays”, the names, country of residence, and ages of all the participants, and attach a completed data protection form signed by a parent or guardian for each participant. These forms are available for download either in English or in Arabic at the bottom of this page.
  5. The judges will choose a certain number of the best of these Lockdown theatre performances (based on the criteria of creative expression, clarity of expression and acting ability ) which will go through to the final. The final will involve a live streamed version of the play which we will arrange in the new year.

Good luck to everybody, everywhere!

Live lockdown theatre performance of ‘An exile inside the home country’