Growing up in Gaza


Around the picture 1

Show the class this picture  and ask students to write down and discuss their ideas around the picture. This is a wall in Gaza, with a painting, a graffito by the British street artist Banksy. The boy climbing is part of the graffito. Why is he climbing? What is written on the wall? What is meant by the ‘conflict between the powerful’ and the powerless’? What does ‘wash our hands’ mean? What else do you see on the wall, on the ground? Is there anything written in another language? The picture can be projected again after watching the link and at the end of the class, and students can add more ideas.

Problems in everyday life

Sarah says she “scared” all the time. What are you scared of in your daily life?  Do you often have problems, no electricity for many hours?  Do you like to travel, go to some place far from home?  Where have you been?  How would your life be if you couldn’t travel, if you couldn’t leave your city, surrounded by a fence with soldiers? What do you think? 

Dreams for the future

Sarah is 11 years old and she has a dream about her future. What dreams do you have about your future – what do you want to be?

Gaza under siege

Ask students what they know from the media, the Internet about a place called Gaza.  Where it is it?  In July and August 2014, there was a 50-day war there, and more than 500 children were killed. What do learners in the class know about that bloodshed? Did they see anything on the TV News?

Around the picture 2

Show the class this picture from Gaza last summer, near where Sarah lives. Ask students to discuss their ideas around the picture. What has happened?

VOCABULARY: electricity outage, drone, get stuck, UNRWA, scared vs. scarred, torch (British) vs. flashlight (American)


Play the whole video. Then play it again. This time, stop the clip at 0:17 when Sarah says “we’re scared”. Ask learners: what are these children scared of?  Start  the video again. At 0:22 Sarah says: “we, the children of Gaza, are deeply scarred”.  What does she mean?  What is a scar? ‘

Start the video again: at 0:38 Sarah says: “For example when it’s dark and I want to drink some water, even with a torch I’m frightened.” “Torch” is a common British word, but North Americans use another: “flashlight”. Do your pupils know what “torch” means in American English? Ask them to find out. Sarah, speaking in Arabic, uses another more formal word  for “scared” here  – what is it in English? Start the clip again: at 0:58 she says that  her aunts are “afraid they’d get stuck here, unable to go back to their families”. Stop the clip: ask the students what “get stuck” can mean? Have they ever “got stuck” somewhere, and why? Why could her aunts “get stuck” in Gaza?  Another synonym for “scared” is used here: what is it?  

Start the clip again: at 1:28 Sarah says she’s afraid UNRWA will close their schools. Stop the clip and ask students: what is the UN?  RWA stands for Relief Welfare Agency. UNRWA runs many schools in Gaza, because Gaza in always in crisis and has little money for education, and a great many young children and teenagers.  What language is Sarah speaking?  What do students know about this language and where it is spoken? Is it important in any religion?



Break up the class into groups of four and ask them to decide (two minutes to confer) what are Sarah’s three biggest problems. Then ask the groups to report to the class.

In a class discussion, ask students some of the following questions:

  • Why did Sarah become depressed growing up? 
  • She says she “wakes up and goes to sleep under the sound of drones”.  What are drones?  Have you ever seen one on TV? Why are there drones overhead in Sarah’s everyday life?
  • What does Sarah say about the borders?
  • Why is she worried about her school?

On August 24th, 2015, all UNRWA schools in Gaza were under a teachers’ strike. Students can read this article describing why the teachers went on strike:  and progress toward a solution: . Have your students ever experienced a strike by their teachers?  Have you as a teacher ever been on strike, or discussed a strike action with colleagues?

She says she wants to “realise her dream” – what is that dream? See also writing assignment suggestion 3. below.

In a group discussion, ask students to think about what they would do if they lived with some of Sarah’s everyday problems?

Does Sarah ever mention who or what is causing these problems for her and her family?  Play the video again and ask students to note if Sarah ever mentions, even in a single word, who is the ‘oppressor’.

Writing assignment (homework)

1.  Ask students to write a short poem, pretending they are Sarah.  The poem can be about Sarah’s fears, her dreams, anything the students want to write. This is a kind of ‘interior monologuing’, trying to imagine something inside the mind of another. On promoting social imagination through interior monologues, see

2. Ask students to write a letter to a pen pal Susan (or some other name) who lives in the United States (or some other country, even the students’ own). Sarah can tell Susan something about her life, and explain why she can’t visit Susan, and why Susan can’t visit her. Or she can talk about other things she doesn’t mention in the video. Students can use their imagination.  This too is a genre of ‘interior monologuing’.

