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!

Storytelling with a twist (or many twists)

This week we have a post from long term Hands Up Project volunteer, Filip Rakocevic. Filip is an English teacher in Belgrade, Serbia and for a while now he’s been working collaboratively through HUP with Ashraf Kuheil in a boys elementary school in Gaza city. I love the way this activity involves everyone in the storytelling process.

In the world of storytelling it is important to use a range of techniques and approaches. I I’ve just recently entered this world of teaching English through stories but I would like to share an idea which I think might be an excellent tool to further improve the quality of the content we give to our young learners.

It has been a while since I was in touch with my inner child and I guess that all of us stop using our imagination so much as we grow older. One day while I was daydreaming it came to me that our students would also like to tell stories to us, but sadly some of them don’t quite have enough language to be able to do this. Luckily I’ve found  a way to include them even more and give them more and more power over the stories we tell them.

Instead of just me speaking and then them doing some activities I realised that I could create something where they would have complete control over the story. I decided to create an interactive story where they would be given options with carefully planned consequences which could give them valuable lessons.

I am fortunate enough to be teaching a group of 20 boys in a school in Gaza, together with the amazing and helpful Ashraf Kuhail.

filip post 3

I wrote a story from scratch with many various plot twists and options to choose from.
The outline of the story talked about a group of 20 brave warriors who have undertaken an important mission to carry an important religious book to Jerusalem. On their way they were faced with many challenges.

The first one was the giant magical snake that stood in their path. They were given the option to sacrifice their horses and run or stay and fight the snake. They decided to fight the snake and almost managed to kill it. Then the snake offered them three gifts to choose from and in turn they would spare the snake’s life. It offered them a map, water or food. The boys decided to take the map because they believed it would tell them where the nearest water source is, as well as helping them on their journey. I asked them to explain every decision they made to make them aware of the seriousness of their choices. They continued with their journey and managed to find a lake using the map they had previously attained, but unfortunately the lake was guarded by a wizard. He told them that the water inside the lake is poisonous and that it would surely kill them. He offered to help them if they answered one of his riddles. The boys successfully answered the riddle, drank and continued. Next, they stumbled across an army of scorpions and were given the option of again fleeing and sacrificing their horses or fight. They used fire to break through the scorpions surrounding them. In the last desert challenge, they were faced with a relentless sandstorm threatening to blow them away. I asked them to come up with a way to overcome this difficulty and their solution was to tie themselves to one another and use shields to face the wind and move as one so that none of them would be swept by the wind. After several days of a difficult journey, they finally reached the city of Jerusalem where they faced an even greater difficulty, one in the form of a man. The king was dying and his evil son was in charge of the city, a son who had no respect of any tradition. He wanted to take the book from these young 20 warriors but they fought bravely and now controlled the evil prince. They were given the option of killing him but they decided to spare his life and send him from the city. The king learned of this and sent for them. He asked them to let him see the book which they finally did only after checking whether he was a good man. In return he gave them the keys to the city, now they were the ones who would rule. Their first task was to choose a king which they did, while others were appointed as his advisors. The king’s first decision was to banish all the bad people from the city and create a peaceful environment where there would be no judgment, war or cruelty.

Filip post 1

At the end of the class I asked the students to tell me what they learned from this story. They stated: ‘’It is better to use your mind than your muscles’’, ‘’We must be united’’, ‘’We must think before we do something’’ etc. Their classroom teacher, Ashraf was guiding their choices all the way and together we made them aware of how important their actions and decisions are.

They had complete control of the story and I had to change much of my original plan because their creativity and sharpness required more detailed and greater challenges. They challenged my imagination and in turn I fed theirs. I think that this type of storytelling really makes them feel in control, gives them a sense of ownership and therefore engages them much more than during conventional storytelling.

filip post 2

Hands Up, Heads Together: Brainstorming Sessions for Volunteers


Hi, I’m Divya. I volunteer for the Hands Up Project, which is, to me, one of the most salubrious, stimulating, high-impact spaces in the world of language teaching. Like most volunteers, I relish my hour a week of accompanying an English teacher in Gaza, with group of children I’ve grown, needlessly to say, very attached to, and whom I have lots of fun preparing lessons for. I’m rediscovering, after 18 years of teaching, the warm fuzz of designing an activity that gets a child excited about language learning.

