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Pirate stories

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By Peter Riley

Everyone has some ideas about pirates – what they look like, their personalities and behaviour. Pirates are often seen as rather romantic figures, if a little scary. This leaflet gives information about the lives of some real pirates, which may well explode a few myths and change some opinions. It is exciting factual information, with a high interest factor which will help carry less able readers through the sometimes challenging and unfamiliar vocabulary.

These teachers’ notes accompany the PRINT ONLY guided reading leaflet in Literacy Time PLUS for Ages 7 to 9, January 2009.

  • Start a KWL grid – what we Know, Want to know, and have Learned. Record ideas about pirate dress, behaviour and deeds, and anything else the children think is a fact. What things might they want to find out? Leave the final section blank to return to later.
  • Discuss pirates the children know – eg, Jack Sparrow, Captain Hook, Captain Pugwash and Long John Silver.
  • Take a vote on whether pirates are bad or good people.
  • Introduce some of the key technical vocabulary – eg, piracy, privateer, gibbet, cutlass, tavern, plunder, calico and fleet.

During reading

  • Establish the genre and list its characteristic features – for example, title, introduction, subtitles, pictures and captions.
  • Read the introduction. Summarise the purpose – to inform readers about real pirates and clear up false impressions. Note the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’. When was this? Relate it to key events of the era.
  • Read the leaflet, pausing after each section to establish understanding. Summarise the information, commenting on any surprises and making initial judgements about the personality and behaviour of each pirate featured.

Previous learning

Children should understand the difference between fact and fiction and be able to identify non-fiction text features.


Have ready some pictures of famous pirates to support discussion.

  • Focus on technical vocabulary, using context to derive meaning. Create a glossary.
  • Examine sentences that are structured to show cause and effect: If a privateer found treasure…they could… Notice how commas are used. Compare these with time clauses, looking at sentences such as Five years after he was buried, in Jamaica… Notice how the comma marks the natural pause and links in extra detail.
  • Note how the sentences at the beginning of new paragraphs make a bridge from one paragraph to the next.


Speaking and listening

  • Return to the KWL grid. Was everything in the Know column true? Were some of the questions in the Want column answered? What new information can go in the Learned column?
  • Ask children to prepare a talk on one of the pirates, or to become pirate experts and explode a few myths by relating real facts to the class.
  • Hold a debate on whether pirates were heroes or villains. Work as a class to generate ideas to justify each point of view in turn, before asking groups to prepare arguments for one side or the other.
  • Ask each group to decide which pirate was the worst and should be imprisoned and which pirate they would save. Ask them to present/justify their decision.
  • Improvise short scenes based on incidents in the text, such as Captain Kidd’s quarrel with his crew member, the capture of Calico Jack, or Henry Morgan’s attack on Portobello.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To develop/use technical and descriptive vocabulary;
  • To present events/characters through dialogue/scripts;
  • To identify how different texts are organised;
  • To offer reasons/evidence for views;
  • To write non-narrative texts, using paragraphs, adverbs and conjunctions.

Further reading

Pirates Terry Deary and Martin Brown (Scholastic, 978 04399 55782). Prepare yourself for the truth behind the legends and lies in this Horrible Histories Handbook. Hot Topics: Pirates Peter Riley (Scholastic 978 04399 45523) Curriculum activities at three different levels, including templates for model-making and other interactive resources.

Ideas for writing

  • Create a glossary of technical vocabulary.
  • Collect sentences from the text with subordinate clauses using so.
  • Make Wanted posters for one of the pirates.
  • Write an additional page for the leaflet, featuring a biography of a real or made-up pirate, written in the same style.
  • Write scripts for the improvised scenes.
  • Make fact cards for the pirates you have researched.
  • Complete the activity sheet below to deepen understanding of the text.



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