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If I Ran The Circus Activities

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Sometimes the best way to learn from a story is to participate in activities related to that story. This lesson offers individual and group activities related to Dr. Seuss's ''If I Ran the Circus''.

If I Ran the Circus

In If I Ran the Circus, Dr. Seuss tells an enchanting story of a child's imagination. Children do tend to plan big, often without thought to the practicality of their dreams. Morris McGurk sees a plot of land filled with trash and dreams of the amazing circus he could build in that space. It is a beautiful story of imagination and ambition. If the store owner, Mr. Sneelock, doesn't quite know how involved he will be in this imagined dream of a circus, well - he'll be okay with it anyway, I'm sure.

This lesson builds on those dreams and ambitions to encourage students to be creative and active. You will find repeated themes of imagination, adjectives, and synonyms in order to incorporate these activities into your regular course curriculum requirements. Students can focus on If I Ran the Circus while learning literary concepts at the same time. The lesson is organized by level of activity: from quiet projects completed individually at each student's own desk, to the whole class being up and moving about (even outside the classroom). Feel free to alter these activities in whatever way they will most accommodate your classroom situation.

Individual Activities

What would you run?

After reading If I Ran the Circus to your class, ask your students to think of something they would like to run (a circus, a zoo, a swimming pool, etc). Instruct them to write a poem in Dr. Seuss style about their plans and how running this place might be fun. Encourage them to add detail to their poems through the use of adjectives (descriptive words) and synonyms(words with the same meaning).

  • While it isn't expected that children could write a book the size of Dr. Seuss', make sure to give them a minimum/maximum word limit.

Say That Again

Dr. Seuss uses an astounding number of synonyms in If I Ran the Circus (for example, when Morris begins imagining his circus he says it will be 'cream of the cream, supreme, colossal, stupendous, astounding, fantastic and tremendous'). Ask your students to choose two descriptive words from the story and write as many synonyms for those words as they can.

  • No using a thesaurus for help!
  • As additional motivation for engagement, offer a prize for the student who comes up with the most synonyms for their two chosen words.

Amazing Animals

Read If I Ran the Circus to your class, and discuss the fascinating animals performing amazing talents in the Circus McGurkus. Encourage your students to use their imaginations to invent a new animal that might fit in well at the circus. They should draw a picture of the animal and give a written description similar to the descriptions used in the book (e.g. where the animal is from, what it looks like, and what its special talent is).

  • Remind students that they are creating a pretend animal so they can let their imaginations run wild.

Whole Class Activities

Three-Ring Classroom

After reading If I Ran the Circus, divide your class into groups of 4-5. Give the class a set amount of time to consider and practice a very brief circus act. If children struggle with an idea, you can suggest juggling, balancing items, bag tossing/catching or silly noise making. Make sure to encourage them to be creative. Ask groups to perform their circus act for the class.

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