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.


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Hands up parents and children

For about a year now Manal and Rinan, two English teachers at Beit Hanoun Prep School have been doing weekly online sessions with Julietta Schoenmann, a HUP volunteer based in the UK. Here’s their account of a session they conducted which involved parents and children working together. 

On April 14th 2019, the English club students in Beit Hanoun Prep. Girls’ A School, with their teachers Manal Ismail and Rinan Al Mazanin, had an online session with our volunteer, Julietta. We were honoured with the participation of the students’ parents.  It was a unique, exciting experience in which parents took part in classroom activities with their children.

The session started with a warm welcome from Julietta, who expressed her extreme happiness and surprise to see such a large number of parents especially mothers.

Julietta then moved to the first activity in which girls created dramatic scenes using two dice for inspiration. One die had place words (e.g. forest, circus, café) and the other had job words (e.g. singer, doctor, clown). For each group of 5/6 students Julietta threw the dice so that the group had a place and a job to use for their dramatic scene. Even though some of the combinations were strange – a doctor and a circus, a clown and a forest – our students were very creative like they always are. They immediately wrote the scenes with their parents’ help and acted them out. Everyone enjoyed the acting and admired the endless creativity and good language skills of the students!

After that, the parents had open conversations with Julietta. They asked some questions related to HandsUp project activities and they expressed their gratitude to the HandsUp project and Julietta for giving their girls the chance to talk freely, to act, to sing and use drama to convey their thoughts and feelings. Julietta really enjoyed talking to the parents and listening to their ideas about learning English. She said it was brilliant that parents were so interested in supporting young people in their learning and said how much she enjoyed working with the girls on their English language skills.

Deema’s mother said, “Deema always talks about you, Julietta.” This sentence summarises all the love and thanks to Julietta. (Jules adds that she couldn’t do any of this without the expertise of Manal and Rinan in each lesson!).

We can’t tell you how proud our students are now, thanks to these sessions which have opened a gate to the world for students and their parents.s



Why set up a drama club in your school?

Last year, thanks to generous support from the Eddie Byers fund, Greenall Florent Books, Wendy Arnold and Walter King, I was able to go to Palestine on several occasions and run some short courses for UNRWA and Ministry of Education teachers on establishing and running English drama clubs in Palestinian schools. In all over 200 English teachers from different areas of Gaza and the West Bank took part and I’m so pleased that drama clubs are now very well established as a tool for extra curricular English language development, and as a focal point for Hands Up Project remote sessions with volunteers around the world. 


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Drama club leader training course at an UNRWA school in Gaza city


Like many of the new drama club leaders, Haneen Khaled, a teacher at Asma Prep B UNRWA school, Gaza, used some of the time in the drama club to prepare plays for last year’s remote theatre competition.

Here’s the brilliant play they submitted.. 


And here’s Haneen’s reflection on what it means to have a drama club in their school 

Drama : Your vision to the world

Drama is about possessing another soul while you are acting. It gives you a space to be who you are . It makes you fly out of happiness or collapse from total sadness. It can enable you to live in another age with other people. It can ignite your imagination to be the person you dream to be. And it goes beyond what people can already see, to what you want them to be able to see. It is not I or me, but it is we. Drama is about speaking from the heart – not only from the words that come out of your mouth. Drama is life as it is and life as it should be.


I can say about drama that…

Drama is everywhere,

It lets you feel and helps you care 

It feeds your soul  

It makes you sad or mad

It describes the life when it is good , or bad

Drama is your vision to the world

So, keep on doing drama – it is precious like gold

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For all these reasons , we set up our drama club at Asmaa Prep UNRWA school “B” to give those brilliant girls a space to practice their creativity and dig into their own talents. They gather together to make the drama club experience highly enjoyable and incredibly rich. They work as a team to act, to reflect and to draw their wishes.

They travel by heart and by souls, away from borders and restrictions , through their online sessions with different HUP volunteers . Drama club students work like in a bee hive, ‘remoting‘ their own stories. They work in groups to come up with ideas, brainstorm those ideas , create characters, imagine events , write the scripts and finally do their best to make the acting believable and natural. Our drama club creates great writers and gorgeous actors .

In the end, I can say that there are no words to describe how great it is to be part of this stunning project. All I can say is thank you to everyone who spends day and night to make this project see the light.

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Remote theatre workshop

My talks in 2017 and 2108 at the annual IATEFL conference in the UK included live remote plays performed through Zoom by children in Palestine. This year we did something different. The participants in my workshop – teachers, teacher trainers and ELT authors from around the world -were organised into groups and given an excerpt from a script from one of three plays that were submitted for last year’s competition.

