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Roll-up, roll up!

Margaret Sahin drums up an alternative to the Christmas play

If you want to end a term with something other than the usual stock show, here is a handy alternative. "Welcome to our end-of-term performance - the Sheep Class Circus! Performed by Amazing Amelia, Mischievous Matthew, Beautiful Beth..."

Each child is introduced by an alliterative name from an A-Z of adjectives chosen in the literacy hour. There follow routines of simple PE exercises performed as a sequence or synchronised, which are highly effective on stage. A line of children performs a forward roll through a hoop resting on a mat to the beat of a tambourine.

To a commentary telling of a high-wire and need for safety net, children balance on an upturned bench, arms held wide, and give a triumphant leap at the end. A drum roll accompanies a juggling act with two beanbags, and several PE lessons experimenting with hoop skills culminate in an extravaganza with individuals doing star turns of skipping, rolling or hula-hooping. As ringmaster, I build any mistakes seamlessly into the performance.

The acts have evolved over the term and reflect the pupils' skills and aptitudes. All you have to do is keep a record of what has been tried and who will perform which act. There are solo spots for extroverts, but group work is less threatening; there are no lines to be learned, and if someone is ill it doesn't wreck the whole show.

As with a real circus, you need to mix physical prowess and comedy. Vaulting over a box gives some children the chance to show off a pose or a spectacular jump, but there is a place for the less successful; one small child, left waving his legs wildly in an effort to climb on the top of the box, looked so good we kept him in.

Comedy needs to be planned and one clown act went down well. Auditions were necessary (you may be surprised at how seriously some children take being funny) and one of my pupils, whose concentration and behaviour usually causes concern, was chosen. He excelled as the clown with a "heavy" bucket, negotiating obstacles to end up in front of the audience with a wicked look on his face. He swung the bucket, paused, and asked, "Shall I?" This he repeated until he threw the "water" - shredded paper and a few sweets - over the audience.

We had fun and did a lot of work. As well as PE skills, we looked up circuses on the internet, read poems, stories and non-fiction about them, and looked into their history and the ethics of using animals or freaks. We tested friction and surfaces in science, and designed and made jointed figures, tents and trick clown cameras in technology. Programmes were written and designed by pupils. The final performance, with musical accompaniment, surpassed any bought-in play.

Margaret Sahin teaches at Bardwell special school, Oxfordshire

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