Activities for new classes

Some good news…

After almost five months off school, children in Gaza are going back to their classes tomorrow. There’s going to be a period of revision to catch up on everything that they’ve missed during lockdown and then the regular semester will start again at the end of August.

There’ll be lots of teachers in Gaza who are working with new groups of students and will need a bank of activities to do with these groups. So I thought it would be good to have a blog post about this.

I’m only going to suggest one activity here though – please share your own ones in the comments. In fact the activity I’m suggesting isn’t even mine; it was demonstrated by long standing HUP volunteer Helen Rountree in a training session for existing HUP volunteers a while back.

Screenshot 2020-08-07 at 14.03.14
Helen demonstrating her ‘Tic Tac Toe’ activity for new groups.

It goes something like this:-

  1. Write a ‘tic tac toe’ grid on the board like the one above. The word in each square should be an answer to a personal question about the teacher (eg The Beatles – what’s your favourite band? Yellow – What’s your favourite band? etc)
  2. Ask everyone to work in pairs and discuss what they think the question could be for each answer.
  3. Divide the class into two teams – the stars and the hearts for instance. Invite them to take turns asking you questions. If the answer is on the grid they get to claim that square for their team. The first team to make a line across the grid in any direction is the winner.
  4. Now students create their own grids and play the same activity in small groups.

Note: This a good activity for the students to find out something about their new teacher (and about each other) and as a way to revise and practise simple question forms. You could say for instance that they only get the square if they ask the question accurately.

Please write a brief summary of one of your favourite activities to do with a new group in the comments below and let’s start sharing ideas…

Making a drama out of a coursebook

This week we have a very inspiring blog post written by long term, Hands Up Project volunteer in Beit Hanoun Prep Girls UNRWA School Gaza, Rinan Jamal. Rinan joined us for last Saturday’s SaturPLAY live together with some of her brilliant students.  (You can watch it here ) )

The conversation about drama flowed so well that we didn’t actually have time to discuss Rinan’s current project which is about creating plays related to different units of the coursebook, ‘English for Palestine’  Luckily, Rinan agreed to write a blog post about it. Over to you Rinan….


What a lovely coincidence! My first blog on the HUP page marks EID AL ADHA, so happy Eid to all Muslims all over the world.

Drama plays a vital role in our lives as well as in teaching. It’s a basic component of language acquisition and of the development of the communicative competence of students. Drama has a significant part in exposing learners to authentic language, and in challenging them to act naturally and cooperatively.

Being a teacher of English for almost 17 years ,I used to do ordinary classroom teaching practices with simple activities, but everything changed when I joined the HUP in 2017. We had online sessions with volunteers from other countries .In addition to this we also participated in the playwriting competition three times – and this is the thing that polished my experience in drama and in writing scripts.

During my long experience as a teacher, I’ve noticed that students find  a big difficulty in speaking skills and they hesitate to talk freely in front of others .Therefore, I made up my  mind to overcome this obstacle with drama especially when I touched the magical impact of drama and acting on the English club girls. So I thought of transferring the idea to the 8th grade English coursebook, since -according to my students- it is the most difficult book.

I started using the core vocabulary , the main structures and the most common language functions ,then I converted  them all in a form of short plays and dramatic scenes with some themes related to themes of these units .I wrote six plays out of 12 units ,and students  acted them happily  .I depended on simple devices and tools like zoom and green screen. But unfortunately , I’ve stopped since the school closure because of covid 19 crisis .Surely I will go on with my project when we come back to schools.

Here are some of the students’ opinions about this project;

Malak said, “I’ve never acted in English though I like acting. This experience is an outstanding one. It makes me love English more.”

Sara said, ”I have become self-confident when I speak in front of an audience.”

” I am no longer shy to speak English. These plays help me to remember my lessons better. ”Deema said.

This project will provide students with an excellent opportunity to develop their speaking skill and creativity, to express themselves freely, and to facilitate the coursebook activities.

In other words, these plays added life to the 8th grade coursebook.  Here is an example of one of the plays. This play was written to go with Grade 8, Unit 10 ‘Back home in Palestine’ This unit has a big focus on language to describe people.

