One word, one world…

Here’s another activity that will be going in ‘The Remote Theatre Handbook’ (again from the chapter on Physical Activities). We’d love to hear from you if you try it out with your own students. In the summer I ran a remote theatre taster course for English teachers from all over the world and the video below, demonstrating the activity, is from that course.

The basic procedure is that students work in groups and prepare a short piece of physical theatre around a single word (we used the words time, freedom, family, lockdown, covid, the future etc). They can say only that word during the performance but they can repeat it as many times as they like, and in as many different ways as they like.

This is a good activity for students to develop some basic remote theatre techniques like entering and leaving the stage, using their voices to convey emotion, and presenting themselves physically though a webcam. It’s also great (as you’ll see in the video) for starting a discussion about the themes presented.

The video’s quite long (almost 20 minutes) but I decided to include it all because it shows the stages we used to set it up and feed back on it (which you may want to replicate with your students) and because of the discussion it promoted – not only about remote theatre but about life in general.

This is what two of the participants (one in Venezuela and one in Italy) said at the end of the extract..

Jefferson: And I think something curious we are doing here is that we are from different countries around the world and it’s incredible how the body language is the same for all of us. We are universally connected.

Kate: Well that’s the beauty of theatre!

The many audiences of our Facebook live sessions..

I’m reposting Diana’s blog as I think it’s good to be reminded that, although we can’t see our audience’s faces or hear their voices, there’s a whole world out there sharing in what we do.

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

United we stand, divided we fall

Here’s another activity from our forthcoming, Remote Theatre Handbook, this time from the chapter on physical activities. As always we’d love it if you could try out the activity with your students, and give us some feedback. We’d especially like to have some video versions of students doing some of the ‘body idiom’ mimes, and, with permission of course, may be able to include these in the book.

Chunky mimes

1) Tell the group that you’re going to do a mime of a chunk or a sentence which uses the particular area of language that you’d like to focus on (see examples in the boxes below). Mime the sentence to them and then ask them to write what they think it is in the chat. The first person to write an accurate sentence which reflects your mime is awarded a (virtual) prize. See some examples with students in this video.

2) Divide up the chosen examples so that each group has a few each. Ask them to prepare to mime them to each other in a way that will make it as easy as possible to guess them through the webcam. Once they’ve done that see if they can add their own examples which use the same pattern or area of language, and to mime these to each other too.

3) Each group present some of the mimes they’ve been working on (either as a group or individually) for their virtual partners to guess.

Past continuous and past simple

1) I was hanging up the washing and it started to pour with rain.

2) I was having a shower and the phone rang.

3) I was watching TV when we had a power cut.

4) I was washing up when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my back.

5) I was writing an email when my computer suddenly froze.

6) I was talking on the phone when it suddenly died.

7) I was eating some soup when I suddenly noticed that there was a cockroach in it.

8) I was digging the garden and I found a gold necklace.

9) I was playing tennis and the ball hit me in the face.

10) I was ironing my clothes when I suddenly got an electric shock.

Problems (using the present perfect)

Note: These sentences all use the present perfect to show the present impact of an event which has already happened. So the mimes should show this rather than the event itself (eg with the first one, students should mime their annoyance and trying to get the coffee stain out, rather than the actual act of spilling the coffee)

1) You’ve spilt coffee all over your favourite shirt.

2) Your phone has died.

3) You’ve lost your door key.

4) You’ve twisted your ankle.

5) You’ve forgotten what you came into the room for.

6) You’ve bitten your tongue.

7) You’ve eaten too much.

8) You’ve forgotten to bring an umbrella.

9) You’ve lost your voice.

10)Your car has broken down.

Body idioms

Note: Since these chunks don’t really follow a similar pattern to each other, they are much harder to guess. Therefore, the students may decide to say the answer after they’ve mimed it to avoid a frustrating wait. This isn’t a problem; the learning happens in the way that idiomatic language is represented physically.

