Is there anybody there? …….

A post from teacher Sue Piper about how the mix of online and face-to-face classes, known as blended learning, can have surprisingly positive results.

There’s no doubt that recent months have been a challenge for all teachers. When I got my new ‘blended learning’ timetable for September I thought it was a cryptic puzzle that I had to carefully de-code. It showed different groups doing different things at different times. Some online, some in class and some distance learning. 

I work in Oldham, a very deprived area in Greater Mánchester. My students are on benefits and none of them have regular work. Many have endured long and difficult journeys to be in the U.K and many are separated from their families. Many of them don’t have laptops or internet access from home. How was I going to teach online?

Most have a smartphone so the first thing I did was set up WhatsApp groups. I then telephoned each student and talked about Zoom and how they could download it on their phones. Sometimes this took many conversations with various family members who happened to be home at the time! At last, I was confident that most had the app. I sent out the link and hoped for the best……

Many of our first sessions were about getting to know the technology- muting/unmuting, video on/off etc. The first few were a bit like seances- Is there anybody there? Can you hear me? Gradually they became more confident and we could actually get started learning some English! 

I saw the online sessions as a great opportunity to develop speaking and listening as we have to sit two metres away from each other in class- partner and group work wasn’t possible. I would use the class room sessions for independent, grammar based work. 

Over lockdown, classes were closed and myself and my colleagues worked from home mainly making resources for various levels we teach. Three of us did a course with wonderful HUP volunteer David Heathfield who inspired us to tell stories in our classrooms. We all then set about making a whole bank of storytelling resources for our Intranet Platform-Moodle so we could access them for online learning. 

Each of us recorded videos of stories. Some of us did folk tales, some of us did personal stories and some did simple stories about everyday topics. We then devised a lesson plan for each story and a bank of follow up activities to go with each one. This included getting learners to re- tell the story in simple sentences, answering questions about the story, a simple writing task and a quizlet task to reinforce vocabulary. 

So far, they’ve been really popular! Learners have enjoyed discussing the themes and topics the stories have raised. The first two I looked at were ‘ The Lion and the Mouse’ and ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’. We had some great conversations as a group about the themes of the stories and learners responses were recorded and then used as ‘speech bubbles’ for a display. 

In recent weeks we’ve got to grips with using breakout rooms and recording responses in the chat box. Sons, daughters, neighbours have all been helping and sometimes our story-times really are a family affair! 

I’ve also learned how to make the most of these sessions too by using targeted questions, typing as I’m speaking and using high frequency vocabulary throughout. All small steps for me but giant leaps for some of my learners, who, a few weeks ago would never have thought they’d be taking part in online English classes. 

Our first meeting with the Abu Sharea-Abu Jasser family in Gaza

This week we have a lovely post from Katy Colley about their first ‘Family Matters’ meeting with our very own Raja’a.

A photo taken during the session by Alex

As I waited nervously with my family, all seated on the couch together, I wondered if this would work. Could we really connect with another family in Gaza – a place which has been under an illegal blockade for 13 years? Rajaa’s family from Al Sabra, East of Gaza City, seemed so warm and friendly in their video message to us but in real life we would never have had an opportunity to come together as they are not allowed to leave Gaza and we would not be able to get a permit to enter. But now, thanks to the Hands Up project and the amazing powers of the internet, we could meet each other, face to face, from the comfort of our own living rooms.

Suddenly the screen flickered to life and here they were! All seven, seated on their sofa in front of us – the three older girls Salma, 10, Alma, 8 and Judy, 6, twin boys Ahmed and Adam, dad Mohammad and mum Raja’a with her warm smile and perfect English, ready to help us all communicate with one another.

It was a fantastic meeting. We were keen to learn more about their lives and they told us they are currently under a partial lockdown because of Covid, with all the schools out, though Mohammed is still able to work part time. Meanwhile, the children keep themselves busy playing outside, riding bikes and drawing – just like ours. In fact, Raja’s eldest daughter Salma and my eldest Erin share a passion for art, exchanging pictures on Zoom.

‘They’re really good,’ Erin whispered to me on the couch, admiring Salma’s figurative drawings. ‘I’d like to draw like that.’

Since Raja’a is the most proficient English speaker she did most of the talking for her family, although Phil exchanged a few words of Arabic with her husband Mohammad and we found out a little bit more about them both. Raja’a is an English language school teacher and Mohammed an architect and accountant, though he has a PhD in Political Science. She too has an impressive educational background in civil engineering. They live in a duplex with Mohammed’s family in the same block and though the children enjoy going to the beach, they are not able to do this as much as they like right now because of the pandemic.

Alex is showing her artwork

Likewise, we told them something about our lives in Brede, East Sussex, running a campsite and living in the countryside. I showed them one of Phil’s squashes that he grows on his vegetable patch and described some of the dishes we cook. Then, a revelation.

