Friday, March 21, 2014

How to Be a Pirate (and Still Address the Common Core Standards)

I’ve had a productive blogging break. My middle grade novel is progressing well and now I’m letting it rest before my next round of revisions. I love the writing process (most of the time.)

I’m glad I’m not the only one who enjoys it. Over the last couple of months, I’ve found some wonderful books for my students. Books that would not be nearly as wonderful if their authors hadn’t taken time to polish their prose. This week, the kids reveled in the story, language, and illustrations in How to Be a Pirate, by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Nikki Dyson.

Of course the subject matter was appealing from the start. I haven’t met too many children who don’t adore a good pirate story. The students' eyes never strayed from the page as I read,

“Ahoy, landlubber!
Come with me.
Board me ship upon the sea!

Not a pirate?
Don’t know how?
Ye can learn to be one now!
Come in closer—
I don’t bite.
A pirate ye shall be tonight!”

My language students had fun correcting a few pronoun errors when those rascally pirates used “me” instead of “my”. They also had a chance to practice their rhyming skills by identifying and predicting rhymes in the text. I was afraid the story would be too “young” for my second-grade speech students, but I was wrong. When they saw the book on my shelf, they let me know they didn’t want to miss out, so I grabbed the story and put it to work. It was a perfect match since I’d started targeting “r” sounds with this group. The kids were delighted to help the pirates say, “arrr matey!” And with all the “r” words in the text, like “pirate”, “crossbones”, “swagger”, “buccaneer” (just to name a few), they had plenty of words to use for practice.

To accompany the story, I found a variety of parrot coloring pages on the Internet. My younger students each chose one to decorate. Take a look at the pirate parrots:

The second grade kids got very creative with their artwork. These are their own designs:

These lessons were a lot of fun for me and for the students but if you think we were merely having a good time, you’re mistaken. We addressed various Common Core State Standards (CCSS) while using this book. For example, in the Reading Standard: Foundational Skills K.2, kindergarteners are expected to “recognize and produce rhyming words” and in the Language Standard 1.1, first grade students are asked to use correct pronouns and past tense verbs. They had a lot of practice as they identified rhymes, retold the story, and caught pirate language errors.

The standards apply to my articulation groups as well. From “Listening and Speaking” to “Reading; Foundational Skills,” speech therapy fits neatly into several CCSS areas. The kids might not recognize the standards we’re addressing in speech but my “r” group knew exactly which sound they were working on with How to be a Pirate. As they created their artwork, I heard excellent pirate growls, “arrrrr,” from all around the table.

This story turned out to be an inspired choice for motivating my students. When Zayd left my classroom on Tuesday, he turned and said, “This is cool. Can we work on our r’s again tomorrow?” That was an easy “yes.” We followed up the next day with a review of the story and I heard perfect “r” sounds exploding all around the table. I have high hopes for all these eager pirates, both those with language delays and those with simple articulation errors. I’m certain their enthusiasm will lead to growth in the coming weeks and more good stories will likely fuel that enthusiasm.


  1. I love this post so much! Thank you Jeanette, not just for reviewing my book, but for being such a great teacher to your students!

  2. Thank you, Sue, for writing this gem! And for dropping by for a visit.

  3. Hi Jeanette. It's David Chuka here from the Kidlit Blog Hop Tour. Thanks for sharing these awesome artwork and photos of your students. It's so clear to see that you love what you do. Will be a pleasure to have you stop by my blog if you get a mo. Have a great day.

  4. Oh i love the creative art activities you posted. As for the rhyming, I can only imagine what fun the author had actually writing the book :)
    -Reshama @ Stackingbooks

    1. Thanks, Resh. It certainly was a fun book to share with the students.

  5. Always love to see a teacher that goes beyond the reading! Great activities for younger kids and ones that they love to do! Thanks for sharing on the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Cheryl