1) I’ll give you a hand (I’ll help you)

2) I’m up to my ears in work (I’m very busy with work)

3) I’m up to my neck in it (I have a lot of problems right now)

4) That went over my head. (I didn’t understand it)

5) I’m going to give you a piece of my mind. (I’m going to tell you off)

6) We don’t see eye to eye (We don’t agree about things)

7) She looks down her nose at everyone (she thinks she is superior to everyone else)

8) Biting the hand that feeds you (treating a person badly when they treat you well)

9) A sight for sore eyes (a nice thing to see that cheers you up)

10) He gave her the cold shoulder (he ignored her)

General Notes

1) This activity works well as revision so it’s good if you choose an area of language that the students are already somehow familiar with. However, mime is an excellent way to clarify meaning, to activate what may have previously been passive knowledge, and to make language memorable, so they certainly don’t need to know the language area inside out beforehand.

2) Students don’t need to be experts at miming in order to take part and benefit from this activity. In fact, in terms of language development, there may actually be more language produced by the guessing students if the student doing the miming doesn’t do it very well.  

3)  We could, of course just ask the class to shout out their answers when they are guessing. This would be quicker but probably less rich in terms of learning. If students have to write, there is the chance for more people to be involved (both in guessing and in seeing what others guess) and they are also more likely to try to be accurate.

4) Exercises like this are a great way to develop students’ awareness about how they can present themselves physically through a webcam, which in turn is great preparation for working on a remote play.

If socks could talk

We’re all very excited at the Hands up Project about one of our new ventures. In collaboration with four language schools (in Croatia, Italy, Romania and Spain), we have been awarded an Erasmus plus KA2 grant from the European Union to create lots of free to access materials related to remote theatre. We’ll be building a huge searchable database of remote plays on different themes, and supporting teachers and students to write their own ones.

But first we’ll be writing ‘The Remote Theatre Handbook‘ which will be a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to use Remote Theatre techniques with their learners of English around the world. From now on I’ll be spending a few hours a day working on this, writing up activities that we’ve already developed, and tips that we’ve already learnt, about this exciting new way to learn a language.

I’ll also be regularly sharing some activities from the book here, and we’d love it if you tried them out with your own students and gave us some feedback in the comments below. Your students’ examples may even be included in the finished book like Antonio, Sara and Valeria’s will be for our first activity…..

If socks could talk

1) Show two inanimate objects through your webcam (ideally as close as possible and without showing your face) They could be anything really that you can find around you, such as two household objects, either from the same context (eg. a knife and a spoon) or different ones (eg, a pen and a sink plunger). Nick used an external webcam to show his two odd socks (see below)

2) Elicit some suggestions from the students as to what the two objects could be saying to each other if they could talk.

3) Put the students into pairs and ask them to write a short dialogue between the objects.

4) If there is time, have a look at their dialogues and correct/ reformulate what’s been written to make it more accurate or natural. Help the students with the pronunciation of the utterances. It may be more appropriate and save class time if you do the reformulation stage between sessions.

5) With their webcams turned off, invite some of the pairs to perform their dialogues as a voice over for the conversation. Where possible, move the objects in an appropriate way (like puppets) so that it fits with what is being said.

The following unedited ‘odd sock dialogue’ was written by Antonio Labate, Sara Caridi, and Valeria Amedeo, three young adult learners of English at IH British School Reggio Calabria. Thanks to their teacher Lucie Cotterill for supplying this.

(phone rings)

BS (Black socks): Hey Sokka! How are you doing?

Sokka (white socks): oh hi BS, I’m good. Why you called?

BS: Nothing, I just wanted to ask if you’d go out with me since I don’t work tonight.

Sokka (rolls eyes): Ew just me and you?

BS: You don’t have to be so mean.

Sokka: I don’t think that’s a good idea

BS: What’s the problem? It’s because I’m black?

Sokka: Well….. at least you are fun (?)

BS: Just a yes could have been enough

Sokka: Sorry last time you delivered pizza at my house you smelled terrible!

BS: Wow, sorry if I run to deliver your pizza as fast as possible.

Sokka: ….

BS: Bye Sokka, I thought there was something between us.