Long live SaturPLAY live!

This weeks post is by long term HUP volunteer and drama specialist in Gaza, Haneen Khaled. Over to you Haneen….

When doors are closed to us , when the entire world narrows to us, when life tightens around us , we have to fly in the sky of our minds to face every fear , to cross barriers and ease obstacles and reach a point where we can keep soaring to accomplish our dreams. In such circumstances seeking our dreams is a kind of survival.

Recently the world has been severely shaken by the Covid 19  pandemic and schools have been  closed everywhere including Gaza and all over Palestine, so everyone finds themselves having to survive in isolation .

Picasso once said, “ Inspiration exists , but it has to find you working “.  As a teacher , I think I should be always a source of inspiration for my students especially if everything around them is frustration . And I believe that the best way to do this is through creating a space for them and letting them put their bodies , emotions and hearts into this space. This can be done through drama.

Drama enhances the creativity the students have in their minds  and enables them to connect together even if they were distant and isolated. It helps them to establish a virtual theatre in their imagination where they  can get together to perform plays even if they are separated .

The Hands Up Project has a golden history of adaptation to all kinds of situations. Through remote theatre, it has helped kids reach out to the outer world and to be heard very clearly all over the globe . Throughout the pandemic it has implemented facebook live storytelling sessions that everyone can access while they are locked at home ,  and also  zoom ones to connect the kids in Palestine with their counterparts in other parts of the world, helping them to move forward communicatively with their English and share something in common at this critical time.

Nick Bilbrough wrote about this in his post, Locked down but Looking out, emphasising the importance of keeping on track with language learning through drama and communicative activities. Then, interestingly, he suggested the brilliant idea of the SaturPLAY Live.

This is an innovative way to help kids in Palestine perform the plays they created themselves through zoom to audiences all over the world. It also creates young drama specialists by enabling the kids to talk about the impact of drama on their learning and development afterwards. It’s really brilliant that those kids can see themselves going live and be seen by everyone all over the world as if they were stars in the field of drama.

We did our SaturPLAY live about ‘Oh, my home” a couple of weeks ago and it was really a remarkable experience . I worked with the main character of the play – Nour Ziada and we adapted the script into a kind of story through doing many training sessions to see how she could perform the whole play using just one character from home under lockdown . Masses of  hard work  was done behind the screens to let this come to the light.

Nour showed passion and creativity in doing this and she managed to perform it through the SaturPLAY live on the due date amazingly. She performed the play using different styles of storytelling , puppets and the wonderful green screen . Afterwards , we all came together with all the characters to let them talk about what it meant to everyone to perform a play and how valuable it was to learn using drama. They spoke loudly and clearly, showing confidence and proving that life is amazing in spite of all the troubles around.

Haya Orouq (15) , another of the students who participated in our SaturPLAY live session wrote this about the experience:

“We worked with the Handsup this year and it.was beautiful on how to write stories and turn them into scripts to represent them as a play. In the first meeting we met with Miss Haneen, who divided us into groups and each group has a leader who has participated in the project for more than a year and has an experience in.this and then the group meets to choose the idea about the story and then they all of them write the story, then convert it to a piece It is possible to ask the teacher for help to improve it. After that, the leader meets with her group to give them roles and remains to meet them until they master the roles. ‏It was a time full of enthusiasm, fun and cooperation between the students. I was waiting.for.the drama class as if it’s my birthday!

‏As for me personally, I wrote two plays with a group in the first play, its name is Oh Palestine and the second is the ladies first, but unfortunately we did not represent the second play and presented it permanently because of the closure of the school due to.corona virus, but it does not deny that it was one of the most beautiful times and one of my greatest achievements.

The Saturplay live was amazing when I performed the line without then I talked about my journey to Jerusalem when we won last.year and we in.Jerusalem . and also I felt I am special at drama because I.can talk and be a self confident about drama”


The Aim of the Game

This week we have a post from one of the latest people to join the Hands Up Project’s ever expanding team of volunteers around the world – Anya Shaw. Over to you Anya….

