Why set up a drama club in your school?

Last year, thanks to generous support from the Eddie Byers fund, Greenall Florent Books, Wendy Arnold and Walter King, I was able to go to Palestine on several occasions and run some short courses for UNRWA and Ministry of Education teachers on establishing and running English drama clubs in Palestinian schools. In all over 200 English teachers from different areas of Gaza and the West Bank took part and I’m so pleased that drama clubs are now very well established as a tool for extra curricular English language development, and as a focal point for Hands Up Project remote sessions with volunteers around the world. 


drama club trees png
Drama club leader training course at an UNRWA school in Gaza city


Like many of the new drama club leaders, Haneen Khaled, a teacher at Asma Prep B UNRWA school, Gaza, used some of the time in the drama club to prepare plays for last year’s remote theatre competition.

Here’s the brilliant play they submitted.. 


And here’s Haneen’s reflection on what it means to have a drama club in their school 

Drama : Your vision to the world

Drama is about possessing another soul while you are acting. It gives you a space to be who you are . It makes you fly out of happiness or collapse from total sadness. It can enable you to live in another age with other people. It can ignite your imagination to be the person you dream to be. And it goes beyond what people can already see, to what you want them to be able to see. It is not I or me, but it is we. Drama is about speaking from the heart – not only from the words that come out of your mouth. Drama is life as it is and life as it should be.


I can say about drama that…

Drama is everywhere,

It lets you feel and helps you care 

It feeds your soul  

It makes you sad or mad

It describes the life when it is good , or bad

Drama is your vision to the world

So, keep on doing drama – it is precious like gold

haneen 4 png

For all these reasons , we set up our drama club at Asmaa Prep UNRWA school “B” to give those brilliant girls a space to practice their creativity and dig into their own talents. They gather together to make the drama club experience highly enjoyable and incredibly rich. They work as a team to act, to reflect and to draw their wishes.

They travel by heart and by souls, away from borders and restrictions , through their online sessions with different HUP volunteers . Drama club students work like in a bee hive, ‘remoting‘ their own stories. They work in groups to come up with ideas, brainstorm those ideas , create characters, imagine events , write the scripts and finally do their best to make the acting believable and natural. Our drama club creates great writers and gorgeous actors .

In the end, I can say that there are no words to describe how great it is to be part of this stunning project. All I can say is thank you to everyone who spends day and night to make this project see the light.

haneen 5

Remote theatre workshop

My talks in 2017 and 2108 at the annual IATEFL conference in the UK included live remote plays performed through Zoom by children in Palestine. This year we did something different. The participants in my workshop – teachers, teacher trainers and ELT authors from around the world -were organised into groups and given an excerpt from a script from one of three plays that were submitted for last year’s competition.

Their task (and they only had about 10 minutes to do this) was to prepare a performance of the excerpt they’d been given, and then perform it through zoom to the children who had originally created and performed it. The children and their teachers then gave the teachers feedback on their performances. Here’s the recording of the performance and feedback stage..

I think it’s clear that this is a lot of fun and also a valuable experience for everyone involved. How about arranging something similar in one of your English classes somewhere in the world?  The plays in this book could be a very good starting point for this.


Poetry for everyone

This week a post, and a great idea for helping young people write poetry, from one of our long term Hands Up Project volunteers based in Spain, Sara Wood. 


With thanks to Kareem, Waseem, Sohaib, Salem, Ahmed and their teacher, Nada

“Just a minute, please”, said the boys.

I was watching them, heads down, pencils in hand, chatting to one another. I was wondering if I should be doing something.  There I was in Mallorca, there they were in Palestine. Precious time, precious language, precious electricity. Not a moment to lose, not a minute to waste.

We’d been laughing earlier.  Two groups had been set the task of deciding on 8 objects that would ensure their survival during 100 days on a desert island.  The first group went strictly practical – a piece of tarpaulin, fish hooks, a sharp knife, boxes of matches. They’d get on alright, I thought. And then came the second group. Tarpaulin, fish hooks, matches…so far, so survival.  But then they slipped in a surprise. Books. Why books? I asked. To enjoy ourselves, they answered. Hmmm, at the cost of a piece of vital survival equipment. Further down the list, pencils. I pounced. “Where are you going to write?”  “In the books”. They’d evidently thought about it.