Sokka: Just stay a foot apart from me. Bye.

(Sokka ends call)


1)Invite students to show their own pair of objects to the webcam for the others to create dialogues for.

2) Instead of asking students to write a dialogue, they could be asked to spontaneously add a voiceover whilst the objects mime. This is obviously more challenging but, as we have seen before in this book, improvised conversations can sometimes be more engaging for the actors and the audience, and more fun to watch.

The 2020 Lockdown Theatre competition

I wrote this at the beginning of , ‘Popcorn and other plays’

‘”This book is dedicated to Sahar Salha and Saida Al Madhoon, UNRWA teachers in Gaza whose students remotely performed two traditional Palestinian stories (Jbene and The farmer who followed his dream) to a large audience of English teachers from around the world at the 2017 IATEFL conference in Glasgow. By doing this they launched the concept of remote theatre as a tool for learning and for raising awareness about the Palestinian cause

Of course young people and teachers in Palestine have been creating and performing remote theatre pieces for quite a long time now and have become leaders in this emerging field. And while the rest of the world have been trying to catch up because of the corona pandemic, Palestinians involved in HUP have been busy creating a brand new genre of remote theatre which we’re calling Lockdown Theatre.

Live Lockdown theatre performance of ‘I couldn’t say goodbye’

What is Lockdown theatre?

Quite simply it’s theatre performed remotely through Zoom and/or Facebook, but where there is only one actor per webcam. This a challenge of course, but, like all challenges, it can lead to new ways of being creative. Have a look at our new Youtube playlist with some examples of how people have risen to that challenge.

Live lockdown theatre performance of ‘The farmer who followed his dream’

The competition

First of all, it’s important to say that this isn’t a competition with a prize of travel, like our previous remote theatre competitions. We simply don’t know when that is going to be possible again in the current situation and don’t want to offer something we can’t deliver on. What the winner or winners will receive is an opportunity to perform their play at some important online events, such as the 2021 Hands up Project conference as well as trophies recognising their achievement.

Live lockdown theatre performance of ‘Oh my home’

There are some other big differences to the rules too ;-

  1. This competition is open to young learners of English as a second language aged 15 or under anywhere in the world – not just in Palestine. Since everyone will be connecting from their own homes, the performance could involve actors in different locations around the world.
  2. This isn’t about writing a play. It’s purely about putting together an interesting well-acted lockdown theatre performance. So we’re asking participants to work with a play that has already been written. In fact the play must be taken from our first book, ‘Toothbrush and other plays’ which is available to download here. The play can be adapted and edited slightly, but the starting point must be one of the 30 scripts included in this book.
  3. As before, there must be a maximum of 5 actors in the play and each young person can only participate in one play. Because we recognise that Lockdown theatre may take a little longer than Remote Theatre, we’re extending the time limit to 8 minutes.
  4. The turnaround period is much shorter. We need to receive an email at with a link to an unlisted Youtube recording of your lockdown performance by midnight Palestine time on Friday 8th January 2021. The recording needs to be done through Zoom and must be an absolute maximum of 8 minutes unedited recording (you can cut the beginning and/or the end off of course) The virtual background or any other effect available through Zoom is allowed. In the email you’ll need to include the name of the play from “Toothbrush and other plays”, the names, country of residence, and ages of all the participants, and attach a completed data protection form signed by a parent or guardian for each participant. These forms are available for download either in English or in Arabic at the bottom of this page.
  5. The judges will choose a certain number of the best of these Lockdown theatre performances (based on the criteria of creative expression, clarity of expression and acting ability ) which will go through to the final. The final will involve a live streamed version of the play which we will arrange in the new year.

Good luck to everybody, everywhere!

Live lockdown theatre performance of ‘An exile inside the home country’


Revolutionary knitted dolls by Sue Piper


Unlike Captain Lawrence Oates on the Antarctic expedition circa 1912, the word “outside” may not hold much significance for you.  “Where’s the cat?”  “She’s outside.” “Leave your shoes outside – they’re covered in mud”.  Outside denotes a general space.  Not far from the front door or the back door  or Oates’ tent flap. It’s just a space close to another space with a barrier between each space.  It’s not a big word.

