Lesson Plans

Circus Without Borders Curriculum Guide 1: Analyzing ideas about dreams

Guillaume Saladin (l.) practices a juggling routine with Terry Uyarak in Iqaluit, Nunavut, a Canadian federal territory. Mr. Saladin stayed in Nunavut as a child, with his anthropologist father. Image by Michele McDonald.

PART 1 * PART 2 * PART 3 * PART 4

Introducing the Lesson:

Circus Without Borders is an enlightening tale of two circus troupes from opposite ends of the globe who converge to realize a common dream. Using circus arts as a means of self-expression and cultural exchange, the two circuses —Artcirq in the Canadian Arctic and Kalabante in West Africa—give youth in two of the world’s most challenged communities the tools to travel beyond their borders and succeed. The film is a beautiful performance piece; a portal into two remote cultures; and an inspiring story of joy and heartbreak with universal relevance.

The film culminates with a performance in Ottawa that blends Artcirq’s traditions and repertoire with the magic of Yamoussa’s acrobatics. The performers discover that, while they all face enormous and painful challenges, if they work hard, believe in themselves and embrace their own history and culture, “the rest will come.”

Pre-viewing Discussion:

Have students discuss their responses to the following poems and quotes about dreams.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams.
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
—Langston Hughes

“A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you... Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question... Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.”
—Carlos Castaneda

“Everyone comes into this world with a dream.”
—Yamoussa Bangoura


1. In groups of 2–3, read the poems, make a statement of what they seem to be saying about dreams.

2. Underline key words or phrases that you think are important to the meaning.

3. Think of a particular person or event that you are reminded of by any or all of these statements. Share your ideas with members of the group.

4. As a class, have each group share one idea or question from their discussion.

5. Alternative approach: Use a silent discussion structure to have students respond to each text. See this link for detailed instructions for activity.

Viewing the Film:

Circus Without Borders
(Please note that the link is password-protected. Please contact education@pulitzercenter.org for information on screening the film for free with students.)

This curriculum guide shared with the permission of the Boston Globe Foundation.

Educator Notes: 

First set of exercises for students who will be watching "Circus Without Borders." Created by Jane Skelton for the Boston Globe Foundation.

Related Common Core State Standards

ELA Informational Text
Grade 8
Grade 9–10
RI. 9-10.2.RI.9-10.4.RI.9-10.6.
Grade 11–12
Grade 9–10
Grade 11–12

Lesson Builder Survey