Green screen storytelling

I’m looking forward to our online sessions with young people in Palestine which will start again soon, and this year I’m particularly excited about experimenting with online storytelling using another of Zoom’s free tools – the virtual background.

My eldest son bought me a green screen for Xmas last year but it’s only during this long break from sessions over the summer that I’ve had a chance to pin it to one of the walls of my shed and try it out.

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It basically enables you to project any image you would like to be seen behind you whilst in a zoom session. Up to now, when using pictures in an online storytelling session, I’ve done this through screen sharing of powerpoint slides. The disadvantage with this is that the video of you telling the story is quite small and tends to be dominated by the images. Of course, it may be really important that everyone is really focussed on the pictures, but when telling a story online I think it’s also really important that the children can see the storyteller well; that he or she can make eye contact, make visible gestures and facial expressions, enter and leave the stage sometimes, and even interact somehow with the background.

Here are some screen shots of me telling a story (sea glass soup) using three different virtual backgrounds – one for each of the scenes of the story – the beach, outside the house, and the kitchen.

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If you’d like to know more about green-screen storytelling, I’m building it into our training courses for new volunteers and I’ll also be doing a short Friday training session on it for existing volunteers soon. If you’re a teacher in Palestine and you’d like to arrange a weekly online storytelling session for the young people you work with then get in touch with us soon and we’ll find a volunteer for you.

Speakification activities

It’s often true in classes in Palestine (maybe in classes all of the world) that learners know lots of words in English but they are not always so good at using these words in their own utterances. So perhaps one of our jobs as teachers is to design activities which challenge learners to speakify language.

I think I may have just invented that word! What I want speakification to mean is to put new language to work by using it in speech. I think there are three main reasons for doing this:-

  1. It challenges learners to focus on how words are pronounced.
  2. It pushes learners to think about collocation, colligation and context.
  3. It helps to make language memorable for learners because it challenges a key process involved in memorisation – retrieval

So here’s a simple game that Lozan (their classroom teacher) and I (their remote volunteer) used with a group of 11 year old girls in Beach Elementary Co-ed UNRWA school, Beach camp, Gaza. The stages went something like this:-


  1. I showed them a piece of paper with drawings of lots of things that began with the same letter as my name. I asked them to try to work out what the drawing represented
  2. I asked them to do the same for their own names.
  3. They showed their pictures to me and I tried to work out what each drawing represented.
  4. I described the words in my drawing to the whole class (without showing the picture again) and they tried to work out the words from my description.
  5.  They took it in turns to do the same activity to me. We made it into a competition by saying that the winner would be the person who could describe the most words in a minute.

Now of course this activity, although it’s quite motivating and fun, isn’t actually that good as a speakification activity. For a start it pushes the listener to retrieve and say the word rather than the speaker. It also doesn’t really challenge anyone to say the word in a natural utterance, thereby failing to address issues of collocation.

So what do you do in your classes to get leaners to speakify new language? Please share some ideas below in the comments so that we can all have some ideas to try out when classes start again in a couple of weeks.

Remote theatre training – for teachers and students

So, as promised last week, here’s a post talking about how we organised the teacher development courses in Gaza on remote theatre, and how we incorporated learners of English into the workshops.

The two day course was delivered twice – once in Gaza city for teachers from the Northern areas, and once in Khan Younis for teachers form the Southern areas. There were 10 teachers and 15 students on each course. The teachers have been appointed as remote theatre specialists for their areas, and this workshop framework may serve a model for them to conduct their own workshops for teachers and students themselves.

Here are the basic stages that we used in conducting the workshop..

  1. Remote theatre warm up. The teachers and the students worked in separate groups with five people in each. I gave each group a single word (time, freedom, the future, family or hope) and asked them to prepare a very short remote theatre performance where the only thing they could say was this word. I asked each group to use their voices and their bodies in interesting ways to make the performance as creative as possible. Everyone gave feedback to each other after each performance, and in the end we voted on which performance was the most creative.


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2) Scriptwriting/Script reformulating. Then I gave the three students’ groups a short, simple summary of a story.  I asked them to start working on turning this summary into a script. They worked together to do this. Meanwhile I put all the teachers together in one group of 10 and gave them a script created by students in Gaza in a previous session. I asked them to discuss how they would upgrade and reformulate the language. We did some feedback on this, and once we’d agreed on a definitive version we worked on pronunciation – particularly on sentence stress, pausing and intonation.  While this was all going on, I was hovering between the students’ groups and the teachers’ groups, trying to help out where it was needed but not get in the way too much as well.



3) Upgrading the students’ work. The students were asked to finish their scripts as homework, so on the next day I assigned 3 or 4 teachers to each group and asked them to apply what we’d focussed on the day before to the student’s scripts. Once they were all agreed on the final version of the script and the lines had been assigned, each teacher worked with one or two students to help them with the pronunciation of their own lines.