Suddenly, something clicks  into place. It’s that word barrier.  I’m thinking of a beautiful piece of writing from Nour, one of the students on the Online Intercultural Communication course. Something struck me about her writing.  “Forget about travelling to other countries outside.  We can make books and export them to the outside.  We can focus on the sick people who want to travel to get medical help outside”

Now outside becomes a vast unknowable space.  There’s no door to open  and suddenly the word is filled with longing.  It’s also filled with possibility.  I have to reassess the meaning. My outside is close by.  It’s easy to open the door.  I can step into it anytime I like.  Nour’s outside is different – it’s further away and less tangible.  Mine is commonplace and filled with cats and muddy shoes.  Nour’s is full of rights denied and dreams and necessities. 

I might not  have known about Nour’s outside if it weren’t for my work with the Hands Up Project.  I might not have known how far that outside sometimes seems to her and the other young people we work with.  I might not have realized how much we all want to share our outside with each other. Whether it’s Sue’s knitted revolutionary dolls, or Becca’s cows mooing peaceably in the background,  Elena & Wendy’s crowded bookshelves or David’s constantly spinning globe – we’re bringing the outside much much closer. And it’s a far bigger word than I thought.

With thanks to Nour El Saqqa whose words inspired this blog.

If you’d like to read them for yourself go to;

Your story..Our story

We’re now approaching the end of The Hands Up Project certificate in Remote Theatre. It’s been a great course. With teachers from Argentina, Canada, Czechia, Mexico, Palestine, Serbia, and Syria participating it’s been really international and intercultural, and we’ve all learnt a lot about Remote Theatre – and indeed about its new variant with only one actor per webcam which we’re calling Lockdown Theatre

We’re now looking at ways of devising remote plays, and one way we’ve explored is a very simple, but highly personalised form – Your story…Our story. This is very loosely based on Playback theatre – a kind of semi spontaneous psycho-drama technique where audience members tell stories that are then spontaneously performed by the actors.

I’ve done basic Playback Theatre training and seen it used really well as a form of therapy, but I’m a language teacher not a therapist, and I wouldn’t feel qualified at all to deal with very traumatic issues if they came up. For our purposes, as language teachers I think it will work best if the stories are humorous and light or focus on positive, life changing events, rather than digging up very disturbing memories.

So last week I set it up by telling a personal story from my childhood which Imad and Irena then spontaneously performed. You can see the recording of this below. I think there’s something very engaging about seeing your own story performed by someone else, and something very useful may be happening in terms of language development. I certainly found it really interesting seeing my ‘marble mine’ story enacted in this way.

Then at the end of the session, I asked the participants to email me their own personal stories written down that we could use for this activity. This week I redistributed two stories to each small group of teachers – making sure they didn’t get their own story and without telling them whose stories they had.

They are now working on preparing a piece of remote theatre out of the stories (their favourite one, both of them, or, more challengingly, combining both stories into one) and these will be performed in the next few weeks.

So wherever you are in the world, if you’d like to get your students involved in this, doing Your Story, Our Story as a kind of online exchange with some students in Palestine, then please let us know and we’ll try to sort it out.

Thirteen girls from around the world and four volunteers in a Zoom room.

Write the ending to this sentence while we’re waiting for people to join, I said. And they did.

“I’m happy to be here today because..” 

I want to improve my English, and know new people 🙂

I love  seeing your faces.

I am with you in a Zoom and this makes me happy.

I really like interacting and this opportunity to be with you.

I missed you all and now I see you.

I like talk with other people.

It’s a nice break from work!

All of you make me happy and young. 

I meet with you.

I’m so happy to join you all today. 

I love meet new people, all the week I’m waiting for Thursday.

It was a pretty good start to a session!

