Learning Round the Edges

This week’s post is by long term Hands up Project volunteer, Sara Wood. Over to you Sara….

Learning Round the Edges – the potential for natural communication in team teaching

All teaching is learning, and this opportunity is too good to miss.

Have you ever thought about the meaning of remote?  Here’s the first definition I found this morning “Far, distant, having very little relationship with or connection to”. Now try pairing it with the word “teaching” or “learning” and ask yourself if it bears any resemblance to what you, your colleagues or your students experience during a Hands Up session, be it story-telling, drama or curriculum based.  The relatively new initiative of team taught curriculum based sessions is already proving just how inaccurate that adjective is.

Teachers are worried about the retrogression in education supposed by  COVID-19 – it’s happening world over.  Parents and teachers going crazy to catch up with what’s been missed, focusing on results, exams, assessments and evaluations.  Target vocabulary, class objectives, focused input  – all of these take their rightful place in language practice.   But we have an opportunity here.  Unrehearsed, unscripted communication is happening right before our eyes accompanied by the gestures, facial expressions, intonation and occasional hiccups that make it so  fascinating and complex. There’s a different kind of teacher input going on.

During each session there is a drip feed of spontaneous communication between the co-teachers. It’s the learning round the edges of the lesson plan.   It’s what might just help students to understand a real human being as opposed to the mythical native speaker who never digresses, never forgets what they are saying in the middle of a sentence or stumbles over their words.

I am from the south of England with a good estuary accent.  Perhaps it is the first time that my students and co-teacher have ever heard such mangled vowel sounds.  There’s a great potential for misunderstanding but it’s nothing to be afraid of.  What happens when we misunderstand each other?  We clear it up of course, just as we would if we were in a room together, with some explanation, a dose of good humour and hopefully, a bit of a laugh. 

What happens when my co-teacher tries to teach me some Arabic?  There’s a good possibility that I’ll get my tongue tangled in a knot, find it slightly embarrassing and have to ask her to repeat it several times over.  What could be more natural than that?

And there is an intrinsic joy and a lot of fun to be had with the incidental English.  Not only are students exposed to functional language in a real-life setting, but they see that their teachers are life-long learners too.

It’s a part of how we stay true to the values and the interactive, creative ideals of the Hands Up project whilst teaching the curriculum, and it’s  about as far from remote as you could possibly get. 

With thanks to my co-teacher Rinan Jamal, and all the inspirational members of the Hands Up community, and yes of course, that includes our dear students.

Teaching moves: How teachers scaffold learning

This weeks post is by Hands up Project trustee, Scott Thornbury

There is an assumption underlying current ‘communicative’ practice that, so long as the students are using language to communicate, they will get better – not just better at communicating, but that their language competence (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation) will magically improve.

This is sometimes the case: some learners ‘pick up’ stuff (e.g. words and expressions) from each other. But often they don’t. If left to their own devices, their language competence tends to stall. Indeed, some learners may never say very much at all.

This doesn’t mean we should abandon communicative activities. On the contrary: the more real language use, the better.  But there’s a lot of research to support the idea that the value of activities – such as discussions, role plays and drama – can be enhanced by the active intervention of the teacher. Intervention – but not interruption! Experienced teachers are able to intervene in the flow of communicative talk, without stopping  the flow or inhibiting the learners, as in this example (from Seedhouse 1997)

Learner 1: On Sunday what did you do ?

Learner 2: Oh er I stayed in home.

Teacher: At home.

Learner 2: On Sunday I stayed at home and watched the Wimbledon Final . What did you do on Sunday ?

Learner 1: On morning …

Teacher: In the morning.

Learner 2: In the morning I took a bus …

Teachers are able to support and improve learners’ language use in this way by using a number of what I call ‘moves’. These moves are collectively known as ‘scaffolding’, because they supply temporary support to the learner but also provide useful data for their long-term learning. As learners become more self-reliant, these ‘scaffolds’ can be reduced or even removed entirely.

These moves do not all come naturally. As Johnson (2019) argues, ‘Teachers need support to develop and refine the complex skills necessary to use an array of interactional scaffolds in large, fast-moving classrooms.’

