A feeling of missingness

All of us at the Hands Up Project are really pleased to welcome back our first ever volunteer, Alex Guzik after a long break from doing sessions. The reason for Alex’s absence has a name and he can be seen in the picture below. So congratulations Alex on the birth of your beautiful baby boy (also called Alex) and we are so glad to have you back…

alex baby

Alex says…
It has been nearly six months since I had my  last session with the Hands Up project. And I couldn’t even imagine how much one could miss these sessions.
This school year I was all ready and set for another session for a couple of times, but for some reason we didn’t manage to have any. Sahar, my Palestinian ‘sister’, is desperate to get all the necessary permissions and a reasonable connection. While Sahar is going through these difficulties, I was left behind feeling useless and falling slowly into despair. (Excuse such strong words, but it really did feel like this). I can do nothing to help Sahar -just wish her patience and luck.
One day I got an email from Nick asking for free volunteers. ‘Bingo! I’m the one!’ A message to Nick, day and time set. A few hours before the session started another message from Nick, that there would be two groups. ‘Wow! Challenge! Great!’
So there I was, sitting at the laptop, waiting for the girls to appear, feeling anxious as though I’ve never taught before.
The first smile and the first trouble. Guess what? Connection. I could not understand who was speaking, the picture froze, the sound disappeared, the girls’ screens kept going black and then came back. What happened next is coming in another  blog post.
But what I felt at the end of the session, was the strong feeling of have missed the entire experience, the happiness of getting back to our virtual zoom classroom and the feeling of still being a part of this great project.
Now I’m preparing for the coming session and looking forward to Sahar’s message giving  me good news!
Thank you for the opportunity, Nick!

Online sessions with very young learners

This week we have a post from, Dalya Saleh, a teacher of English at Mamonia Elementary co-ed “A” school, Gaza about her online sessions with very young learners.

dalya 4

I joined the hands up project two years ago when I first heard about it . Since then, I’ve really noticed the positive impact on the children’s performance and their attitude toward English language.

When I was told at the beginning of this year to start teaching students where all of them are aged between 6 and 7, I felt a bit worried and started to try to think of ways to engage them in a real enjoyable learning environment. The first thing that came to my mind was the online sessions with Nick. I sent him a message asking about the possibility and applicability of engaging such an early age of students in the project.

dalya 1

He enthusiastically supported the idea and connected me with Elena, a volunteer who expressed her readiness to join and lead the sessions. At the beginning, I was still dubious about the success of using these sessions with this group of very young leaners, but now after just two sessions I can say that I am having the most successful and enjoyable experience with the hands up project. Children sing with Elena, play memory games, describe pictures, draw and discuss different topics and more. They always tell me how much they wait for Mondays to enjoy English in the sessions. My students and I are very lucky to be members of the project and to experience this unique opportunity.

dalya 3




Make your own green screen story

A few weeks ago I was leading a training workshop for our volunteers around the world on green screen storytelling (You can read more about this here and find Zoom’s own guidelines about how to set it up here)

One of our long-term Hands Up Project volunteers, Sara Wood, a teacher of English based in Spain who was attending the session suggested giving the learners a set of pictures and asking them to create a green screen story using all of the images in any order they wanted to.

I love this idea so here are six pictures below all taken from ELT pics , a great website created by ELT teachers, where pictures can be downloaded for free for educational use. So, wherever you are in the world, and whether you’re a teacher, a student, a HUP volunteer, or Hans Christian Anderson himself, your task is to create and perform a story using all of these 6 images in any order you want to. If you have a plain green background, you could make a recording of you telling the story with these pictures behind you and send it to us at the Hands Up Project. If we get enough of them we could create a special youtube channel for these stories.

And since we’ve just launched the remote theatre competition for this year, and since one of the only real differences in the rules is that green screening is possible now, this activity might be a good warm up activity to get your creative juices flowing for the competition. Good luck everyone and I look forward to seeing your stories!







The 2019 Remote theatre competition

Remote theatre competition 2019/20

A play writing and play performing competition open to young people living in Palestine, launched, administered, and judged by the Hands Up Project, a UK based educational charity (Charity number 1170272)


-to provide a motivating context for young people in Palestine to practise and develop their spoken and written English.

-to provide young people in Palestine with an international audience for their creative work.

-to raise awareness around the world about the creative work of young people in Palestine.


-The play must be a maximum of 5 minutes duration. (It can be less than 5 minutes.)

-It must be performed by a maximum of 5 actors (it could be fewer than 5 and each actor may play several parts)

-All participants must be aged 15 or under and attend an UNRWA or Ministry of Education school in Palestine.

-Participants need to submit the following components in order to compete in the competition. All the components must be submitted using our own online form, which will be available at the end of November.

-a video recording of the young people acting in the play. We strongly recommend that this recording is made through the videoconferencing tool zoom so that the play naturally complies with the conditions of remote theatre (see below). The required file format is .mp4

-the script of your play, as a word document

-the subtitles of your play in .sbv format (a video explaining how to do this is available here)

-A written introduction to the play (maximum 200 words) explaining what inspired it and how the children made it?