This weekend I got together with a few other Hands Up Project volunteers, to launch our first, in a series of, feedback and development sessions for fellow volunteers. We talked about the unique reality of being a virtual presence in a classroom, which some of us are new to; we exchanged ideas on how we manage the dialogue and space. We dished out our tales of individual creativity, intuition and the extra-mile responses that we find ourselves needing to tap into, when we experience the inevitable computer-says-no moment (I found myself mimicking something not dissimilar to the Dream House sequence in Modern Times recently at one such moment). We talked about rhythm in particular and the wholly different ciphers to gauging lesson dynamics as a remote teacher. We shared smiles, stories and little bits of classroom wisdom that these kinds of conversations bring. And we’ve decided to keep going. So the next session will be on March 15th.

Save the date and see you there!



Feedback on the finalists

I’ve collated and condensed some of the many comments from the judges to create a short paragraph about all the winning plays. We very much look forward to awarding all of these plays their trophies, and to seeing their live performances in the West Bank over the next year.  Huge congratulations to you all!

A Stranger Within – Al Rimal Prep Girls School A

“An excellent ensemble play held together strongly by the central actress with passion and conviction, and very well supported by her fellow performers. A very original set and backdrop which is visually very stimulating.  Beautifully written and competently delivered rhyming lines, ending with a powerful message about our indomitable human spirit.”


Don’t Look Back – New Khan Younis Prep Girls School

“A very clever idea to use the screen as the magic mirror to enable powerful close up acting which connects very strongly to the audience. A beautifully produced, enchanting, original fairy tale with a very mature and real theme, conveying a deep and universal message from the human consciousness. Stunning work!”  


Hand in Hand – Abasan Prep Girls School

“Very nicely produced play exploring the dark and light sides of what it is to be human. Passionately acted and sung, and creatively set, the play challenges the idea of dwelling too much on the past, instead declaring that with hope, love and beauty in out hearts we can make a difference to the future.”


Hands Up – Al Aqsa Elementary School B

“Combining great comic acting and timing, with a deadly serious message about the need to stand up for the rights of  oppressed people around the world, this play is excellently produced with some great effects and background music. It makes us smile and cry at the same time, and the song at the end is beautifully and tenderly delivered.”  


Hope – Hajjah Girls Secondary School, Qalqilia

“A highly striking opening with the mother delivering her heart-felt lines right into the eye of the camera but through the bars limiting her freedom. This play shows a snapshot of daily life under occupation. It is very well acted by the entire cast and overcomes the challenges of filming outside extremely well.” 


I Can – Mae’n prep boys school

“A very moving take on how hope and effort can be stronger that the external limitations placed on our innermost dreams. The boys have created an excellent piece of remote theatre, turning the limitations of the fixed camera to their advantage, and delivering a vital but uplifting message through powerful physical theatre.” 


I Can Smell Her – Gaza Elementary Girls ‘B’ School  (More judges voted for this play than any other as their overall favourite. It will therefore be invited to the UK in April)

“Highly innovative and original production, combining shadow theatre with close up, very engaging acting. Extremely imaginative use of the space -especially the transition between the two worlds. This play explores the universal theme of losing a loved one in an unsentimental but deeply moving way and, above all, the incredible resilience of children”  


It’s Your Choice – Beach Prep Girls School C

“A classy story, cleverly combining clear narration, flowing natural English, ‘a play within a play’, and a refection on modern society (with the Cinderella shoes as a brilliant metaphor). It’s very well written and acted with a clear moral that is played out rather than preached to us. An extremely engaging and inspiring performance”


I Will Wait Until They Open The Gate – Beach Elem. Co-ed School (C)

“This hauntingly moving ensemble play symbolically portrays the frustrations, and also the determination and resilience, of children living with the consequences of the blockade. It’s supported by very strong yet simple, cyclical dialogue and excellent acting, and a great set and sound effects. Very well written and very well performed.”   


One World Different Stories – Al Rimal Prep Girls School B

“A tender rendition of yearning for humanitarian values in the face of oppression, this play explores the Palestinian experience but also our universal need as humans to connect and to be understood. It includes excellent close up camera work with playful and committed acting, enabling the audience to feel deeply immersed in the experience.”


Othman the Honest –  Khan Younis prep boys school

“A wonderful parable play with an unexpected twist at the end – clearly delivered and skilfully and sensitively performed by a group of boys. Visually very attractive, this play uses an excellent backdrop, costumes and props to tell a universally relevant story about the value of honesty.”