Games are a core part to a teacher’s repertoire in class and were also the topic of one of the Hands Up Project’s online sessions for getting students in Palestine and around the world interacting, using their English and having fun in the process. I was lucky enough to volunteer in these online sessions and it really got me thinking about games in class and how to make the most of them. My conclusion? There’s a lot more to a successful game than meets the eye…

What exactly is a game? 

We may use them every day in class or even play them with friends and family, but the first question I asked myself was what exactly is a game? After a bit of digging online, frequent key features that came up included rules, procedures, players, outcomes, goals and aims. That makes sense. However, thinking about aims of using games in class, it struck me that there is important difference between what a learner wants to get out of playing a game and the teacher’s aims.

Why use games?

For learners, especially younger learners, games in class probably mean having fun. There’s nothing wrong with that. But a good game to use in class needs to be more than just fun.

There are a number of reasons why using games in class can be beneficial to learning:

  • Affective: games can encourage learners to use language spontaneously and creatively and can therefore be highly motivating as long as the game is achievable. They can also provide a meaningful context for learners to speak.
  • Cognitive: games can be used to review, reinforce or extend particular areas of target language communicatively.
  • Class dynamics: games should be learner-centered and can help build rapport, class cohesion, collaboration, teamwork and participation. ‘Friendly’ competition is important so the teacher’s attitude is key.
  • Adaptability: games can be easily adjusted for age, level, interests and needs and they often a range of social and linguistic skills.

Games with Aims:

Classroom language games come in all shapes and sizes; guessing games, vocabulary games, board games, memory games, card games, online games, individual and team games, for instance. When choosing a game to use in class, it’s vitally important that we teachers think about the aims of the game we plan on using. As we saw earlier, a good game will have some kind of outcome or goal to motivate learners and give them a reason to play and use their English.

For example with the vocabulary game ‘spin the wheel’, the teacher gives learners a letter of the alphabet and in groups they have to think of e.g. a country, a sport, an adjective and a food starting with that letter. If they get a word that the other teams don’t think of, they get extra points. Here the goal is to think of less common words and score more points! But what about from a teacher’s perspective? What language or skills does the game help learners to develop? The linguistic aim for ‘spin the wheel’ is  to revise and even peer teach vocabulary related to those topics. Alongside this, learners will be speaking to each other and also negotiating which word is the least common, agreeing and disagreeing with each other. This game therefore combines language development with speaking practice.

In a survival game for example, the teacher sets the scene of the learners being stuck in the desert. The teacher gives them a list of 10 items and they have to decide which 5 (and only 5!) they take with them.  For the learners choosing the right items to be able to survive is the goal and outcome; for the teacher, the aim is for learners to develop their speaking fluency, to get them discussing, thinking critically about the value of each item and why, giving reasons and agreeing.  Successful and effective games in the language classroom are more than just fun; they have a clear linguistic aim.  It’s therefore the teacher’s task to select and adapt the right game so learners are having fun but also learning at the same time.

Lessons learnt:

For a game to work well in class, rules are needed; if rules are a key element to games, then so are instructions. Rules for games can also be negotiated with learners, which involves them in the activity more, too.  Anticipating problems and planning solutions is also extremely important if you are using games. When I was planning for the online session, I found it useful to ask myself the following types of questions:

What tasks will learners have to perform? How will I demonstrate the task and check they have understood how to play? Instructions are key here!

What language and skills will they need to be able to play the game?

What type of response is required to play the game? Do they need to simply recognise a picture and point to it to win a point, do they need to say a word or a sentence? Is what they say very controlled (e.g. asking a particular type of question) or is it freer?  Do they need any functional language e.g. to negotiate, to agree/disagree?

What happens if some learners get very competitive?

What happens if one group dominates or finishes first?

Which groups/pairs would work well together? Which learners need support?  How can I ensure everyone takes part e.g. by allocating roles within group?