-The play must be performed as a piece of Remote Theatre. It can be filmed on any digital device, but we highly recommend using Zoom. The recording device must not be moved at all throughout the whole play. The camera angle must not change and no zooming or effects are allowed. It must be filmed in one take with no stops or pauses using the camera controls. If music, narration or any other sound effects are used they should be played during the performance and not added later. No editing of the video whatsoever may take place. It is essential to achieve the highest quality audio possible and so the use of external microphones is permitted and encouraged.

-The main language of the play must be English.

-It must be an original piece of writing. We want this to be a learning experience as much as possible so teachers can of course help the children improve their scripts. However, the starting point for the plays must come from the children. Participants may choose to use an existing, well known story but the lines of the play must be their own words.

-The video and the script must be submitted using our online form by midnight on Friday the 17th January 2020.

-Anything reaching us after this date, or which does not fulfil the other requirements will not be accepted.

Suggestions for plays

Providing the requirements are fulfilled, the topic of the play is very flexible. Plays could be performed with or without narration. Some suggested topics could include:-

  • An adaptation of a traditional story
  • An adaptation of a modern story
  • A story about life in Palestine
  • A story created entirely by the participants
  • A play about an event in history, or a famous person

Suggestions for performance

Since the play will be performed through video, rather than face to face, it’s important to ensure that the actors are as close to the camera as possible and that they make eye contact with it as much as possible. It is really important that the audience can understand what is being said so it’s important to speak clearly. Incorporating gesture and physicality wherever possible will also make things clearer for the audience. It is fine to include, masks, puppets, music or singing in the play but none of these things are a requirement. If a green screen is available it may be used for backgrounds and scene changes. (This is an inbuilt feature of zoom).


The best entries will be published in a Hands up project book and our youtube channel. All finalists will be awarded with trophies at an awards ceremony and invited to perform at theatres in the West Bank.

Judging criteria

The judging process will be confirmed after the submission deadline once the number and range of submissions has been established. The panel of judges will pick the best play based on quality of acting performances, quality of the play, creative expression and clarity of expression. Though English should be used, the plays will not be judged on the level of English of the participants. So it will be possible for learners of English at a low level to also take part. Even if the level of English is low it is very important that the delivery is clear.

We very much look forward to seeing your entries. Good luck!

Nick Bilbrough, on behalf of The Hands Up Project board of trustees

To fill in the online form, please

To download the SBV subtitle template please click here.


A form in Arabic giving parental permission for the participating children’s plays to be shown on youtube can be downloaded here.

Hands_up_data_protection_form_Arabic_blank (2)


In their own write

I decided to write my first book for teachers, Dialogue Activities (CUP 2007), because of an idea which I think I’ve always been very interested in as a language teacher. This is the principle that when spoken language is written down by learners (as in when they create a dialogue for example) it can provide a slowing down of experience so that more noticing of language, and ultimately, more learning may happen. It’s a way of focusing and reflecting on spoken language without the immediate pressure of having to produce it spontaneously in real time communication. This premise is central to many of the activities in the book.

Dialogue Activities

It’s also one of the main rationales behind the playwriting competition that we run for Palestinian children – now about to enter its third year. Of course when creating a play, there are many other things to do before getting down to writing the dialogue (brainstorming ideas, coming up with stories, agreeing on which story to turn into a play etc) but even at very high levels, both the thinking involved in composing a story and the discussion involved in choosing a story is likely to happen in the mother tongue. I would argue that working together in groups and drafting, redrafting and editing the script is one of the stages of play making which is most conducive to second language development, and since as language teachers our contact time in class is never going to be enough, I’d say that this stage is what we should prioritise class time for.

So we could ask learners to do these other stages outside of class time, or it may be more appropriate to give learners ready-made scenarios in small groups and ask them to start working on turning them into scripts straight away. This way there is an immediate focus on spoken English and, because the learners know that they are going to be saying the lines that they are writing, there is an inherent need for what is written to be accurate, appropriate and clear. Learners will also automatically start mentally preparing themselves for saying the lines if they know that the lines are part of a dialogue.

Here’s one of the scenarios that I used with some children in Gaza in a workshop on remote theatre that I was running in June this year.

The hospital window

Two women are lying in bed in the same hospital room. One has a bandage over her eyes as she is waiting for them to heal. She is really depressed about her situation. The other is sitting up and looking out of the window (the audience). The two women talk a lot about their lives and the woman by the window describes all the beautiful things that she can see out of the window to cheer the other woman up. One day the woman by the window dies peacefully in her sleep and soon afterwards the others woman’s bandages are removed. Her eyes are better, and she looks out of the window only to see…a brick wall! The woman can’t understand why the other woman was telling her about all of the beautiful things that she said she could see. The nurse explained that the other woman was blind and she said those things just because she wanted to make her feel happy.

making a play
Children in Gaza working together to create the script for a scenario

Now I know I keep banging on about the benefits of young people creating plays to be performed in the language they are learning (this must be at least the 5th post I’ve written here about the topic!) but it’s because I’m convinced that it’s one of the most powerful ways that there is of enabling learners to move away from just being regurgitators of language supplied by their coursebooks or their teachers, and towards being fully fledged users of language in their own right. If you haven’t already tried asking your students to make a play in English, I’d really recommend that you give it a go.

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.

Screenshot 2019-08-22 at 11.50.02

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.

Screenshot 2019-08-22 at 11.54.42


Screenshot 2019-08-22 at 11.39.19


Screenshot 2019-08-22 at 11.58.23

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.