For the purpose of training, I divide these interactional moves into four main types, according to their purpose (while recognizing that there is considerable overlap):

  1. Participation moves (i.e. moves that encourage participation)
  2. Production moves (i.e. moves that help construct learner output)
  3. Feedback moves (i.e. moves that respond to learner output)
  4. Language focused moves (i.e. moves that focus on features of the language)

Typical participation moves include:

  • nominating (T: What do you think, Youssef?)
  • asking display question (eliciting): (T: What does ‘homeless’ mean?)
  • asking real question (T: What would it be like to be homeless?)

Typical production moves include

  • modelling (T: Listen: Have you got any sisters? Have you got any brothers? Now, ask each other.)
  • elaborating (S. It’s a bad decision. T: It’s a bad decision because a lot of people will be made homeless.)
  • asking for repetition (S: A lot of people will be made homeless. T. Yes. Again.)
  • asking for elaboration (T: Can you say why you think it’s bad?)

Typical feedback moves include

  • validating (T. Good. Excellent.)
    • correcting (S. It no good decision. T. No. Listen: it’s not a good decision)
    • prompting self-correction, e.g. by echoing with rising intonation (S: It no good decision. T: It no good decision?)
    • asking clarification (T: I’m sorry, I don’t understand)
    • recasting (S. It no good decision. T. No, it’s not a good decision, is it?)

And typicallanguage focused moves (also called ‘focus on form’) include:

  • repeating/highlighting/emphasizing (S. I am not agree. T: Listen: I DON’T agree.)
  • drilling (T : ‘I don’t agree’.  Repeat)
  • explaining (T: ‘Agree’ is a verb. So you use ‘don’t’ to make it negative.)
  • checking understanding (T: Is ‘agree’ a verb or an adjective?)

In the accompanying video compilation, you can watch Nick Bilbrough using some participation moves in Hands Up project sessions. Do you use these in your classroom?


Johnson, E. M. 2019. ‘Exemplary reading teachers’ use of instructional scaffolds with emergent bilinguals: how knowledge and context shape their choices.’ TESOL Quarterly 53/1.

Seedhouse, P. 1997. ‘Combining form and meaning.’ ELT Journal 51/4.

Haneen Khaled’s framework for remote theatre – from the students’ perspective

Drama is not just a tool. It’s the perfect way to help the students dig deep inside themselves to identify their identities, set up their goals in life and have dreams . I was inspired by this and by the idea of remote theatre (performing plays through simple video-conferencing tools to other parts of the world). So I decided to establish a drama club at my UNRWA school in Gaza and here I developed my own framework for student created plays which I call ‘Remote your story’. I also encouraged them to perform their plays remotely so that their voices may be heard loudly and clearly in the outside world. The framework works like this:

1.The students write their own short stories in English outside of class time as a kind of homework.

2. They come to class with these stories and I divide them into groups, each with a group leader. Their task at this stage is to agree on the best story to be converted into a play later.

3.The students are then given a script as a model to imitate. They then start converting their own story into a script. The script could be about many different topics; their loved ones , what it feels like to be a refugee , the rights of women etc.

4. The editing and reformulation stage: Now, each group has to submit their own script to me to help them with the language. I don’t make any changes in their ideas but just make the script more intelligible or sophisticated in terms of the language.

5. Physicalization and Rehearsal stage  : At this stage , I ask each group leader to establish a timetable of training sessions with the group members .This leader has to give each member a role in the play (including herself) and start rehearsing the lines.

6. Performing the plays remotely to the outer world. This is the last stage where we have a linkup  with one of the hands up remote volunteers to perform the plays. We receive feedback and the students take this feedback into account and try to improve their performance afterwards.