All of these questions are the kind of things we teachers should be asking ourselves when planning to use a game in class.  Afterwards, reflecting on what worked well, what could be changed for next time and the game’s pedagogical value can also be extremely useful. Perhaps the learners spoke a lot but it got a bit noisy or they didn’t really understand how to play the game so I had to help them. Maybe the learners didn’t really talk in English as much as I’d expected and used their first language or the game took much longer than planned.  This will happen when using games in class. The key here is to reflect and ask yourself what you could do differently next time. This reflective practice is vital for us teachers.  You could also share games with your colleagues, including the level, time, preparation needed, materials and possible variations.

Games can be very effective in class but there are a number of things to bear in mind when choosing a game to play. So, have fun but remember the aim of the game is to choose and adapt your games to enhance your learners’ development.

Anya Shaw

The Simon Greenall – Hands Up Project Scholarship for IATEFL 2021

The late lamented Simon Greenall, as well as being one of the authors of English for Palestine, was a huge supporter of ELT in general in Palestine, and in particular of The Hands Up Project. Indeed Greenall Florent Books and Simon’s widow, Jill Florent continue to be one of our main sponsors to this day.

So it feels very good to be able to announce that, in cooperation with IATEFL (International Association for Teachers of English as a foreign Language) we have set up a scholarship in Simon’s name for a Palestinian teacher to present at next year’s annual IATEFL conference, and at the Hands Up Project conference which will take place immediately afterwards.

Full details of how to apply for this are available on the IATEFL site here and all applications must be made through IATEFL. Remember that the deadline is 16.00 (UK time) on Wednesday 29th July 2020 so you don’t have a lot of time.

Rida IATEFL picture edited
Rida Thabet – ‘Remote theatre for children in challenging circumstances’ at the 2018 IATEFL conference in Brighton

To qualify you must:

• be a resident of Palestine

• be a practising teacher or teacher trainer in primary, secondary or tertiary education

• have participated actively in Hands Up project activities, e.g. through online interaction with a remote volunteer and/or involvement in the Remote Theatre Competition

• have not presented at the IATEFL Annual Conference before

• consider presenting at the Hands Up Conference immediately before or after the IATEFL Conference

The selection committee will be particularly interested in presentations that are focussed on practical classroom based activities, and which are strongly related to an area (or areas) of the Hands Up Project’s work.

You may know that three Hands up teachers from Palestine already had their proposals accepted to speak at IATEFL this year. When the conference was cancelled due to Corona, IATEFL agreed to transfer their presentations to next year’s conference instead. So the lucky winner of this scholarship will be in very good company!

Below you can see the abstracts (50-60 words) of their three presentations. These will be included in the conference programme for next year. I’ve included them here to provide an idea of the style that IATEFL are looking for in the abstracts, and to avoid any potential repetition of content.

Improving teenagers long-term attitudes towards English through online linkups (Amal Mukhairez – UNRWA Gaza)

By connecting online to remote volunteers through the Hands Up Project, students in UNRWA schools in Gaza have been provided with motivating opportunities to activate the English they are learning in their regular classes. In this talk I’ll report on my research findings about how these online interactive activities can positively affect the students’ long-term attitudes towards studying English.

Deeper learning through remote team teaching (Samir Naim – UNRWA Gaza) 

Online speaking activities require teachers to listen to WHAT learners say, whilst simultaneously listening to HOW they say it. We overcome this challenge by having classroom teachers who support, reformulate, focus, exemplify etc, working in unison with remote volunteers who simply talk and listen. We’ll brainstorm effective activities, then try some out in a live-linked session with learners in Gaza.

Sharing our stories with the world through remote theatre (Haneen Jadalla – UNRWA Gaza)

In our drama club in an UNRWA school in Gaza, learners develop their English fluency by writing stories, turning them into scripts, and then performing them live through Zoom to an audience in another country.  In this workshop we’ll try out a part of this process and end by performing the stories through Zoom to their original authors in Gaza.