The moment I always dread arrived, the moment of decision.  Who had the best list? I hesitated. They were eager to know.  So I gave them my considered opinion. “Group one will survive….but group two will be happier.”  We all laughed.

Screenshot 2019-04-25 at 12.19.53
Kareem, Waseem, Sohaib, Salem and Ahmed in the library in Rafah where their weekly HUP session takes place.


And then came the request I started this post with.  “Just a minute, please”. When I’d planned the session, I’d decided we’d try writing an acrostic poem in which the first letters of each line spell out a word or phrase.  Like a good English teacher, I’d written my own model, using the word “desert”. Relevant to the previous activity, providing scaffolding, eliciting language – any teacher knows the drill. But I couldn’t help asking myself, poetry? Really?  For these boys? For any boys? Proof of my own prejudice, but not my beliefs. I know that poetry is for everyone.

I read them my poem.  Amazing, they said. Well, now it’s your turn I told them.  It was only when they started writing (they’d decided on three groups) that I realised I hadn’t set out the task clearly. What were they supposed to write about? Were they using the word desert or another word?  Where were they going to get the vocabulary? What language were they supposed to use?

I needn’t have worried.  I watched them, intently getting their ideas down on paper. Was it too long?  Should I be doing something to help? Was this a good use of their time? “Boys, are you ready yet?”  “Just a minute, please.” And then they read me their poems. As you can see, they’ll need their books and pencils on that desert island.

GROUP 1 Kareem, Salem

Die will be more harder than today

Every year I grow up to see our world

Smile to all people, love you

Every day we love each other more and more

Remember our memories

To make all of us happy and cheerful


GROUP 2 Ahmed & Nada

Dad is my hero

Every day he supports me

So I love him more and more

Every Friday he takes me to a picnic

Right now he’s the best person I have ever known

Tell me, do you know anyone like my dad?


GROUP 3  Sohaib, Waseem

Day is beautiful

Empty island

Shark in the ocean

Earth is poor

Rest on the beach

Tree’s shadow


Our visit to the UK by Sahar Siyam

In English classes in Gaza people sometimes ask ” If you were in Britain, what would you do?” They do this as a way to practise the second conditional which as you know is used for talking about unreal, hypothetical situations.

One day in January this year I suddenly realised that for us this situation wasn’t hypothetical any more. I was chasing something possible; the long – awaited dream was going to come true.

The unforgettable journey started when the HUP announced the winner of the Remote Theatre Competitions 2019. My little girls were joyfully imagining the next few days in UK. They desired to see what the world outside the besieged Gaza looked like. None of them wanted to wake up from such a dream. But I was realistic  enough to know that even though the travelling date was getting closer, the other world was still far away beyond several checkpoints and border crossings.  But , there is always hope. After a two day long, exhausting journey we were in London.


We were very lucky to have a warm reception and excellent hospitality by Melissa Scott and her family. They kindly took us on a tour of London. The girls were cheerful to walk on the bridge above the river Thames, watch the London Eye, while boats  were sailing on the right side and the train was passing on the left one. It was  great opportunity to interact with different people and learn about foreign cultures. Especially when we walked through Chinatown in the middle of London, as well as having Japanese food to eat there. We quickly realised that London is a beautiful mix of different cultures, religions and people. 

Sahar 2

The next day we performed our play in a London primary school. This was a wonderful experience for all of us and the school now want to do a regular online link up with us through the Hands Up Project.

Then we visited the countryside. Everything  was fresh and green ;a perfect place to release your thoughts and relax. Moreover, it is totally different from the crowded city of Gaza. It was the first time ever to walk besides a stream and see wonderful deer.  

Sahar 3

Sahar 4

After that, we had another amazing experience which is traveling by train to Preston. This city has great contradictions like traditional buildings and modern ones, an old market and a huge shopping centre, museums as well as new modern institutes. Everybody there was very kind to the girls.

Sahar 6

On 6th of April ,UCLAN University hosted the HUP conference 2019 and supported my team to do a fabulous performance of their play, ” I can smell her”

Everyone seemed very moved and engaged by the performance and afterwards they all wanted to talk to us and ask us about the play. It was monumental moment for us when we felt that our message of resilience had been understood by the audience, and that we had made a play which could touch people.

All in all,  this short journey to UK made a big difference within those girls dreams and future. We hope that we have also helped to make a difference to the people we met.