Success Story  – Japanese Girls School, Aqqaba

“This is a very well structured story, expertly delivered to span several generations, all in the space of five minutes. It was an inspired idea to have the diary entries come to life in front of the audience’s eyes. The English used is fluent and clear and the acting and setting are natural and believable. Great team effort with an uplifting ending.”


The Living Song –  Beit Hanoun Elm. Co-ed “D” School

“A heart warming portrayal of family life, this play provides a very original storyline performed by confident, well-composed actresses and an outstanding delivery by the daughter. The interaction flowed very smoothly and the scene changes and time changes were slickly and professionally managed. Great work!”


The Lord of Show – Tel- Al sultan Elementary school

“Good, clear, confident acting and an excellent connection to the audience in this interesting play about the value of team work. Performing in a circle worked very well – as did their close up camera work. The costumes and set and the overall theme of the play is quirky and highly engaging.” 


The Play of the Play – Al Fukhari Prep. Girls School

“A wonderfully creative and truly innovative play and performance – breaking through conventions of theatre and playing with the concept of remote theatre by making it about the competition itself. The actors were full of wit, charisma, energy and joy and the language was very clear and natural”


The Shadow Girl –  Asma Prep Girls B School

Intelligent, well balanced and professionally produced ensemble play about the dangers of social media addiction. It is beautifully choreographed, incorporating fine acting, enchanting singing, clear well-projected voices and a fantastic backdrop painted by one of the students. A very important message for the modern world.”


The Sky is your Limit – Al Madina Al Monawara Prep Girls

“Nicely produced play about the inner thoughts of children living under occupation with some exciting special effects using sound and lighting and some passionate acting. A great team effort where lots of work has clearly gone on behind the scenes in planning the performance and in creating the fantastic costumes.” 


The Story of a Homeland – Al Madina Al Munawara Girls School, Rafah

“A very creatively planned shadow theatre performance using confident narration and well-rehearsed physical acting to tell the story of Palestine. It was an ingenious idea to combine the shadows with projected images and music. The actors work really well together, becoming not only people of different ages, but also animals, trees and even buildings” 
















The Remote Theatre Finalists 2019

This year there were far more plays submitted than last year and the standard was incredibly high. The huge, international panel of 77 judges have finally reached a very difficult decision and it is as follows :-

There were 180 plays submitted for the competition: 40 performed by younger girls, 20 by younger boys and mixed, 20 by older girls from the West Bank, 80 by older girls from Gaza, and 20 by older boys and mixed. Each of these groups is represented in the final by 10% of the total number of submissions for their category.  They are listed alphabetically in each category below.

Younger girls 

I can smell herGaza Elementary Girls ‘B’ School

I will wait until they open the gateBeach Elem. Co-ed School (C)

The Living Song –  Beit Hanoun Elm. Co-ed “D” School 

The story of a homelandAl Madina Al Munawara Girls School, Rafah


Younger boys and mixed 

Hands UpAl Aqsa Elementary School B

The Lord of Show – Tel- Al sultan Elementary school


Older girls – West Bank

Hope – Hajjah Girls Secondary School, Qalqilia

Success Story  – Japanese Girls School, Aqqaba


Older Girls – Gaza

A Stranger Within – Al Rimal Prep Girls School A

Don’t Look Back – New Khan Younis Prep Girls School

Hand in Hand – Abasan Prep Girls School

It’s Your Choice – Beach Prep Girls School C

One World Different Stories – Al Rimal Prep Girls School B

The Play of the Play – Al Fukhari Prep. Girls School

The Shadow Girl –  Asma Prep Girls B School

The Sky is your Limit – Al Madina Al Monawara Prep Girls


Older boys and mixed

I can – Mae’n prep boys school

Othman the Honest –  Khan Younis prep boys school


On behalf of the judges, the trustees of the Hands Up Project, and all the HUP volunteers around the world, we would like to express our warmest congratulations to all the finalists. All of these plays will be awarded with trophies and will be invited to perform their plays in the West Bank over the next year. One of these plays will be invited to perform at the HUP conference in the UK in April, but this decision will be made later.

Because of the huge number of entries and the very high standard, inevitably some excellent plays have not made it to the final. We would like to also congratulate every single child, teacher and school in Palestine who took part for your creative ideas, your hard work and your commitment to improve your English through making remote theatre. We will be providing detailed feedback to every play over the next month.