The very best of luck to you all! 

sahar IATEFL 3
Sahar Salha – ‘Enhanced teacher performance through remote team teaching’ at the IATEFL conference in Liverpool last year


Students versus teachers

This week’s post is by Becca Young of Virginia, USA. She’s been a HUP volunteer since July 2019 and currently does a Facebook live storytelling event at 5pm Palestine time every Tuesday.

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In spite of some initial trepidation, my first time to participate in a Hands Up Project’s Zoom session was pure delight. When my alarm went off at 6:30 am, I was very tempted to shut it off and go back to dreamland. My time zone in the USA is seven hours behind Palestine time, so the 2:00 pm session meant quite an early rise for me. As I set a pre-dawn alarm the night before, I thought to myself, “Do I really want to do this?” Earlier in the day, I’d gotten an email describing the session and mentioning (quite casually) that the students tended to bring tough questions for the teachers. I wondered if I would be able to keep up.

My fears resurfaced as I set the alarm. I thought, maybe it wouldn’t be bad if I wound up sleeping through it. But fortunately my curiosity outweighed my fear and I steeled myself to set the alarm. On Wednesday morning, I managed to hit the snooze button just once before motivating myself to get up and join the session. It was being led by Helen, and remarkably, when I got on at the top of the hour, there were already a total of 28 people participating.  It was off to a great start.

The Zoom screen felt like a mini-UN gathering as we had folks from four continents, with a variety of age groups represented, as well as both students and teachers. The session leader Helen managed to explain the instructions while competing with the charming voices of younger brothers and sisters playing in the background as their older siblings sat by computer screens. Helen asked who knew what our theme for the session was, and there were some very well-prepared students helpfully informed the less-prepared among us (read: me) that the theme was animals.

As Helen explained, we were to start by going into break-out groups of four people each. I found myself in a breakout room with three students: Mica, Diana and Basmala. Each one had four questions that they had prepared the day before. They had found great questions, and were ready to be them via screen share.

Once we were all back together, Helen first let us know the names our six teams had come up with: in keeping with the “animals” theme, the names revolved mostly around wild cats, including the Lions, the Lionesses, the Tigers, and the Tiger Cats. Each group was allowed to ask one question of the teachers. We learned all sorts of great things about animals: kangaroo rats never drink water, the world’s largest fish is the whale shark, and flying lizards don’t fly (they jump). The students had the teachers stumped on several occasions. However, one student, Mathias of Ecuador, took pity on us and gave us help on two especially tough questions, allowing us to end the game with a score of 4 (teachers) to 2 (students).

Before I knew it, it was 8:00 a.m. and the session came to an end as Helen thanked us all for participating. And what a wonderful way to start my day. I keep thinking back on so many remarkable aspects of our time together: the cleverness and courage of the students as they asked their questions, the pity that Mathias showed us when we teachers were at a loss to choose an answer, and, overall, the level of enthusiasm and attention that people showed throughout the session. I mentioned that we started with 28 participants at the beginning, and everyone stuck with it to the end. For that joyful hour, there was no awareness of a global pandemic or a world in crisis. It was instead a four-continent-wide celebration of the love of learning and the sheer joy of being with one another, even through a screen.

Thanks to Hands Up Project for this amazing opportunity to be with such a lovely group of people and share knowledge and friendship with them. I can’t wait for the next session of Students vs. Teachers, HUP-style.

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A picture’s worth a thousand words

This week we have a post from Sue Piper. Sue’s been volunteering with Hands Up for two months now and does a wonderful Facebook live storytelling session for younger kids at 10 am Palestine time every Wednesday. Over to you Sue!
A picture’s worth a thousand words…….or so the saying goes.
There are many reasons why I love using pictures to tell stories to my students or as a volunteer for the Hands Up Project. A picture has the ability to convey emotion, mood, narrative, ideas and messages-all of which are important elements of storytelling. Pictures can offer information, set the tone, highlight certain characters and introduce themes.
Sometimes just a single picture can capture the essence of a story, or a series of pictures can reinforce structure and a more detailed storyline. Pictures can leave the listener  imagining what is going on behind the image and thinking in context.
Visual images can help listeners to go deeper into a story and help them understand a plot  much better. As a primary school teacher for twenty five years I was always fascinated by the process of how children learnt to read. Parents would constantly enquire, “Shall I cover up the pictures?” “Won’t the pictures just confuse my child?” or “Is my child really reading if he looks at the pictures?” In the early years of reading or language acquisition, illustrations draw children into stories as they begin to make up their own. Then the magic begins as they start making connections between the image and the words on the paper.
As a child I remember pouring over the pictures in my Ladybird books. I didn’t care that I couldn’t read every word-I was in my own world with the varied colourful illustrations that brought the books alive.
I can see how powerful telling stories without pictures can be, as demonstrated by the wonderful professional storytellers on the Hands Up Project page. However, for me, using visual aids provides stimulus, support and scaffolding to a story as well as all being part of the fun!