So thank you Mr. Nick the founder of the HUP and a true pioneer who has helped these young girls to shine. We are so grateful to everyone who helped to make this happen.



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 …






No Prep Improv Activities

This week’s post is by long time HUP volunteer based in Poland, Helen Rountree. Thanks Helen for sharing some great ideas that would work really well in either an online or face to face session with kids.

Occasionally in teaching you’re caught in a moment that requires quick thinking and creativity- you have to cover a class last minute, you get through material quicker than you planned and you’ve got time to fill, you’re tired, it’s Friday, you realise your students need a stirrer in an overly settled lesson. This happens just as much (if not more often with the added unreliability of technology and connections!) during online teaching. And for these moments it’s good to have a few no prep activities up your sleeve. Here’s some I’ve used with several groups I’ve taught in Gaza, including my lovely Khan Yunis girls 🙂 I hope you can try, adapt and share some of them. *

*as with any activities in ESL I can’t claim original ownership or design- they’re a combination of adapted activities, things seen at conferences and read on blogs just like this one

Helen - big

I’m a tree!

  • Teacher stands with hands up and says “What am I?”
  • Ss guess (they often say ballet dancer!) until they guess “you’re a tree
  • Ask 1 more student to come to the front and strike a pose to add to the ‘picture’ (For lower levels make suggestions of things they could add- a dog, a leaf, a man, a monkey…)
  • Repeat until you have 2-3 students in a frozen pose added to your tree pose. They should stay in that pose
  • Tell Ss this is the frozen scene from a story. “What’s the story?”
  • Ss come up with a short story based around the frozen poses. For more advanced groups you can go straight into this. Give added support by allowing thinking time, putting the students into small groups or demoing your own story first.
  • Ss take it in turns to tell the story
  • Then they get into small groups of 5-6. 3 make a new frozen image and the others tell the story

Follow up: Write the story, draw the story, write a dialogue for the story, draw the next frozen scene

I'm a tree

I'm a tree 2

Make it your story

  • Choose any story you know well to tell your students, pausing at key points for your students to use their imaginations and fill the gaps, thus allowing them to interpret the story as they choose. For example:


“Once upon a time, there were three […] One fine day, the 3 […] set off up the hillside. They were going to look for  […] to eat so that they could grow fat. On the way up the hillside, the 3 […] came to a river. On the other side of the river, was a  […]. There was a wooden bridge over the river, and under the bridge there lived  […]”


  • Once the children have some ideas to begin their story, display prompt sentences so they can share their beginnings with other students. Then, read the ‘real’ story together, before the children respond to the story and rework it using their own ideas.

helen story writing

What are you doing?

  • Mime doing something like brushing your teeth
  • Get Ss to ask “What are you doing?” Reply with something different to your mime. E.g “I’m riding a horse”
  • Ask 1 student to come up and mime riding a horse
  • The next student asks “What are you doing?” and the miming student replies with something unrelated to what they’re doing.
  • Repeat until each student has had a turn



Spontaneous Responses

  • Ask the class your completely random question. Mine was “Can I borrow some shoes?”
  • Your students will be very confused! But ask if any students have an answer. Ask that student to reply to your question and continue the conversation. S: “Yes of course.” T: “Great, thanks I’ll give them back next year ok?” S”uh, ok”…
  • Ask your Ss to write 1 question on a piece of paper. Any question at all, or maybe including certain vocab/language.
  • Ss mingle and ask their questions responding as naturally as possible and swapping papers

This is a great way to practise spontaneous conversations or create ideas for a story


Group warm up

  • If you’ve got enough space ask Ss to stand up and walk around and listen to your instructions. If not you can do it sitting down too.
  • Say stop followed by instructions, for example:
    • Say hello to the person next to you
    • Shake hands with the person on your left
    • Ask your neighbour “how are you?”
    • Jump up and down
    • Wave at the windows
    • Run to the door

Alternative: tell Ss they should try to do the instruction all at the same time. All stop- they should watch each other and try to stop at the same time. Jump, sit down, raise your right hand. It develops a sense of teamwork and awareness if they have to watch each other and perform the action as a group.

helen - whole group

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.

ashraf blog 4

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!

ashraf's blog

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?”.

ashraf blog 5

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.

ashraf blog 6

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!