Their task (and they only had about 10 minutes to do this) was to prepare a performance of the excerpt they’d been given, and then perform it through zoom to the children who had originally created and performed it. The children and their teachers then gave the teachers feedback on their performances. Here’s the recording of the performance and feedback stage..

I think it’s clear that this is a lot of fun and also a valuable experience for everyone involved. How about arranging something similar in one of your English classes somewhere in the world?  The plays in this book could be a very good starting point for this.


Poetry for everyone

This week a post, and a great idea for helping young people write poetry, from one of our long term Hands Up Project volunteers based in Spain, Sara Wood. 


With thanks to Kareem, Waseem, Sohaib, Salem, Ahmed and their teacher, Nada

“Just a minute, please”, said the boys.

I was watching them, heads down, pencils in hand, chatting to one another. I was wondering if I should be doing something.  There I was in Mallorca, there they were in Palestine. Precious time, precious language, precious electricity. Not a moment to lose, not a minute to waste.

We’d been laughing earlier.  Two groups had been set the task of deciding on 8 objects that would ensure their survival during 100 days on a desert island.  The first group went strictly practical – a piece of tarpaulin, fish hooks, a sharp knife, boxes of matches. They’d get on alright, I thought. And then came the second group. Tarpaulin, fish hooks, matches…so far, so survival.  But then they slipped in a surprise. Books. Why books? I asked. To enjoy ourselves, they answered. Hmmm, at the cost of a piece of vital survival equipment. Further down the list, pencils. I pounced. “Where are you going to write?”  “In the books”. They’d evidently thought about it.

The moment I always dread arrived, the moment of decision.  Who had the best list? I hesitated. They were eager to know.  So I gave them my considered opinion. “Group one will survive….but group two will be happier.”  We all laughed.

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Kareem, Waseem, Sohaib, Salem and Ahmed in the library in Rafah where their weekly HUP session takes place.


And then came the request I started this post with.  “Just a minute, please”. When I’d planned the session, I’d decided we’d try writing an acrostic poem in which the first letters of each line spell out a word or phrase.  Like a good English teacher, I’d written my own model, using the word “desert”. Relevant to the previous activity, providing scaffolding, eliciting language – any teacher knows the drill. But I couldn’t help asking myself, poetry? Really?  For these boys? For any boys? Proof of my own prejudice, but not my beliefs. I know that poetry is for everyone.

I read them my poem.  Amazing, they said. Well, now it’s your turn I told them.  It was only when they started writing (they’d decided on three groups) that I realised I hadn’t set out the task clearly. What were they supposed to write about? Were they using the word desert or another word?  Where were they going to get the vocabulary? What language were they supposed to use?

I needn’t have worried.  I watched them, intently getting their ideas down on paper. Was it too long?  Should I be doing something to help? Was this a good use of their time? “Boys, are you ready yet?”  “Just a minute, please.” And then they read me their poems. As you can see, they’ll need their books and pencils on that desert island.

GROUP 1 Kareem, Salem

Die will be more harder than today

Every year I grow up to see our world

Smile to all people, love you

Every day we love each other more and more

Remember our memories

To make all of us happy and cheerful


GROUP 2 Ahmed & Nada

Dad is my hero

Every day he supports me

So I love him more and more

Every Friday he takes me to a picnic

Right now he’s the best person I have ever known

Tell me, do you know anyone like my dad?


GROUP 3  Sohaib, Waseem

Day is beautiful

Empty island

Shark in the ocean

Earth is poor

Rest on the beach

Tree’s shadow


Our visit to the UK by Sahar Siyam

In English classes in Gaza people sometimes ask ” If you were in Britain, what would you do?” They do this as a way to practise the second conditional which as you know is used for talking about unreal, hypothetical situations.

One day in January this year I suddenly realised that for us this situation wasn’t hypothetical any more. I was chasing something possible; the long – awaited dream was going to come true.

The unforgettable journey started when the HUP announced the winner of the Remote Theatre Competitions 2019. My little girls were joyfully imagining the next few days in UK. They desired to see what the world outside the besieged Gaza looked like. None of them wanted to wake up from such a dream. But I was realistic  enough to know that even though the travelling date was getting closer, the other world was still far away beyond several checkpoints and border crossings.  But , there is always hope. After a two day long, exhausting journey we were in London.


We were very lucky to have a warm reception and excellent hospitality by Melissa Scott and her family. They kindly took us on a tour of London. The girls were cheerful to walk on the bridge above the river Thames, watch the London Eye, while boats  were sailing on the right side and the train was passing on the left one. It was  great opportunity to interact with different people and learn about foreign cultures. Especially when we walked through Chinatown in the middle of London, as well as having Japanese food to eat there. We quickly realised that London is a beautiful mix of different cultures, religions and people. 

