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Captain Burwash, Pirate

Experiential learning for KS1 &/or KS2

The captain is an early 18th century pirate who tells exciting tales about Sea Rovers, Buccaneers and Privateers. The very sight and sound of him, armed to the teeth and swaggering about, fascinates children who often can’t believe that a ‘real’ pirate has come to visit! He can inspire motivated literacy work, built around a portrayal of historical piracy, using historical accounts rather than more modern, fictional stories and films.

Burwash Tells TalesThe day can be formatted to work with one or more classes – a year group, a whole Key Stage, or even the entire school. When I work with more than one class we have assemblies to begin and end the day, with story-telling and demonstration sessions for groups in between. I ask the children to do literacy/artwork tasks, which they work on while I am storytelling with other groups. Burwash also works very well with one class for a full day, allowing me to do most of what is described below and sometimes more.

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The life of a pirate!

Session Format for Key Stages 1 and 2

What follows is an outline for a day with more than one class, but the whole thing works marvelously well with one class, and indeed there is more than enough to do and discuss to fill the whole day.


We start with an assembly (45 minutes approx.) for all the children in which I introduce myself and ask what they know of pirates. This leads to some stories, banter and demonstration. I then ask the children if they will do some work for me, for I am about to set off ‘cruising on the account‘ and need a crew, ship’s articles, a sea shanty to sing, a new jolly roger, tall tales of pirates to while away the hours at sea, etc. These tasks give the children work to do for the sessions they are not with me.

Literacy and Artwork Tasks

The teachers decide which tasks they want their classes to work on while I am telling stories to the other classes. You could perhaps choose different tasks for each class to add to the variety in the plenary assembly. Or a class could do more than one task – there’s certainly plenty to keep an active group busy on literacy and art work. The first two tasks are the main ones usually done by Key Stage 1 classes, the others by older classes.

A New Jolly Roger!
I am not so sure my own skull and cross bones flag is sufficiently frightening to subdue my prey and so, after describing some other pirates’ flags, I ask the children to design a new one for me – a terrifying image to scare all who encounter me.

Advertisement for a crew
I need pirates, so I want posters to go around the port in typpling houses, taverns and inns. The poster should have a big picture of me on it, so that the new recruits can find me easily. They must also use ‘describing words’ to specify what kind of men I want. During the assembly I give ideas about what might be included in this advertisement, and get the children to come up with some ideas.

Ship’s Articles (Rules for Pirate Behaviour)
My crew need to sign their names to these, and then obey them on the journey. The children must draft rules to cover such things as behaviour aboard ship, punishments, rewards, compensations for injuries, and so on (just like historical pirate articles).

Tales of Daring Do
What better to entertain the crew with than tales of piratical deeds? My crew might emulate such stories or learn some new pirate tricks.

A Ballad
A stirring ditty to sing as we work the ship, or when carousing and passing the time off watch. If the children write it as a poem we can come up with a tune for it later. (Or they might choose to set it to the familiar tune of “What shall we do with a Drunken Sailor”, so that they can indeed sing it at the plenary!)

Storytelling and Demonstration Sessions

I meet each group individually – year groups or classes, depending on your numbers – and tell them short tales about famous pirates – Henry Morgan, Bartholomew Roberts, Blackbeard etc. I also answer all their questions, and talk about ships, weapons, navigation, diseases, capturing prizes and boarding prizes, etc. Most importantly, I show them the artifacts I have brought with me – like my cutlass, musket, pieces of eight, pistols, roundshot, grenadoes, boarding axe, etc. (There’s a lot to see.) If there is time in the sessions I can even have the children act out one of the pirate stories, perhaps about Henry Morgan’s attack on Maracaibo or Calico Jack’s escape from a Spanish pirate hunter.

(This picture is from the weekend the captain visited Skipton Castle.)

Plenary Assembly

We gather again at the end of the day so that the teachers can choose examples of good work to be shown or read out to everyone at end of day. Then I bid everyone farewell and take my leave!

Note: If you want to have a ‘pirate dressing up day’ you can do so on the day of my visit (many schools have done so and it works well) or you might choose to leave it for another day thus spreading the excitement of your pirate topic out a bit more.

And as I said, the day works wonderfully with one class, and can be classroom based entirely.

“A fantastic, thrilling day. My years 4 and 5 class learnt so much through practical activities. The whole class were engaged by our pirate captain who stayed in role throughout giving the children such a valuable experience.”

— Mr Rob Cole, Teacher, Whitecliffe Primary School

“What a fantastic pirate day we had! Captain Burwash’s outfit, weapons and stories had us captured all day. His tales of sea battles and the gruesome deaths of his pirate friends really triggered the children’s imaginations. From the expressions on their faces I am sure it was an experience they will remember forever.”

— Carol McMillan, Parent & Teaching Assistant, Whitecliffe Primary School

“Captain Burwash, you were awesome, so were your weapons.”

— Year 5 boy, Whitecliffe Primary School

“Wow! UKS2 had a brilliant day. From beginning to end the children were enthralled and produced some imaginative pieces of work. Thank you.”

— Mrs Parkes, Teacher, Rawdon Littlemoor Primary School

“What a fantastic day. The children have been captivated by your stories – how do you remember it all? The children have been engaged all day and produced a wide variety of work. I am really looking forward to their stories – you have fired their imaginations.”

— Mrs C. Otto, Teacher, Whitecliffe Primary School

“A fabulous day for staff and children! It has provided a great stimuli for writing for children of all age groups.”

— Jade Gartside, Teacher, Ingram Road Primary School

“A great inspiration for our work in class, and across the whole school. Burwash caught their imagination and certainly got them thinking. Many thanks for a great day.”

— Mrs Baxter, Teacher, St Walburga’s Catholic Primary School, Shipley

“A fantastically organised and stimulating day, turning the fictional into the very real.”

— Katherine Smith, Teacher, Greenmount Primary School, Beeston

“I thought he totally captured the children’s imagination.”

— Helen Benson, Teaching Assistant, Whitecliffe Primary School

“Thank you for a fantastic Pirate themed day for our UKS2 children, which was a perfect link to our current topic. The children were all hooked from the moment they saw you and were instantly engaged. Some wonderful work has been produced as a result of the day.”

— Maxine Saul, UKS2 teacher, Swinton Queen Primary School, Rotherham

Our topic ‘Land Ahoy’ was completed by an outstanding day delivered by Captain Burwash!! The day was fun and packed with inspirational activities. The children enjoyed creating a Jolly Rogers for Captain Burwash’s ship and writing an advert for a vacancy for ruthless crew! There were lots of opportunities to handle some of the artefacts. The children were in awe of the many stories told about Blackbeard and other pirates. It was an excellent day which left the children buzzing!!

— Maureen Jones, Teacher, Elms Farm Primary

Thank you for a brilliant day and really bringing our pirate topic alive! The children actually still believe that you are a real pirate!

— Jessica Borges Vaz, Beech Hill School, Halifax

Thank you cards from Year 1 children

Burwash Thank you Cards