Not everyone approves of using pirates in the classroom, but you can’t deny that many students find them appealing and even exciting. There was a time when the line between pirate and explorer was fairly fine (Sir Francis Drake springs to mind), and there certainly is a long literary tradition of exciting and romantic piracy. We think that if you pick and choose, you can enjoy a pirate unit without trivializing the continuing problem of piracy or encouraging crime or cruelty.
To make your classroom look pleasantly piratical, you can use pirate party gear like the flag that says “Pirates Only; No Trespassing. All Others Will Walk the Plank“ or the Melissa & Doug Pirate Chest. Carson Dellosa has a new pirate theme, with desk plates and paired pirate/treasure accents.
Carson’s Big Treasure Chest and Welcome Aboard Bulletin Board Set are the classics for the bulletin board. Teacher’s Friend has a Sea Adventure Bulletin Board with pirate animals and a ready-made “Set Sail for Learning” banner. TCR has a new Island Adventure Bulletin Board Set with kids playing pirates.
There are also oceanic items like wave and sand borders, and Carson-Dellosa’s Big Tropical Tree . Putting together a selection of these things can provide piratical ambience.
You can also do it yourself. Haul out the old overhead projector, tape some bulletin board paper to the wall, and let your inner artist take over. I have some inspirational links for you:
- The Virtual Vine has pirate classroom links and some simple graphics.
- Lucy Learns has piratical printables like dot-to-dot and wordsearch sheets, with links to simple clip art that you could use for bulletin boards.
- Lee Hansen has a printable pirate hat.
- Cartoon Critters has a learn-to-draw page that could help you draw your own pirate ship for your bulletin board. The page is covered with ads, but there is an option to print it without the ads if you wanted to share it with the class. Drawing Power offers a more thorough lesson on pirate ship drawing, in three PDF files. You could be the envy of your school.
- Mrs. Jump’s class has some pirate printables. I like the way she uses PIRATE as an acronym for “Prepared, Informed, Ready, and Together Every Day.”
Once you’ve decorated, you might like some pirate information:
- National Geographic’s pirate resources begin with an online map lesson.
- Here are some lesson plans from the fun folks at Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th). Their site is worth exploring, too. You’ll be inspired to make up piratical sayings for your bulletin board: “Charting a Course to a Great Year,” “Shiver Me Timbers, We’re Set For a Great Year,” “Sailing into Learning,” or “Avast, Me Hearties!”
- The North Carolina Maritime Museum has lots of information on the infamous Blackbeard. Middle school and upper elementary students can safely explore the site to learn about pirates and archaeology.
- Manitou Boats has more info about Blackbeard, including videos and further links.
- Virginia’s Mariners Museum has educational packets to download. These are collections of simple word documents giving clear instructions on activities like building a compass and an astrolabe, plus lots of information.
- If you don’t care to download, you can find online instructions for making an astrolabe and a compass.
- Rebecca Rupp has a collection of pirate resources with some nice science and math links for older students.
- Geography all the Way has a pirate simulation focusing on modern piracy. Use geographic information and tools, and get a nice writing assignment at the same time.
Set up a table of pirate books. Here are some of my favorites:
- Captain Abdul’s Pirate School, Colin McNaughton
- The Giant Rat of Sumatra: or Pirates Galore, Sid Fleischman
- The Great Pirate Activity Book, Deri Robins
- How I Became a Pirate, David Shannon
- The Not-So-Jolly Roger #2 (Time Warp Trio), Jon Scieskza
- Pirate Diary: The Journal of Jake Carpenter, Richard Platt
- Peter Pan , J.M. Barrie. We have lesson plans for Peter Pan.
- Pirateology, Helen Ward
- Pirate School , Cathy Dubowski
- Seadogs: An Epic Ocean Operetta, Lisa Wheeler
- Sheep on a Ship , Nancy Shaw
- The Pirate Primer: Mastering the Language of Swashbucklers & Rogues by George Choundas
- Pirate Pete’s Talk Like a Pirate, Kim Kennedy
Don’t forget the river pirates. River pirates worked up and down the Mississippi, luring travelers onto their steamboats and robbing and killing them, or taking over ships traveling to New Orleans and robbing them. Sometimes they sneakily sank the ships and then came back later to recover the treasure.
It is said that at least one of the islands that disappeared in the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-12 was the headquarters of a band of river pirates, all of whom perished when the island went under.
- Read here about the basics, and about how modern scholars find information on these pirates.
- Read about Jean Lafitte’s Espionage in Arkansas. Here is an article about Lafitte, for your own background or for older students to read.
Leaving the river pirates and returning to your basic high seas buccaneers, this is a great time to introduce the kids to light opera. The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan is a very accessible example. There are several good recordings and DVDs available, including one with Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Klein which is quite modern and movie-like. Here is a website with the whole libretto, midi files to listen to, and enough background information for a thorough study of Pirates.
Play Pirate Ship to get whole-body movement and direction-following into the mix. This game can include memory-training, too.
Online resources for practicing technology skills while learning about pirates:
- Pirate Annie’s interactive adventure offers reading comprehension and basic mouse and keyboard skills.
- Take a virtual tour of a tall ship and get some practice with zoom and pan functions.
- Time Pirates Adventure is a cool interactive from England. There are Flash and no-Flash versions. There’s lots of history and fun adventure, plus safe opportunities to practice a broad range of computer skills.
- Piece of Eight is an attractive site with lots of information, and it can be fun to explore. Be warned, though, that a lot of the site is under construction, and the navigation is unorthodox, so it can be frustrating as well as fascinating to visit.
For the youngest classes, a fun and educational option for pirate play is the Playmobil Pirate Ship:
It’ll really float on your water table, or put it on the floor and see it come to life with imagination. The Playmobil Red Corsair gives your students a second set of pirates for more complex games.
For emergent readers, Storylands Pirate Cove Complete Program from Teacher Created is a complete reading program with class sets of both fiction and nonfiction readers, readers theater, center cards, reproducibles, and activities for your interactive whiteboard, all centered around a happy band of pirates.
The main advantage to using a pirate theme? It allows you to shout, “Avast, me hearties!”