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The next day we performed our play in a London primary school. This was a wonderful experience for all of us and the school now want to do a regular online link up with us through the Hands Up Project.

Then we visited the countryside. Everything  was fresh and green ;a perfect place to release your thoughts and relax. Moreover, it is totally different from the crowded city of Gaza. It was the first time ever to walk besides a stream and see wonderful deer.  

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After that, we had another amazing experience which is traveling by train to Preston. This city has great contradictions like traditional buildings and modern ones, an old market and a huge shopping centre, museums as well as new modern institutes. Everybody there was very kind to the girls.

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On 6th of April ,UCLAN University hosted the HUP conference 2019 and supported my team to do a fabulous performance of their play, ” I can smell her”

Everyone seemed very moved and engaged by the performance and afterwards they all wanted to talk to us and ask us about the play. It was monumental moment for us when we felt that our message of resilience had been understood by the audience, and that we had made a play which could touch people.

All in all,  this short journey to UK made a big difference within those girls dreams and future. We hope that we have also helped to make a difference to the people we met.

So thank you Mr. Nick the founder of the HUP and a true pioneer who has helped these young girls to shine. We are so grateful to everyone who helped to make this happen.



A lesson plan for ‘Toothbrush and other plays’

This week we have a post from storyteller and Hands Up Project volunteer, Rebecca Lemaire with a great idea for working with ‘Toothbrush and other plays’ with learners of English anywhere in the world.

When I do storytelling or theatre activities, I like students to have the opportunity to express themselves freely without feeling that their responses will be judged as right or wrong. I also like the students to re-write or re-invent a story, changing some of the elements to make it more personal. This way, with the help of a ready-made framework (the original play), they end up with a story which they feel is truly their own.

Here’s an example of how to do that, using one of the plays in the wonderful book ‘Toothbrush and other plays’. This lesson plan can be adapted to some of the other plays too. Let us know if you try it out, and how it went.


Inner Thoughts.

The written version:

The video:


  1. Watch or read the play with the students. Don’t discuss the play and its message at this point, unless some of the students want to react and say something immediately.

Note: At this stage, I think reading it rather than watching it is quite interesting as the students don’t know exactly how the play is performed by the Palestinian students and this will encourage your students to perform it in their own way. They could then watch the Palestinian version after having performed their own.

  1. Put the students in pairs or small groups and tell them they are going to make a list of things people their age and in their culture might be envious about.

Note: tell them the list doesn’t necessarily have to be about things they are personally envious about (this will give them greater freedom to share without being put on the spot). Also talk about how it’s okay and normal to be envious sometimes. You want them to feel comfortable about sharing.

  1. Ask them how they feel when they have envious thoughts. Is it painful? Annoying? Does it make them lose friendships? Does it make them do silly things?, etc. Allow time for discussion and sharing.

Then ask the students where they feel envy in their body. In their tummy, heart, throat, elsewhere? Ask them if they can think of the cure to envious thoughts? Does the play show them the cure? Elicit ‘gratitude’.

  1. Ask the students to make a list of things they are grateful for in their lives.


5. Ask them how they feel when they are grateful. Where do they feel the energy of gratitude in their body? In their tummy, heart, throat? Is it possible to feel envious, angry or worried while feeling gratitude? Impossible! Gratitude is the cure to many ailments.

Note: as a follow-up the class could make a big nice poster for the classroom with things the students are grateful for. They can look at it when they are feeling down or upset.


  1. In groups of 3, 4 or 5, the students re-write the play replacing the Palestinian students’ objects of envy and gratitude with their own, using elements from their list. They then perform it.


Notes: 1. They can write the play and learn it off by heart before they perform it, which might take more time, or they can simply have the following template with their notes and improvise while performing.

  1. They can either act it out in front of a still camera as the Palestinian students did, or use more space as in more traditional theatre.
  2. If you want the speaking to be divided more equally, you could have student 1 be envious of student 2, student 2 or student 3, and so on until the loop is completed (student 4 is envious of student 1).
  3. If possible, perform it for the Palestinian students who wrote the original play, and watch the Palestinian students live. Your students then have a conversation with the Palestinian students.




To help the students prepare the play, here’s a template that can be useful when structuring the play. When they prepare the script/play they should complete student 1’s script first using elements from their list, then student 2’s script.


Student 1 -2


Student 1’s script                                                                  Student 2’s script

Student 1 – Object of envy number 1.


Ah, look at…

I wish I had …

If only I could be her/him.





Student 2 -What does student 2 not have that student 1 is grateful for? What is student 2’s problem?


Yes, I have…. but ….






Student 1 – Object of gratitude 1.


Yes, it is true, I have …


I am grateful for …