3. Show students again the Banksy graffito ( ).  If intermediate-level learners or above, ask them to write their ideas about what is written on this wall in Gaza.  In their own experience, do they ever feel powerless?  At school?  At home?  Do they have a friend or relative who feels they are poor, with no privileges, that the System is against them?  Ask students: are there people in their city who feel that way, and why, as part of their essay? This can also be a discussion topic in class as well. The Banksy images are from a series he painted secretly one night in 2014, you can see them all here:

4. Ask students to visit the site Palestine REMIX and browse there, finding something that interests them, such as a video. They should then write a brief piece about what they found and why it interested them, what they learned.

5. Along similar lines, useful browsing can center on the Jadaliyya site, Palestine Media Roundup, a regular feature, here a sample for one week in September 2015:  Also useful is the Palestine Education Project ( PEP states: “We believe that understanding common struggles against racism, militarism and displacement, and exploring how struggles are connected, can be a powerful means of challenging the systems of oppression that adversely affect all of us.” Again, students can write a brief piece about what they found and why it interested them, what they learned.

6. Intermediate-level students and above can visit the feature titled “Gaza: A life under Occupation”, from which Sarah’s brief video is taken: . There are other videos there on the history of Gaza and how it became what it is. Students can browse, find something of interest, and write about what they found and what they learned about the history of the conflict.

Alternatively, they can watch “Israel and Palestine:  An animated introduction” (, and write about some of the main points that they have learned there. This is a good animated introduction to the broader context of the creation of Israel, from the organization Jewish Voice for Peace ( ).

7. As a personal writing assignment, ask students to think about what they would do if they lived with some of Sarah’s everyday problems, like constant outage of electricity, or dangerous drones overhead, or the inability to travel, or the danger of a new war from the air?  How would they feel?   They could use a form of ‘interior monologuing’ and write a poem or letter as if they were Sarah, talking about her feelings and fears (see ), assuming her ‘role’ in everyday life and its pressures. Regarding drones and their increasing use, even by the police in the U.S., students can browse the site  and write a bit about what they find. 

8. A Palestinian journalist recently remarked: ”The real victims of the war are the survivors.”  Sarah is one of them.  Ask intermediate students to read this brief article on Gaza one year later:   What are the main points in the article, written by an American professor of Global Cultural Studies at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Robert Ross.

In Sept. 2015, Egypt began flooding Gaza’s tunnels south of Rafah, to the horror of Rafah’s harried residents, Marga Ortigas  interviews 73-year-old Mansura Abu Sha’ar about the nightmares she is facing, watch the video with Marga’s article ( Several students could prepare a list of questions about what Mansura feels. If she were their grandmother, how would they feel?

9.  Of special interest is the poetry of Hossam Al-Madhoun, founder of Gaza’s Theater for Everybody ( and active in drama therapy programs for traumatized children and youth. His poems are excellent material for developing into focused teaching units, and can be the focus of a student essay or group discussion.


Teachers can read the article “Gaza in the Critical EFL Classroom: Opening Eyes, Hearts and Minds,” GISIG Newsletter, summer 2015, pp. 25-32, and then prepare another lesson on Gaza based on materials suggested in the article. The references to the article are available open-access on the GISIG website:    This article can also be used in teacher in-service training looking at Global Issues within what we can call a ‘critical CLIL’ oriented to a ‘pedagogy of social empathy.’

bill2Bill Templer is a Chicago-born educator with research interests in English as a lingua franca, critical pedagogy, socialist/Marxist transformative policy for education, and Extensive Reading methodologies. He has taught in the U.S., Ireland, Germany, Israel/Palestine, Austria, Bulgaria, Iran, Nepal, Thailand, Laos and Malaysia.


13 Responses to Growing up in Gaza

  1. Maureen Ellis January 1, 2016 at 3:10 am #

    Thanks, Bill for this extensive cornucopia of resources, a gift to critical global educators at a time of superficial learning and frenetic, fragmented attention.

    My book The Critical Global Educator (Routledge, 2016) emphasizes the theorising of passion, from bible to bibliography and personal search to professional research.