The idea for today was to talk about our world and the changes we’d like to be a part of.  We started small – talking about things we really like about our communities and things we’d really like to see changed in them.  We went into our breakout rooms with one rule only – speak English.  Of course, the tech glitched so I had the opportunity to talk to Hala about her community. She loves being with her family, seeing her aunts and uncles and going to buy ice-cream.  She wants to travel. She wishes her mum’s family lived a bit closer.  She’d like a better internet connection.  She wishes Covid-19 would go away.

Back in the main session, we shared our thoughts.   What do we love? It seems we all love pretty much the same things.  Feeling safe and secure and loving the people around us.  We love the sea, and the earth, and the olive trees and the mosque.  But we also want to change things in our communities.   We hate seeing rubbish thrown on the streets.  We want to end gender violence.  We want the freedom to travel. We wish that we could play and do different activities at school.  And we all really, really want Covid-19 to go away (and a better internet connection).

 It didn’t take much to make the link between our local issues and the wider world – the girls had already done it.  We watched and listened to part of a spoken word poem Three Seconds” by Spencer Sharp & Prince Ea, USA – see the video below. In its own words, it’s “an epic presentation of where humanity stands today and how we must all work together to make it to the fourth second.”  It’s pretty cataclysmic with dire predictions of extinction and disaster but I told the girls about the hopeful ending and that the hopeful ending was them.  They seemed okay with that.

Back in our breakout rooms, the girls had chosen different responses to what they’d seen. Some chose to make a poster, some to write a letter to the earth, and just two – Dana from Argentina and Elif from North Macedonia – chose to write a poem.  Can I come with you? I asked.   More  internet problems.  Elif wrote in the chat box “Be happy” and Dana wrote “it would be sad but with a good end…to give hope”  Then she asked me “Can you explain about the travel thing?”  I told her some of us didn’t have the freedom to travel that she and I did.  I want to put that in the poem, she said. I can’t wait to read it. And I can’t wait to see what Hala and Hala and Nour and Lina and Cami and Nerea and Lola and Ajla and Elif put into their letters and their posters and poems. Nor to hear what Mia and Ghazal and Reda have to say when they rejoin us in the next session. All this week I’ll be waiting for Thursday.

Don’t forget early literacy!

By Wendy Arnold

Young learner literacy is an area which needs informed and skilled teaching and Wendy Arnold puts out a plea for a naturalistic approach in today’s blog.

Reading our own stories: Boom in Arabic children's books | Middle East Eye

Wendy has a passion for success in literacy, don’t we all? But this is only possible when a huge amount of effort is put into learning ‘listening’ and ‘speaking’ English in order to have a database of vocabulary and grammar ‘acquired’ subconsciously and in some cases ‘learnt’ consciously (drilling).

You need to hear a word so you can say it. 

You need to say a word so you can read it.

You need to read a word so you can write it.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But there is nothing simple about second language literacy! Literacy learning is complex. The systems invented by humans to share meanings across space and time come in multiple formats. Humans’ attempts to design symbols to represent ideas started thousands of years ago. The Ancient Egyptians used a combination of pictures and symbols which were only decoded in 1822 after numerous unsuccessful attempts during centuries.

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Some Asian countries devised pictographs, e.g. China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, but these logograms have been simplified over the years, including the use of ‘pinyin’ which uses the Roman alphabet.


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Young learners who are introduced to two very different writing systems at the same time, as in the case of Arabic and English in Palestine, need extremely able teachers who understand how languages are learnt. The children in Palestine already speak Arabic and have an excellent background vocabulary and grammar learnt in the ‘naturalistic’ way.

This vocabulary and grammar is lacking when the children start to learn English but can be acquired through extensive listening and speaking practice. Without this “database” of words and grammar, it is all too likely that they will encounter problems in learning to read, and the even more difficult skill of writing.

Knowledge about childrens’ learning is central to effective teaching. With this in mind, and, particularly for those teachers interested in teaching grades 1-3, I’d like to invite you to join a WhatsApp group with a focus on early literacy. We’ll be joined by experts in the field to discuss the most effective way to teach young learners and to ensure their success in a notoriously difficult area.

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.