‘You’re vegetarians?’ Raja’a exclaimed. 

‘Yes,’ I laughed.

‘All of you?’

‘Yes. Are there any vegetarians in Gaza?’

‘No, I’ve never met any here.’

That was surprising. I was also stunned to learn that we were talking to the family during an electricity outage.

‘This is normal,’ said Raja’a. ‘It’s off now and we won’t have electricity for another seven hours.’ That was 4pm Gaza time – I tried to imagine living every day and night with no electricity, how difficult that would be. But Raja’a was philosophical: ‘We get used to it.’

Right now, they were running their computer off a battery and they open their curtains as wide as possible to make use of the natural light.

All the while Salma, Alma and Judy sat patiently beside their mother. Not the twins! Bored of sitting still, they had crawled off to other adventures – climbing on the windows, forcing Raja’a and Mohammad to jump up and retrieve them every now and then. Forty minutes flew by and before we knew it it was time to say goodbye.

‘We’ll film some more of our village and send it to you,’ I promised before we signed off.

‘Yes, us too,’ said Raja’a.  

I was elated and slightly sad after we switched off the computer. Did that just happen? I’ve spent many years learning about Gaza and about what is going on there. It felt amazing but also slightly surreal to form a connection with a family living in this besieged strip of land. And yet here we were, talking about swimming in the sea, drawing, vegetarians, cooking – ordinary stuff. I would love to meet Raja’a and her family in person one day but until then I know we will become firm friends from afar. And nothing can stand in our way.

After the meeting Raja’a’s family wrote the names of Katy’s family in the sand on the beach in Gaza.

Family matters

A few weeks ago Adrian Underhill gave a talk about the work of the Hands up Project at an online event in the UK. Anyone who’s ever seen Adrian talk at a conference will know that he is a real innovator in our field and is always exploring new ways of working. At the end of the talk when people were asking about ways of getting involved in the Hands up Project, he suggested that families in the UK might like to connect to a family in Palestine for informal meetings to share something about their lives.

I think this is a brilliant idea and so did one of the participants, Katy it seems as she got in touch with us that very evening. We’ve now arranged the first meeting between her family and Raja’s family in Gaza. Here are their introductory videos. We look forward to hearing how they got on when they write a joint blog post about it next week.

Of course we’d love to extend this idea to families all over the world. Please get in touch with us at if you’d like to be involved in a link up like this.

Memory games for language learning

This week’s post is by longterm Hands up Project volunteer in Gaza, and winner of last year’s remote theatre competition, Sahar Siam. You can see Sahar using some of her memory activities in her weekly grade 6 Facebook live session here

To recall or to remember are at the bottom of the cognitive pyramid according to Bloom’s famous theory. Yet, they are the essence of all the other higher skills.

Memory games are one of the best ways to enhance students’ basic skills; as they require the players to use their memories to complete the game. They are highly related to the area for short term memory area in our brains. In this way, they are provide a boost to improving concentration, attention to detail and visual discrimination.

That’s why they are like the teacher’s magic wand. They are really flexible to suit any kind of topics: vocabulary, grammar, reading or writing and there are great alternatives to consider while designing these memory games.  They could be spot the differences, finding a link between two related items, or completing the missing parts.

They are also an enjoyable and exciting way to provide brain fitness for different audiences.  You can make it simple for younger learners or more complicated for adults. With the right memory game, students can improve their problem- solving skills since some of these games require students to arrange things, think ahead and plan their next step to advance.

In short, it’s beyond doubt that memory games have unique benefits. The earlier students start with them, the better their brain fitness will be.

The many audiences of our Facebook live sessions..

This weeks post is written by one of our most loyal participants and also presenters in our Facebook live sessions, Diana Abu Khaled. Over to you Diana

I work as an English teacher of young learners in Gaza and also a lecturer at university as well. I would like to share my  reflection about Hup sessions. I think they are important not only to students but also to many other groups of people as well:-

1 Newly appointed teachers:

Curriculum based sessions give them golden tips on how to teach each period effectively and interactively at the same time. They become more aware of the importance of each step. After following these sessions , they become more confident as they imitate lessons delivered by experts.


They can spot tips, activities, and suggestions and share them with teachers. Supervisors can give opportunities to motivated teachers to be co-teachers with specialists in curriculum based sessions. Furthermore, they can recommend following hands up curriculum- based sessions to their teachers as part of their  CPD ( continuous professional development)

3-Experienced teachers:

Hup provides them with a new variety of activities such as different warming up activities that are used in every session. In addition it gives them an opportunity to participate as co- teachers in curriculum –based sessions. They can also lead storytelling sessions as well.