    It challenges narrow interpretations of the educator’s role, and the tendency to fracture our powers by disciplinary, geographic, cultural distinctions, and labels of personal/professional, education/religion/politics, etc.

    Distinguishing abstract from common, proper, and collective nouns, namings (daily baptisms and confirmations), language teachers in particular have a duty and ability to foster trans-disciplinary discipleship.

    Demystifying connotation, collocation, consilience, contextual treatment of texts, drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s linguistic philosophy and rich critical social theory, can empower and transform.

    Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics offers tools for those inclined to learn.

    Many thanks and best wishes for your Go(o)d work,

    Maureen Ellis

  2. Bill Templer March 15, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

    Here primary school children in West Bank village of Tuqu, near Bethlehem, walking to school next to dangerous barbed wire: The brief video was aired in February 20!6. The director of their school is dismayed by the obstacles the kids have to pass by to and from their school, a ‘harrowing walk’.

    Here brief article: This is part of the kids’ everyday life. Like elements of Sara’s life in Gaza, traumatic. Children victimized by settlement geopolitics.

    Tuqu is a very ancient village, believed to be the birthplace of the prophet Amos, here a brief overview:

    • Bill Templer July 15, 2016 at 9:29 am #

      It is clear that we face in these tales and in Sarah’s brief story perplexities and predicaments vicariously, traumatic experiences that most of us would never encounter in our own lives. But through such stories we can hone our social imagination, perceived through the sensibilities of others ‘from the bottom up.’

      • Bill Templer July 18, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

        A Palestinian computer engineer has put together a chilling new game for smartphones, which shows the struggle of Gazan civilians to survive Israel’s 2014 onslaught from the sky, centering on a young girl like Sarah, named Liyla, and her mom and dad: LIYLA AND THE SHADOWS OF WAR. Read the brief article:

        “A family of three, a father, a mother and Liyla, run through the burning rubble of Gaza. It starts out with the player controlling a male character, who must jump deftly and run fast to avoid immediate death by bullet or drone or bomb. The man’s first goal is to reach his house, where he finds his wife and their daughter, Liyla. The house is destroyed by a missile strike, and the three run off.” You can see the short game on the link above as a video, as it progresses to a tragic end. Students can explore this unique game about the theme at hand. The game is designed to “provoke an emotional reaction from players.”

  3. Bill Templer July 13, 2016 at 11:19 am #

    Another tween girl, Dima al-Wawi, about the same age as Sarah, maybe a bit younger, was released from 2.5 months in Israeli prison in April 2016. She was interviewed and students could compare what she says about her experience behind bars, herself, as a young Palestinian girl not in Gaza but on the West Bank:

    Dima is believed to have been the youngest female Palestinian detainee in the Israeli prison system, but she mentions there were other girls around a bit older than her, not much. As the article states, According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, 438 Palestinian minors are currently serving time in Israeli prisons, 98 of whom are under 16. There is a graph there from March 2010 to March 2016 displaying the number of children held in Israeli detention prisons between the age of 12 and 18. Ask students what they notice.

    In prison, Dima was taught English by Khalida Jarrar, aged 53, a West Bank activist released in June 2016 from prison after 15 months behind bars. Khalida is perhaps a role model for ever more young Palestinian girls, a strong feminist and social justice advocate who remains determined to bring about substantial change. Here about Khalida: Ask students to describe key aspects of Khalida’s biography and how she became who she is, her life story. She became active in politics and protest as a teenager, speaking up on gender issues since the age of 13. Did her family approve?

    Khalida’s eventful biography in struggle exemplifies a motto publicized recently by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, standing up, not standing by. Ask students what that means. The phrase also highlights how semantically dense and playful phrasal verbs can be.

  4. Bill Templer July 13, 2016 at 9:37 pm #

    IATEFL-Hungary’s upcoming conference at Kaposvár University Oct. 7-9, 2016:
    DIMENSIONS, DIVERSITY AND DIRECTIONS IN ELT will be launched by an opening plenary ‘Learning to talk – talking to learn’ by Margit Szesztay. It is quite relevant to eLesson Inspirations generally and to this one with Sarah in beleaguered Palestine specifically — and the need to learn to discuss, explore those thorny, often controversial “issues that matter”, “changing the culture of talk” (and even action) — which is at the core of what teachers within GISIG (and many beyond) wish to spur inside their EFL classes and syllabi.