Maximising the learning potential of ‘Show and Tell’

‘Show and Tell’ has become one of the Hands Up project’s core online activities. It’s fun, communicative, and potentially very motivating for learners, especially if it involves interaction between young people who live in different contexts around the world.  It can also be very effective as a means to promote language development. Here are some ways to maximise its learning potential.

  1. Encourage learners to prepare extensively for the experience. This could involve looking up key words that they’re going to need, asking their parents or teachers for help, or practising saying what they’re going to say until they feel comfortable with it.
  2. Encourage learners to prepare a slide with some key information on it. Writing things down can help to make new language stick. It can also make things clearer to learners of English in other contexts who may speak a different variety of English.
  3. Have a particular theme for the session. This could be food, my favourite place, my dream job etc.  This may mean that areas of language get repeated and recycled throughout the session, and may also make the session feel more connected (and the learners more connected to each other)
  4. Ask the learners to tell everyone their topic beforehand and invite questions. This could be done by asking them to change their name on zoom to include their topic (Farah – my trophy, Samuel – my pet dog etc). Everyone then uses the chat on zoom to ask individual questions to the others (What did you win the trophy for? How did you feel when you won it? What is your pet dog like? How old is it? etc) The learners then try to answer the questions in the talks that they give.
  5. Ask everyone to do their talks first in pairs or small groups in breakout rooms. This can be very useful as a practice stage, they can discover how well they are getting their message across, and the listener’s questions can make their talks richer when they do them again. To really encourage everyone to listen to each other you could ask everyone to talk about their partners object instead of their own in round two.
  6. Encourage the learners to take the initiative about who goes next. They could end their talks by saying ‘Does anyone have a similar object? Or a similar experience? What sports do you do in your country? Again this can add to the feeling of connectedness in the session?
  7. Review the language used. Make a note of some useful pieces of language which are used by the learners in their talks, perhaps upgrading them to make them more accurate and or sophisticated. At the end of the session share these on a slide and ask everyone to try to remember who said what? For instance in the video below one of the 16 learners (Joudie, Samuel, Jossaline, Yara, Arial, Jonatan, Karina, Linda, Zaina, Emily, Noe, Rima, Hadeel, Vanessa, Nagham, Farah) said each of the following:-

1. It was given to my brother.
2. This was the first time I visited Jerusalem. We enjoyed it so much.
3. I wanted to go there because my mother wanted to go there when she was young.
4. It’s very dear to me. When I see it I just remember my dad.
5. My mum and dad were so proud of me.
6. He’s very loving and cute. He works taking care of the house.
7. I did it on my tablet.
8. It was the first time I smiled in a photo. I’ll show it to my children when I grow up.
9. They have a special meaning because they remind me that I need to follow my dream.
10. It took me two or three days to do it.
11. I love it so much because it reminds me of the beautiful cities in our country.
12. It was given to me by my school after we finished a project.
13. I got it from my older sister when she got married and moved away.
14. It has an important and special meaning for me.
15. Here are some pictures of the lives of the people.
16. She’s very playful and active.

You could also use this as a listening exercise with learners who didn’t take part, as a way to encourage them to focus on some useful language and take part in future sessions.


Zoom in and meet the world..

This week we have a post from my very good friend, our advisory board member in Gaza and UNRWA education specialist, Rida Thabet.