4-Student in faculty of education who receive field training in teaching. The Curriculum based sessions are free demonstrative lessons presented by experts. They are the practical version of the teachers guide book. These sessions assist those students to answer their questions about how to teach lessons effectively. Moreover, they increase their pedagogical dictionary by listening to educational tips. The most interesting thing here is that the teachers in curriculum based session don’t only focus on teaching but also they share with audience anticipated problems and how to overcome them.


Parents always want to know how the teachers teach. Similarly, teachers want the parents to understand how they teach. Parents can develop a deep knowledge of the content objectives because of the Curriculum- based sessions. They know how to help students to master key structures. How to consolidate the content in their minds. Parents’ pronunciation becomes much better as they listen to native speakers. Thus, there will be fewer students’ fossilized pronunciation errors because of their parents pronunciation.

5- Researchers: The hands up sessions spark new topics to be investigated  such as the power of storytelling, co –teaching, and many others educational and intercultural topics.


Storytelling sessions support students in linguistic and  cultural aspects:

First, the linguistic aspects:

1-Vocabulary: each session they learn new vocabs presented in various ways ( puppets, flashcards , context …ect.).

2- Pronunciation by listening to native and more advanced speakers.

3-Speaking -learning new chunks, collocations and phrasal verbs in an authentic context.

Secondly , the cultural aspect :

Students know more about other cultures because of  international storytellers from different background who tell stories from all over the world.

Researchers: they can find new topics to investigate and new topics such as The power of storytelling, co-teaching etc.

Finally, nothing more important than values and skills:

  1. Discussing the morals of the stories helps in creating good citizens.
  2.  Creative & critical thinking skills ( the story telling sessions are loaded with divergent questions that evoke thinking)

T/ Diana Abu Zayed /Gaza

I’ve learnt so much from my mistakes I think I’ll make some more…

I’m not sure who said this originally, but I remember seeing it years ago, on a postcard stuck to my parents’ fridge. It’s a joke of course (the whole thing about making mistakes is that we don’t plan to make them!) but then, like all good jokes, I think there’s also a universal truth behind it.

It’s widely believed, and widely spouted in educational literature, that putting ourselves into situations where we take risks and inevitably make mistakes can lead to learning. We could go even further (and possibly make a mistake by doing so:-) ) and suggest that making mistakes is actually central to learning. If we don’t make mistakes are we actually learning anything at all?

How does this apply specifically to language learning? Here’s an example where I learnt something in Spanish.

Many years ago I was sitting on the Santiago metro with my young son next to me in a pushchair. Opposite me was a man (a native speaker of Chilean Spanish) who had a baby who seemed roughly the same age as mine. I took a risk and started speaking to him even though I didn’t feel very confident about the accuracy of the words I was using. The short exchange which followed provided a safe framework (or scaffold) in which I could experiment with the Spanish word for ‘crawl’.

Me: y cuantos meses tiene el tuyo?  (and how many months old is yours?)

Man: nueve (nine)

 Me: y gatilla? (and does he ‘pull the trigger?’)

 Man: Gatea? Gatea. Si (crawl? He crawls. Yeah.)

Despite me pronouncing the word incorrectly, the man understood what I’d meant, reformulated the inaccuracy and continued with the conversation. It was a moment of learning for me that happened as a direct result of me making a mistake.

In our new Facebook live curriculum based sessions we have two teachers working together to provide language clarification and language practice activities for students at different grades of ‘English for Palestine’. Of course the students can’t take risks orally (as in my example) because they only have the option of writing comments. But in fact the opportunities for learning from their mistakes in these sessions may be even greater than if they were taking place face to face. There are three reasons for this in my opinion.

Firstly, when things are written down there is a permanent and clear record of what’s been produced . This means that it may be easier for the two teachers to notice learner language, and they therefore have opportunities to provide personalised feedback on the comments and orally reformulate what the students have written. Secondly, there are lots of other teachers participating in the sessions too, (as observers or for their own professional development), and these teachers can provide written reformulations on what the students write. Thirdly, because these reformulations provided by the teachers are written there is more potential for the students to notice them and consequently learn from them.

Here’s an example of this from Sahar and Lauren’s session last Saturday morning. They were doing a really nice personalised practice activity where Sahar wrote ‘What is your favourite hobby’ on her mini-whiteboard, and then invited the students to write their answers. You can see what happened in the comments on the right. It’s great that Sahar and Lauren had created a learning environment where Luay felt brave enough to make a mistake, and I hope that he felt encouraged and supported by the response that I gave him and could learn from it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all language learners around the world went to their classes with the attitude of ‘I’ve learnt so much from my mistakes I think I’ll make some more‘? Wouldn’t it be wonderful too if all language teachers did their very best to create a learning environment where this attitude could thrive. I’d love to read your views on this in the comments below.

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