    As Margit notes in projecting her 7 October 2016 plenary:
    “We all know how to communicate in our mother tongue, or do we? I sometimes wonder, as I listen to (political) slinging matches among friends and family, overhear heated conversations of couples on public transport, observe how people throw verbal punches at tenants meetings, or witness ‘circular’ staffroom exchanges. As a language teacher, I have always wanted my students to learn to talk in English – and beyond the ability to buy a ticket, order a meal, or refuse an invitation politely. A deeper dimension of communication involves exploring ideas, appreciating a richness of perspectives, and perhaps even questioning your own beliefs and assumptions. It requires open-mindedness, curiosity, situational awareness, and at times a great deal of mental effort. I think that the communicative English classroom is the right place for students to learn to talk in this sense. This plenary will explore how we can begin to change the culture of talk in our classrooms and beyond, by becoming facilitators of conversations about issues that matter.”

    Here a link to the conference: programme:
    A teacher confab well worth attending.

  5. Bill Templer July 31, 2016 at 8:00 am #

    The GAZA PINWHEEL MEMORIAL DISPLAY in Des Moines, Iowa in August 2016 is a small exhibition students may find relevant. It “features 521 black pinwheels, each tagged with a name of an actual child killed, represents a young life lost during Israel’s military assault on Gaza during the summer of 2014. The Gaza Pinwheel Memorial Display will be available for public viewing anytime from Tuesday, August 9th – Monday, August 15th in the front lawn outside the American Friends Service Committee.” See:

    Students can discuss the striking poster there. Why pinwheels as an image? What do pinwheels symbolize? Innocence? A pinwheel is an ‘air toy’ – is what sense is it the very opposite of the airplanes dropping bombs?

    What is the AFSC? It is connected with the Quaker tradition (Society of Friends) inside Protestant Christianity, ‘Quaker values in action.’ What are some of those values? One is ‘conscientious objection’ (CO), this year celebrating a centenary of opposition to military service .

  6. Bill Templer August 15, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

    Focusing on young women in prison, Zena Tahhan writes about the ordeal of Amal al-Sada, a 28-year-old Palestinian woman, in an Israeli prison for trying to smuggle a SIM card to her brother. Ask students to read the interview and stress the points that strike them as significant. Amal says: “They humiliated us greatly.” What do we learn more specifically about this humiliation? What does ‘humiliation’ mean? Ask students if they have ever experienced humiliation, and in what circumstances. AJE asks what the living conditions were inside the prison. Ask students to describe these and thy to imagine them. For example, there were 18 women in one room. Have any students ever experienced such overcrowding?

  7. Bill Templer September 16, 2016 at 6:32 am #

    For teacher follow-up, this brief new interview with one of Israel’s best-known professors of history is well worth reading. And I would recommend to students at mid-intermediate level. It is a radical Israeli view of the nature of the Israeli state and its particular history of ethnic cleansing, by an eminent scholar now based at U of Exeter in the UK.

  8. Bill Templer October 11, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

    >Israeli siege takes mental health toll on Gaza< This an added dimension to the background against which Sarah’s life world can be projected:

  9. Maria Cristiana September 30, 2017 at 5:03 pm #

    Bill, Bill Templer, who was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia? Is it you? Just now I saw comments on fb of some of former students of yours, saying how they miss you …. Me too, miss talking to you, Bill, remember the Portuguese teacher, Maria Cristiana Casimiro?
    Please, say something, if you can …. Thank you….

  10. Bill Templer January 2, 2019 at 2:02 pm #

    Yes Maria, I left KL in 2010. I remember you well.

    As 2019 begins, here a striking brief article foregrounding the situation of several Palestinians in a Gaza refugee camp, Nahr al-Bared camp, with little to celebrate for the New Year. Their stories reflect the most disadvantaged stratum in Gaza: They need to be remembered. The photo of the small boy there a few days ago memorable. Samar’s story is sad but the reality for many in Gaza, refugees for in effect now, generations.

  11. Bill Templer January 3, 2019 at 2:05 pm #

    One can wonder how Sarah now perceives her situation, two years later, with many problems in Gaza worsening, and youth unemployment at an all-time high, some 70%. Poverty has increased markedly in recent months due to the US cutoff of funds for UNRWA. Here a report 3 Jan 2019 on Aljazeera:

    How do students think she sees the New Year?

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