4) Rehearsing. Working in three larger groups again with 5 students and 3 or 4 teachers in each, they worked on learning the lines and rehearsing their plays to make the best possible remote theatre performance that they could.  I moved between the groups, making occasional suggestions but most things came out of the discussions between the students and the teachers.


  1. Performances and feedback.  The plays were performed remotely via zoom to two hands up project volunteers based in the UK. These volunteers then provided feedback, initially to the actors in each play but eventually to the whole group.



So this was a framework for conducting a teacher development session on remote theatre. I think that remote theatre has lots of potential as a meaningful way for young people in Palestine and around the world to find international audiences for their creative work. Please let me know if you would like me to run a training course on remote theatre in your school.

Learner Voices in Teacher Development Sessions

I’ve learnt lots of things about education from working with teachers and students in Gaza. Like other areas of the world which are discriminated against, oppressed, and neglected, people in Gaza generally value education very highly. This is perhaps partly because studying hard is seen as a possible way out of the mess that the rest of the world has inflicted on the people of Gaza, and partly because, with nowhere to go, mass unemployment and not much to do in terms of leisure activities, studying is often the only thing that you can do to keep yourself active.

Although, I’ve worked with teachers and students from Gaza for about 7 years now, the first time I ever went there in person was only in April 2017.  This was to speak at an UNRWA, British Council conference, together with Hands Up Project trustee, Scott Thornbury. I learnt an important thing on that day about organising teacher development sessions  and it’s stayed with me ever since.  Scott was due to do a workshop called ‘My ten favourite speaking activities’ and mine was called ‘My ten favourite writing activities’.  Both sessions were very practical in nature and we’d planned to demonstrate the activities with the participation of the teachers who were there – which I guess is a standard way of working in TD sessions.

However, when we got there we found out that as well as around 200 English teachers, there were also about 40 eleven to fourteen year old learners of English in the room. We spontaneously decided that we’d get the learners to do the activities instead of the teachers wherever possible, and have the teachers observe. I think this worked really well for a number of reasons.

When teachers take part in activities which are designed for lower level language learners, they either have to pretend that they are lower level language learners themselves, or (more commonly in my experience) they do the activity as themselves, using all the language that they have available to them as fluent, or near fluent users of English. Neither of these situations is ideal in my opinion. If as trainers we’re demonstrating activities because they have the potential to promote language learning it’s far better that real learners of English do the activities so that this learning may actually happen. This also frees up the teachers to be able to observe the activity taking place and to reflect on its potential benefits.

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Scott demonstrating a speaking activity at the conference with real learners of English

In next week’s post I’m going to share my experience conducting a remote theatre training course in Gaza in which there were 15 young learners of English and 10 teachers of English working together in the same room. Before I do that, I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts about this.

If you’re a teacher trainer have you ever worked in this way or would you ever consider doing so? Is it feasible to do this in your training context? What other ways may there be of bringing the voice of the learners into a teacher development session? If you’re a teacher would you like to participate in a training session that included real learners or the voice of the learners more? Comments below please…

From Gaza to Jerusalem

It was wonderful to witness the enthusiasm and sheer joy that 15 girls from Gaza felt when they visited Jerusalem, took part in a drama workshop with young Palestinians of their age from Jerusalem, and performed their plays at the Palestinian National Theatre. But sadly the teachers who worked so hard to get the plays ready for performance were not able to be with them and share in their success, as their permits to leave Gaza were not granted. One of these teachers, Haneen Khaled, sent this to me after the girls had returned.


From Gaza to Jerusalem: The dream has come true!

With its adorable beaches , sandy shores and very tasty food , Gaza could be the most beautiful area to spend a holiday by the sea. However , the reality is not like that . Life in Gaza has become more difficult than one can imagine. People in Gaza are deprived of many things, including the simple right of being able to  travel freely. But still they have a dream that one day everything they hope for will become reality.


The Hands up Project has succeeded in making this dream come true. 15 girls from three different UNRWA schools in Gaza managed to break through the blockade and make it to Jerusalem as finalists in the Hands Up Project’s remote theatre competition.  I can’t put their hearts into my pen while writing this as it is an indescribable feeling when they were there in the most holy place in the world. Their heart beats say that the hands up project has made a massive achievement that deserves us taking our hats off for it.

I think this trip is not only a prize for winning , but it is also a space to connect the two parts of the world together and unify all under the umbrella of drama . It is a golden chance for those girls from Gaza and others from Jerusalem to put their hands together and sing for their beloved country the closing song ” Let us be together ” despite crossings and borders . In fact , they did it amazingly well . They showed their success and glory to the whole world .


