‘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.