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Give it a go: Sue Cowley gives advice on managing circle time

Circles offer a great format for whole-class discussions, both in primary and secondary classrooms. But there is more to getting circle time right than meets the eye.

* Get it organised properly: Moving from pupils sitting at desks to the class sitting or standing in a circle will test your classroom management skills. Have a think about the organisation and timing of this before you plunge in. Make it clear how you expect the children to behave, setting a target for how much time the move will take. Leave plenty of time for rearranging furniture at the start and end of the lesson.

* Get the shape perfect: High standards and expectations should filter through into every aspect of your practice, and this includes the shape of your circle. Although it might seem a bit petty, a perfect circle reinforces the point of using a circle: that everyone can see and hear everyone else. In a perfectly-shaped circle, all participants are equal, and equally involved.

* Have a "warm-up": A physical or mental warm-up is a great way of getting your class in the mood for circle time work. You might give a topic, such as "my favourite television programme", and then ask the children to offer their thoughts around the circle. You could use a drama game, such as "pass the clap" (not as rude as it sounds!) To do this exercise, the children pass a single clap around the circle by turning their bodies either to the left or to the right. The idea is to create a smooth sounding chain of claps. Once they get the hang of this, try having two claps moving around at the same time.

* Let them pass: It's great if all your children are happy and willing to take part in circle time discussions, but forcing them to make contributions could put them off. Accept that some will want to listen for a while, "passing" when their turn comes around. As the quieter children grow in confidence, you will find that they will start to participate of their own accord.

* Be a bit unpredictable: Routine and structure are important, but it is easy to get trapped into becoming stale and unimaginative. Your instinct will probably be to go clockwise around the circle, starting with the child to your left. Every once in a while go in an anticlockwise direction, or ask a child in the middle of the circle to begin. Vary the positions in which children stand by playing a game of "fruit salad" at the start to mix them up.

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