Real opportunities to use English for children and teachers

This week we have a very interesting post from Ashraf Kuheil, a very dedicated English teacher in a Ministry of Education school in Gaza city.

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Twelve years experience of teaching “English for Palestine” for young pupils didn’t provide me with the joy I’m having now with HUP sessions. In fact, Palestinian teachers face a serious problem that threatens their English language competence when teaching young kids, namely their general lack of opportunities to use English communicatively and in extended conversations. The effect of this is that teachers’ speaking abilities actually gradually get worse.

I myself have started to feel that I was losing my ability to communicate fluently since my job as an English teacher became a transmitter of information, rather than a user of the language. During the whole time I’ve been teaching I’ve never gotten into real conversations with my students because I assumed that these students were too young to get involved in such an experience.

Year after year I started to get bored of being a traditional teacher, and I tried to find some modern methods or techniques to help me get out of the bottleneck. My dear sister Ghada who is also an English teacher in Gaza (at an UNRWA school) told me about her experience with a project called “Hands Up Project”. She also told me that the project is holding a competition for playwriting. I really was amused by the idea and directly tried to get engaged in storytelling sessions. However, the same fears have gripped my mind and I started to ask myself “Will my pupils be able to talk to a foreign guy?!  “Is everything going to be ok or is it going to be a waste of time?”

The first session was held with 4th grade students and the person leading the session was Nick Bilbrough. When the Zoom session started and Nick said “Hello” I was astonished by the reaction and the amount of huge motivation that appeared in the kids eyes! A big smile was drawn on their tiny faces!

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Nick told them a story then started asking questions and talking with the students. At that moment I discovered that I was wrong! Most of the student raised their hands and were competing about who would answer and put themselves forward first. At the end the pupils were wondering if it was going to happen again! They were highly motivated and really wanted to do it more and more.

The many different activities and skills that HUP sessions provide, brings benefits not only to the kids but also to their teachers. Giving children such non-traditional experiences raises their motivation and helps them to break the ice and use the language with no fears. This leads their teachers to have more confidence in their students abilities and to use more advanced methods with them. Ultimately this means that teachers start talking with them in simple as well as extended dialogues.

These days, after two years’ involvement in HUP sessions, I noticed that such extra-curricular activities seemed to be more preferable and enjoyable than any other activities. After each session I ask my pupils about their impression about the story, and always receive positive responses and a repeated question: ” What’s next?”.

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HUP storytellers provide every single pupil an opportunity to be part of the session through the use of different post-story activities which include games, rhymes, group competitions…etc. But in this year sessions a clever strategy was applied by Filip Racocevik, in which pupils participate in the story as it progresses. Such interactive technique helped me to discover talented student who kept silent previously because they felt shy or had fears of making mistakes while talking. Yazan Sha’att, for instance kept silent for more than five sessions.  But when being encouraged to get to the middle of the story through Filip’s interactive strategy, I noticed that the boy can speak English really fluently! And when I asked him about the reason that prevented him from speaking he told me that he was scared of doing that because he have never done it before. He told me that he spent much of his time listening to vlogs and videos on youtube and he learnt lots of words and expressions from them. But he never had a chance to use or even try his language knowledge in a real context until he got involved in HUP sessions.

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This example proves that most of the students have an adequate amount of language which can be used in extended conversations if it’s correctly dealt with, and if they are given the opportunities to bring this language out.

Long life to all volunteers in HUP and may God reward you all!


9 thoughts on “Real opportunities to use English for children and teachers

  1. Real language communication means real change in the level of language for our students. practice and practice leads to perfection and excellent acquisition of English.
    To tell you about my experience in this online meetings with native speakers which began about five years ago, I noticed real change in my students’ pronunciation and confidence in using English. I also noticed that when they finished Tawjihi (which is their final year at school), I found out that most of the students got higher grades in English (95% , 96% ..) I also observed that they didn’t struggle while doing the exercises in their English material at school. It was easy to let them comprehend and apply any new language.

    All Thanks to Nick and our colleagues who volunteer to do these online meetings. I would like to Thanks Kirsty and Michael who have been working with me since that start of this semester 2018-2019.

    Atiyyeh Hussein Ismael
    Teacher at the ministry of education, Palestine

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    1. so glad to know that there are more and more participants from Ministry of education schools. Wish to see HUP all over our schools 🙂
      Are from Gaza Mr. Atiyyeh?

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    2. Thanks for your comment Atiyyeh. It’s very reassuring to know that you feel these sessions are helping students not just in terms of their communicative abilities but also with their English exams.

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  2. This really is a very rich experience for teachers and students as well . HUP has created a genuine change in Gaza’s schools especially the annual competition. Fourteen teachers at least from the Middle Educational Area participated with really good works .I watched all these works and I was astonished by the hidden abilities of students . I really want to say thank you to Nick and the HUP for their efforts .

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    1. Thanks very much Mohammad. Something I think that we sometimes overlook is how useful doing these sessions is for teachers as well as students. Ashraf makes this point very clearly above and I guess that there are many contexts in the world where teachers (let alone students!) don’t get enough opportunities to use language communicatively.

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  3. This is a great post Ashraf! I think there are two really important points coming out of it. Firstly that there are many teachers in Palestine, but also in many other contexts around the world, who could benefit from doing HUP sessions because of the opportunities that it provides them to develop their own communicative language use. Alex Guzik in Russia and Sahar Sahar from Gaza will be touching on this issue in their joint presentation at the IATEFL conference and also at the HUP conference straight afterwards.
    Secondly, that students sometimes have more language inside them than we expect, and doing HUP sessions is a great way for that language to come out and be activated.

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  4. yes indeed Nick, it’s all about fears of making mistakes or using language incorrectly. but the rich experience that Hup sessions offers to both, teachers and students, helps them to break the ice and become more fluent

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