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Old Scuttlebutt’s Treasure Island

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By Peter Riley

How good are your children at cracking codes? This is your chance to find out. Their challenge is to find the location of some hidden pirate treasure. To do so, they must crack a code and translate Old Scuttlebutt’s scrambled instructions, visit the five places being described and collect and unscramble letters to reveal where the treasure is buried.


Shared teaching and learning

Explain that an old pirate, Captain Scuttlebutt, buried treasure somewhere on the island shown on the map. He left instructions to remind himself how to find the treasure, but wrote them in code so no one else would find it. His map and instructions have fallen into your hands and the children have to try to find the treasure by:

  1. Working out how to use the code on the activity sheet below.
  2. Using it to translate Old Scuttlebutt’s instructions.
  3. Using the map to work out the places being described and writing these on the activity sheet.
  4. Writing the letter written in RED (on the map) in the place name being described in the clue.
  5. Unscrambling the letters to reveal the location of the treasure.

Previous learning

Children should be able to: build a store of vocabulary when reading for meaning; maintain consistency when writing non-narrative; make adventurous word and language choices; choose appropriate presentational features.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To write instructions, sequencing items and using time connectives;
  • To build a store of vocabulary;
  • To use illustrations for different purposes;
  • To compose sentences, using adjectives, verbs and nouns imaginatively and for precision, clarity and impact.

Display the poster or project it on the whiteboard, then see who can be first to find the treasure. The children could work independently, in pairs or small groups – and perhaps win a bag of chocolate coins!

Group or independent activities

  • Using a dictionary, books about pirates, or the internet, ask the children to find the origins and meanings of the names/words on the treasure map and in the instructions, eg: Scuttlebutt: A butt was a water barrel and a scuttle the hole in it from which water was drawn. As sailors drank around the butt they gossiped, so scuttlebutt came to mean gossip; Hard Tack: A ship’s biscuit; Cacklefruit: Eggs Bosun: A sailor in charge of others whose job it was to keep the ship seaworthy; Cut and run: Sailors would cut sails and anchor ropes to make a quick retreat; Booty: Treasure; Jolly boat: A small boat, often rowed, that sailors used to travel between ship and shore.

Did you know?

The idea of pirate treasure maps is fictional, as pirates rarely buried their treasure. They were too keen to spend their ill-gotten gains! Some may have buried items when being chased by the Navy, then returned for them later, but only a very few – such as Captain Kidd – are believed to have left buried treasure.

  • In groups, design treasure maps and create instructions for finding hidden treasure for another group to solve. Children could use the same code formula as Old Scuttlebutt, and write new rhymes to describe clues – or devise a new code – eg, writing words backwards, or in riddle format.
  • Write directions to guide a partner on a tour around the island, thinking carefully about sequence, presentation and the use of time connectives.
  • Design treasure maps on a different theme, thinking up place names linked to that theme. A dinosaur island might have T-Rex Tree, Stega Sea, and Dino Cove, or an alien planet have Crater Cave, Star City and Martian Mount.
  • Use the internet to research famous real-life treasure finds.
  • Write a list poem called ‘The things I found in the treasure chest’ (see the activity sheet below). Use imaginative language – eg, a hundred glimmering gold coins.

The translated instructions are:

  1. Sail jolly boats To the music notes.
  2. Climb the stones To the place o’ bones.
  3. Off you swagger To the tip o’ the dagger.
  4. Take the rocks To the dead man’s box.
  5. Quickly run To the mighty gun.

The treasure is buried at Booty Well.


  1. jasmine
    on 21 September 2013

    treasure island

    its adventures and exiting

  2. jasmine
    on 21 September 2013

    treasure island

    its adventures and exiting but i wonder if you can get it for free and download it onto the computer