When coming back , they were flying high in the sky holding their accomplishments and their gratitude to the hands up project and to Nick Bilbrough , the manager of the HUP who made all this come true . Abeer Al-khatib wrote about this , ” It was an enjoyable trip that allowed me to learn and get information about my country , acting and theatre . I will not forget this in all my life ” .

My last word is,

” Hands up project gives our students a space to tell their stories to the world

They gather to write and act to travel by their souls abroad

Writing a play become their joy

And to Nick Bilbrough , we say thank you ,

You made our dreams come true ”




Animated stories

This week we have a post by Luzan Mattar, a teacher at  Beach Elementary Co-ed (C) UNRWA school, Beach Camp, Gaza who has been coordinating HUP sessions in her school for a long time now. Luzan is very interested in using drama activities and her students performed one of my favourite plays in last years’s competition – ‘I will wait till they open the gate’ . Here though she writes about a strategy for involving students who feel less confident about acting in front of others. 

Teaching English as a second language for Palestinian children is a big challenge, especially under the tough circumstances they live in. Palestinian teachers are always looking for suitable techniques that may facilitate and support their process of learning English. So the Hands Up Project has been a golden opportunity for the children in our care.  It’s their chance to practice English through drama and the online sessions in which they can express their ideas, feelings and emotions freely. They also have a lot of fun during the online sessions and they feel they can improve their English very easily like this . The playwriting competition made their dreams come true and stimulates  their creativity by enabling them to write and perform things that express their life and dreams in the real world. The competition opened a window to the whole world to tell other people around the world the truth about Palestinian life.

Although lots of students at school want to participate in hands up project online sessions and participate in writing and performing plays, still we have students who are not brave enough to do so. I tried to find a way that may help these students to be  involved too. So I thought about asking them to write their own stories, or rewrite a story they like in their own words and to make an animation out of it.  This technique was really good because it encouraged the shyer students to get involved in the world of storytelling and they were excited and motivated by doing it. Then when they watched the animation of their stories it helped them feel braver about speaking English in their regular classes.

Here’s a short film of some of the animated stories my students made..



From Milan to Khan Younis with love

As two English teachers , we like the idea of connecting our students together to help them improve their English language and make new friends at the same time. We believe that using zoom sessions on the internet can be the best way to do that. Our students can hear, see and interact with each other easily and effectively.

Therefore, we decided to write our reflections of this wonderful experience from our different points of view.

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by Erica Napoli (in Milan)….

I am proud to be part of the Hands Up Project as one of the volunteer teachers for the Gaza Strip learners because this has offered me the opportunity to meet lovely people and feel more like a learner than a teacher.

 In fact, whatever you may assume a teacher must be, this experience is a very distinctive one. The fact that those smiling kids live in danger and constantly have the sense of fear and death makes them different from any typical Italian or European teen; the experience of teaching is not only related to practice in a foreign language but also to sharing a sense of humanity. As much as this may sound strange, I hadn’t reckoned on how much this could impact on me and my class.

For this reason, I want to share with you something about the four classes we had during the last two months (instead of the scheduled six due to the bomb attacks which happened in the middle of this period)

The first lesson with Inas’ class, together with my 12-year-olds’ class, was conducted by Nick who gave the kids some instructions about making up a story starting with the letters of their names. This was a task that my students loved to prepare and share in the second lesson.



The first meeting though was something of mess, at least from my point of view in my class. As a matter of fact my students had just come back from a week’s school trip so I had not had the time to get them prepared for their first online shared lesson experience. They jumped in and out of the camera-range, all talking together, making comments, showing a lot of chaotic interest and being over-excited. But at the end of this first session, my class was enthusiastic and we all had the feeling of having made new friends. We spent some time talking about Gaza and Palestine, looking at a map to see where they are located. My students were shocked to know about how difficult life in Palestine can become, always being afraid of bombs. However, they were all conscious of having experienced joy and found happiness in small acts like sending each other little hearts, shaped with their fingers framing their face.

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By thinking of how to improve our lesson technically, the kids realised that some rules need to be followed in front of the camera. Specifically, they noticed that the Palestinian students were more used to staying in front of the camera, speaking one at a time, pausing and repeating, drawing big signs to make everything clearer. This kind of feedback after the lesson was a way to become aware of how powerful English is as a lingua franca and at the same time how our culture can influence our way of speaking. Despite the fact that my students are only 12 they show an understanding of  this point and become more respectful towards the others. So for example, during the second meeting they were expected to prepare a presentation about their country and habits. My students noticed how their assumptions about being teens could be different, so when they were preparing a quiz for the girls of Palestine they started wondering what it was best to ask. For example, my class assumed that kids in Gaza can have the same opportunity to travel as they have. Discovering that they are kids just like them, who have the same ideas of beauty or love but a different concept of freedom, can be enlightening when you are only twelve. Maybe this can help you become less selfish and more aware of others when growing up.