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Sharing our lovely mugs! (from Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem)

Long ago, when I was a child, I was given a plastic toy that looked like a camera. It was a gift from a pilgrim returning from Mecca. It was a common gift for children at that time. We were able to zoom in and out and scenes from around the world were displayed.

Last Monday, I had an experience that reminded me of those days. It was when I joined the Hands Up Project’s intercultural show and tell session. With nearly all corners of the world represented now in our work, with people from as far afield as China and Nepal in the east and Brazil and Argentina in the west it looks like the world has come together hanging in the air for one hour for joy and interaction.

Teachers and students from around the world met to talk about things that means to them. It was a deep and meaningful experience to listen to different people talking about their favourite photos, gifts, books, plants and talking about trophies and medals that represent their successful moments in life. We listened to stories behind pictures and we lived moments in the lives of people seen for the first time. They reminded us with similar objects we once had or still have and with similar feelings or moments life.

We were paired to take turns listening to each other before re-joining the others. Our task was to represent our partner and talk about the dear item he or she had chosen.

You not only need to repeat what your partner has said, but to live the story behind it and to experience the feeling he or she had experienced. It is a lesson to look at things from others’ perspectives, to feel empathy for others. Some objects that may seem meaningless to you might mean a lot to other people. It reminds us to listen with our ears but also with our hearts as well.   If people listen with their hearts and learn how to tell the stories of others, the world would be a better place.

If you want to be part of this and want to live the experience, just zoom in with the Hands up Project one Monday or many Mondays.

Every story tells a picture..

This week we have a post from Hands Up Project volunteer and professional storyteller, Michael Loader. Over to you Michael…..

I’ve been volunteering with the Hands Up Project since 2018 after meeting Nick in Bristol where he was giving a talk at the Palestine Museum. This coincided with my ‘recent interest’ and ‘lengthy ignorance’ of the situation in Palestine and the Middle East.
I had been asked by a Bristol friend to get involved with a new music, song and word project in 2017 that was going to mark the 100th year since the Balfour Declaration, organised by a Quaker who has a knack of exposing the darker sides of British history that lie concealed under the veneer of decades.

With his expertise and persistence he managed to get an Arts Council grant that brought our group together to create, rehearse and tour the show called ‘Longing and Belonging: Balfour’ around the UK. The following year we were granted funding by the British Council to take the show to Palestine and Israel, which was to become my first visit.
You can find more about the trip at…

As for everyone, these last few months have been difficult for lots of reasons and for many of us work has disappeared for the foreseeable future – how long for no one knows. So when I was contacted about offering a 1:1 storytelling session with a teacher in Italy last week I was delighted to accept the offer.

She chose to work on reading and telling the story of the Gruffalo, which she uses with young children learning English as a second language. She first told it using voice, actions, characterisation, sound effects, physicality and the book, all skills that she has a good command of.

I then asked her to re-read/ retell it without physicality and the book, concentrating on the words, letting them be her guide… “How do you feel about that?” She said “Er okay” showing signs of uncertainty. After she had retold it we discussed the differences… Post session I ruminated… rumi rumi rumi…

It reminded me of the essential component of storytelling – that is the storyteller creates WORDS and the listener creates PICTURES… taking away the book created stronger images in my mind as the listener/ watcher, and focussed my attention on the pictures she was creating with her facial expression and voice.
Her vocal skills were also sharpened ‘painting’ more vibrant tones without having to concentrate on the skills of physicality and the book, thereby bringing the telling down to the essentials.

In essence the exchange is between the teller and the listener and as both parties draw from their imaginations, an alchemical magic occurs when a single imagination appears. If we are not careful the introduction of a book or something outside of this ‘private and personal’ communication can sever this bond and break the spell that has been already established. Seeing the pictures on a page, however beautiful they are does not have the same effect as the listener creating the pictures in their own imagination. When the listener starts translating words into ‘seeing pictures’, this is when the true magic happens.

I was glad to be taught and reminded of this invaluable lesson… teacher becomes learner

Michael Loader