Different stages of the framework

So now we have two brilliant students in my drama club talking about this experience . Over to you Haya and Nour ,

Haya says ,  

With all happiness and pride, I would like to talk about my experience in our drama club in Gaza- the Hands Up Project. It all started two years ago when we started our online sessions with Mr Nick Bilbrough . We were full of joy and pride that our voices could be heard in the other part of the world .However , it is  not only about learning the language through this online sessions , but also about being ourselves through creating plays and performing them to the hands up volunteer through zoom . It was really a fruitful experience that has affected me as a student and a person particularly in the last play I performed called “Oh My Home”. It was the production of a very rich framework that’s developed by our teacher , Haneen Jadallah employing the whole idea of remote theatre . This play started with the an international idea that is “ what does it feel line if you are a  refugee “ .Then the stages went as follow :

An extract of Nour’s original story
  1. We first had a meeting with a lot of stories and we have decided to write about Nour’s story that was inspired by the picture of this Syrian child who sank in the sea while his family were escaping by the sea to find another place where they can have a decent life.
  2. Nour was the main writer of the play and we helped her in arranging the ideas and putting all together. It was really a perfect stage to widen my words capacity and learn new words. And most importantly, to put these words in a template of a conversation as a step to write the script.  In this stage, I had a special pleasure because we had a very nice discussion as well as respect, care and cooperation. when we had our script ready, we gave it to the teacher for editing and reformulation, then after a couple of days, we had it back and we started to learn the lines and notice the changes where masses of learning happened at this point.

3.We worked as a team, having Nour as our leader. We divided the rules among ourselves and we started our training sessions. we were spending half an hour every day to rehearse it and to develop our performance. It is a great chance that helps us break the barriers of fear, raise self-confidence and grant us the courage to speak with a beautiful accent. After days and nights of hard-working, we performed it to Peter-our volunteer to receive feedback and then we took this to develop our performance to submit it for the playwright competition. Knowing that we are among the winners is indescribable and nothing in life fills my heart with joy as this .
I think taking part  in this fantastic project is the highlight of my life . It gave me the opportunity to perform our previous play “ The shadow girl “ at Al –Hakawati theatre in Jerusalem and I am looking forward to performing this soon again .Now , I know that I have a dream to be a volunteer in the hands up project one day.  

Nour says ,

During these bad situations that happened and are  still happening since the first moment of 2020 all over the world .Lately , this Covid 19 started to spread in Gaza to add insult to the injury  .People in Gaza have been under unfair blockade for a long time and  they have been suffering from powercut , lack of clean water and regular bombings during the last two weeks . In spite of all of these unbearable events, there is a reason to optimistic  because there is “drama”. So drama is the only way to escape from this sad reality to make our own world that is  full of peace and colour it with our favorite colours .Here , I would like to talk about my own experience of being a member in drama club in Gaza for two years .And , particularly being the main writer and group leader of the play” Oh my home” .

creating the script

We chose the idea for this play  that is “ the meaning of being a refugee “ because we Palestinians know the best the meaning of this word as we are refugees on our homeland. It is what means to you to be homeless and far away from your land. It is not only about being expelled from your homeland because of the occupation, but also being expelled by the hardship of life . It’s about a child without   a childhood and a youth without any hope in life ,it’s about being in a piece of land without having anything really to pull you to stay . So ,we noticed how people in a lot of countries started to escape illegally through the sea to a place where they can live a good life like humanbeings . Actually , we were inspired by this idea and by the picture  of this Syrian boy who sank and was found dead at the shore . Me and my group decided to write together about this idea and we gave the story a name titled “oh my home “ . The group consisted of 5 girls ( including me as their leader ) .I was the main writer and they helped me.

Then , we converted it into a kind of script following the model that the teacher gave us ( the characters and the directions etc.. ). We learnt the value of respecting others thoughts and the norm of listening to each other attentively. After that , we handed the script in to Miss Haneen – our teacher to have a look at it for editing and reformulations . Then , she gave it back to us to notice the changes about the language intelligibility and the style of the script . We held a meeting without the teacher to agree on the timetable for everyday training sessions. Nothing could be more beautiful than this. We discovered our talents while performing the scripts. We discovered that we had a memory in every single bit of our bodies and we came up with the idea that the team spirit is just perfect to achieve our goals in life.

Performing remotely to our HUP volunteer, Peter Oswald

What I like about remote theatre  is that you started with a kind of performance and you ended up with a different version . That’s exactly what happened in “ Oh, my home “ , because of the ongoing feedback we  were receiving from each other throughout the whole training  , from our teacher and from Peter Oswald –our Hands up volunteer .

