A lesson plan for ‘Toothbrush and other plays’

This week we have a post from storyteller and Hands Up Project volunteer, Rebecca Lemaire with a great idea for working with ‘Toothbrush and other plays’ with learners of English anywhere in the world.

When I do storytelling or theatre activities, I like students to have the opportunity to express themselves freely without feeling that their responses will be judged as right or wrong. I also like the students to re-write or re-invent a story, changing some of the elements to make it more personal. This way, with the help of a ready-made framework (the original play), they end up with a story which they feel is truly their own.

Here’s an example of how to do that, using one of the plays in the wonderful book ‘Toothbrush and other plays’. This lesson plan can be adapted to some of the other plays too. Let us know if you try it out, and how it went.


Inner Thoughts.

The written version: https://handsup4.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/inner-thoughts.pdf

The video:


  1. Watch or read the play with the students. Don’t discuss the play and its message at this point, unless some of the students want to react and say something immediately.

Note: At this stage, I think reading it rather than watching it is quite interesting as the students don’t know exactly how the play is performed by the Palestinian students and this will encourage your students to perform it in their own way. They could then watch the Palestinian version after having performed their own.

  1. Put the students in pairs or small groups and tell them they are going to make a list of things people their age and in their culture might be envious about.

Note: tell them the list doesn’t necessarily have to be about things they are personally envious about (this will give them greater freedom to share without being put on the spot). Also talk about how it’s okay and normal to be envious sometimes. You want them to feel comfortable about sharing.

  1. Ask them how they feel when they have envious thoughts. Is it painful? Annoying? Does it make them lose friendships? Does it make them do silly things?, etc. Allow time for discussion and sharing.

Then ask the students where they feel envy in their body. In their tummy, heart, throat, elsewhere? Ask them if they can think of the cure to envious thoughts? Does the play show them the cure? Elicit ‘gratitude’.

  1. Ask the students to make a list of things they are grateful for in their lives.


5. Ask them how they feel when they are grateful. Where do they feel the energy of gratitude in their body? In their tummy, heart, throat? Is it possible to feel envious, angry or worried while feeling gratitude? Impossible! Gratitude is the cure to many ailments.

Note: as a follow-up the class could make a big nice poster for the classroom with things the students are grateful for. They can look at it when they are feeling down or upset.


  1. In groups of 3, 4 or 5, the students re-write the play replacing the Palestinian students’ objects of envy and gratitude with their own, using elements from their list. They then perform it.


Notes: 1. They can write the play and learn it off by heart before they perform it, which might take more time, or they can simply have the following template with their notes and improvise while performing.

  1. They can either act it out in front of a still camera as the Palestinian students did, or use more space as in more traditional theatre.
  2. If you want the speaking to be divided more equally, you could have student 1 be envious of student 2, student 2 or student 3, and so on until the loop is completed (student 4 is envious of student 1).
  3. If possible, perform it for the Palestinian students who wrote the original play, and watch the Palestinian students live. Your students then have a conversation with the Palestinian students.




To help the students prepare the play, here’s a template that can be useful when structuring the play. When they prepare the script/play they should complete student 1’s script first using elements from their list, then student 2’s script.


Student 1 -2


Student 1’s script                                                                  Student 2’s script

Student 1 – Object of envy number 1.


Ah, look at…

I wish I had …

If only I could be her/him.





Student 2 -What does student 2 not have that student 1 is grateful for? What is student 2’s problem?


Yes, I have…. but ….






Student 1 – Object of gratitude 1.


Yes, it is true, I have …


I am grateful for …






5 thoughts on “A lesson plan for ‘Toothbrush and other plays’

  1. Thanks for a really interesting and useful post Rebecca. I love the idea of getting students to perform their own versions of the plays without seeing the original first. As you say this means they need to process the text more deeply and make it their own. Another way in which this material has been used is sort of the opposite of this and was done by David Heathfield with his adult learners of English at Exeter University. David showed them one of the videos ( I think it was ‘My mother in law is a trouble maker’) with the sound turned down and he asked the students to make a play in groups based on what they thought the characters were saying to each other. Only after they’d done this and performed it did they see the original script.


  2. Thanks Nick. I only just saw your reply. I just did this lesson with my online group in Gaza. It went very well, I thought they were really engaged. The session was only 45 minutes so I tweaked the lesson plan in this way to make it shorter: I only showed the first two scenes of the video. I then got the students to write 3 ideas of things they might be envious about, we had a short discussion and then 3 ideas of things they are grateful for and we had a short discussion. They were then put into pairs and had five minutes to make notes for just one scene. In pairs, they then performed their one idea for me, using their notes and improvising . I finished with a very short Chinese story of two jealous and foolish neighbours.

    NB: I noticed there is a mistake in the template. ‘What does student 2 doesn’t have that student 1 is grateful for?’ should be ‘What does student 2 not have…’


  3. That sounds great Rebecca. I’m glad it went so well. I’m going to try it myself when I get the right group. I’ve edited the mistake above by the way.


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