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Therefore, I had the impression that this way of working in class in connection with Gaza has not only been a great opportunity to improve their way of speaking and listening, but also an opportunity to broaden their horizons. They truly realised that they have a different culture due to the fact that they live in a different place, but also they have the same feelings and share the same desire to have fun, to be accepted by the others. In other words they saw what it is to be friends.

Finally, I think that the person who has learned most from this experience so far is me: I’ve noticed how kids do not have to overcome barriers in order to reach a common ground and they also minimise cultural impact; they simply act naturally, giving the best examples of communication.

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By Inas Younis Shurrab (In Khan Younis)….

 Connecting students through live sessions on the internet can affect them in many ways. It benefits their personality development, their language acquisition and their knowledge improvement. All of these things can widen their gazes to learn more quickly.

When Mr. Nick Bilbrough , the founder of the Hands Up project, posted on facebook about a teacher in Italy and her students who want to connect with a group of the same age from Gaza , I didn’t hesitate to ask him to connect me and my English Club students. Mr. Nick agreed and organised our first meeting. The next day I told my students about that and they were very happy and excited. For them, it was the first time to have such an experience.

The First live meeting via zoom: (12th March ,2019)

Mr. Nick was the host of this session . He started it by introducing both groups to each other . He showed us some nice things he has from Palestine and Italy and we were very happy to see them . Then , he made a wonderful activity with students to enhance the four skills of learning English . The idea of the activity was to write your name in the middle of a piece of paper then to draw some pictures starting with the first letter of your name. After that ,you have to write a short story using the names of these pictures. He did a model with his name , Nick, then he asked our students to do the same at home as a homework before the next session.

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The Second meeting:(28th March,2019)

I and Erica , agreed on the time of the next session. It was really a fantastic one as we and our students enjoyed a lot .The students were working all the week to draw their pictures and to write their stories. Erica suggested having a vote to decide the best story. The students of both groups started by showing their names and pictures and asking the other group to guess the names of the pictures. Then they started reading their stories to each other. Actually , all the stories were great. We voted for the best story and Lama , one of my students , won.

At the end, my friend, Erica decided to send Lama and her friends a parcel from Italy . It was a surprise for us and the girls were very happy.

The Third session (30th of April,2019)

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On this session , Erica and I decided to tell each other about the customs and the sites of our countries . I divided my students into groups then I asked each group to prepare some pictures and information about something from our country , i.e , the famous places , the food, the traditional clothes etc.

When we met at the agreed time ,we had another exciting zoom session. We presented our country to them and we showed them our traditional dress and dance, the dabka. They were very happy to see it. Then our Italian friends made  a nice quiz for us to find out about their lovely country , Italy and their city , Milan . We learned a lot from this session and my students wished to visit Italy one day as it seems fascinating to them.

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The fourth session: (the 3rd of May)

We had a long time before we arranged this session as we couldn’t find a suitable time for it and we both were busy. Erica told me that they really wanted to see our winning play in the Hands Up Project Remote Theatre competition, “The Play of the Play”. I asked my students to be ready for that.


We met on Tuesday , and I was nervous as I was late for joining Erica. There was a problem in the internet connection in my school but we fixed it at the end. Also, some of my students were late for the meeting , although I asked them to come on time. Therefore , Erica started to do some vocabulary activities with us , she asked us to guess the meaning of some words and we guessed most of them .

Then she did another useful activity with both groups as she asked them to write as many words as possible related to a word she gave them .They wrote about homework , holiday and summer. After they finished , they counted the number of words they wrote . Every time the other group had more words.

The third activity was to show my students a picture of  from a book and to ask them to describe this picture to their friends in Italy . The other group have to draw this picture from the description they hear. My girls enjoyed these activities a lot .

At the end of this session , my students performed their play live through zoom and they liked it a lot.

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The Conclusion:

 Developing the skills of students is an important aim to achieve during the school year . And finding new ways  to do that by using the 21st century modern technology is even more important .

My students’ experience with the live sessions of our kind Italian friends was really unforgettable for me and for them. We spent many enjoyable hours communicating and practicing English .

This experience also helped us a lot to learn more vocabulary to express our culture and customs. We never thought before to talk about these things using only English.

I hope that our meetings will never stop . And I wish to continue this wonderful partnership with this lovely group from Italy.

Thanks Italy and thank you Erica and your lovely class.

At the end , from the depth of my heart , I thank Mr. Nick Bilbrough for such meeting to help our students practice and learn English . Also , I want to thank him for all the things he does to make the voice of the Palestinian children louder and louder.


erica's class