Hearing that your efforts had paid off and you won is something exceptional in life . I was full of joy when we were among the winners and my eyes were full of tears because the first dream of my life was come true . I am looking forward to performing it live in Jerusalem soon . Thank you Mr Nick and all the team in the hands up project for granting us this opportunity to tell our stories to the world . You are truly a source of inspiration to all of  us .

The final recorded performance of ‘Oh my home’

Creative and Engaging storytelling for Teachers


This week, we have a post from long standing HUP volunteer in Gaza, Heba Hamouda. Heba completed her PhD research on digital storytelling last year, and recently took part in David Heathfield’s online course – ‘Creative and Engaging storytelling for Teachers’  The next one starts on Monday 24th of August and David is kind enough to offer two free places on these courses to people involved in the Hands Up Project in Palestine.


In this blog, I’ll be summarizing David Heathfield’s Storytelling course which is titled Creative and Engaging Storytelling for Teachers. I’ll be talking about the following subtitles:

  1. Definition of storytelling
  2. The difference between reading stories and storytelling.
  3. The Educational value of storytelling
  4. The art of storytelling.


Storytelling can be simply defined as the art of narration for the sake of description and entertainment. Stories offer a fertile soil for helping individuals learn skills and obtain knowledge as our brains tend to organize information and store data in a story form. Moreover, the distinction between stories and other language forms is markedly manifested in the use of paralinguistic features through the art of narration. Features like pitch, stress, and intonation would critically contribute to the interpretation of the overall message. Thus, stories can provide students with an interesting language model to follow and eagerly imitate.

Regarding the difference between storytelling and reading stores we can say that storytelling can guarantee higher levels of involvement and concentration among students. It is more interactive and flexible as the storyteller/teacher can control the story to accommodate students’ reactions. It’s also praised for the storyteller’s ability to nourish the story events with his/her interactions which would ease students’ understanding. Finally, it is similarly privileged for granting better opportunities for slow learners which made them feel equal to their classmates.

The educational value of storytelling emerges from its originality. Everyone has a story to tell as we are instinctively born with the ability to tell stories. Since stories can touch students’ hearts before their minds, they are recognised as deeply appealing and motivating. The process of building stories in the mind is a meaning-making process. Consequently, children can more easily link their pieces of knowledge together when they come in a story form. Moreover, stories help people appreciate their own and other cultures and recognise the world around them.

Stories are motifs of citizenship, diversity and multiculturalism.  This cross-cultural understanding along with other community ethics would support higher order thinking among students. Storytelling provides a rich environment for language learners to activate their minds innovatively either individually or in groups. Therefore, storytelling is considered a complex process that requests storytellers to accompany many factors simultaneously to construct a meaningful message, i.e. appealing to their audience.

The art of storytelling

In this course, several principles were introduced that a storyteller teacher needs to consider when dealing with stories. First, the teacher has to pave the way for the coming story by contextualizing and relating it to students’ environment and background.  Brainstorming and asking some simple questions are good ways for accomplishing this part of the task. Second, during the presentation of the story, teachers are advised to maintain consistent interaction with their students and keep them concentrated by doing simple actions, e.g. changing their pace or the tone of their voice. Assigning simple or fun activities during the implementation would also help keep the children involved and motivated. A third suggestion for effective storytelling, is to repeat some parts of the story several times to smooth children’s comprehension and memorization of the story events. Finally, a post activity is critically essential for ensuring students’ comprehension.

To conclude, story can provide an excellent context for practicing all four learning skills with young learners. Yet, the role of the teacher in the EFL classrooms is irreplaceable. This conclusion can direct us to the significant role of teachers in supporting their raw stories with all the needed tools and accommodations to achieve their desired goals.

Heba Hamouda


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 https://www.facebook.com/917350095017969/videos/282505462841075/ )

https://www.facebook.com/917350095017969/videos/282505462841075/ )

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 of.play. 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 seeing.me then I talked about my journey to Jerusalem when we won last.year and we performed.it 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. https://www.facebook.com/pg/handsupproject/videos/

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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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