A hearty helping of adventure

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Christina Zaba finds out how Ashton Gate Primary School in Bristol made the most of a citywide reading project based on Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island

The original pirate adventure of Treasure Island (1886) follows young Jim Hawkins as he goes to sea to find buried treasure on a desert island.

Loyalties are tested as most of the crew turn out to be pirates, led by Long John Silver with his wooden leg and his parrot. What's a boy to do when faced with murder and desperation? Against all odds, Jim saves the day.

How to use it

This seafaring action adventure tackles lawlessness, violence, exploration and heroism from a child's point of view. It provides a rich, imaginative environment in which to immerse pupils, and children in Years 2 to 6 can empathise with the story and work with its themes in various subject areas.

Many versions are available, including abridgements and cartoons. Ashton Gate used a selection, including those listed above. Treasure Island has inspired many adaptations, from Disney's futuristic Treasure Planet to fringe theatre.


* Ask children to make their own pirate costumes and accessories to wear during all Treasure Island activities. These could include parrots, eye patches, cutlasses and hats.

* Make a location where you can become pirates. Designate an area of the classroom for the ship, Hispaniola, and surround a table with large pieces of card. Use broomsticks for masts, sheets and ropes for sails.

* The plot hinges on a hidden treasure chest - battered on the outside, but what is concealed within? Make a class treasure chest from a box or trunk and fill it with various kinds of treasure.

* Look at how the story has been illustrated since Victorian times and compare the changes. Choose a scene or character and create your own illustration.

* Paint a seascape on the wall as a classactivity and include a giant curling wave in which children's work can be displayed.

* In the days of large sailing ships, signalling was a crucial aspect of safety. Make nautical pennants and decorate the classroom with them.

* Ask the children to make "Wanted" posters for pirates. These should include a picture of the buccaneer with their name, such as "Longbeard" or "Scar", a description of the character, a history of what he or she has done, and a reward.

* Using the maypole, build a whole-school ship and use it as a focus for assembly.

* Make indoor and outdoor art installations. Ashton Gate Primary took two days from its timetable and arranged for visiting artists to work with adult volunteers and groups of up to 20 children, making mosaic palm trees, ceramic fish, octopus and other sea creatures as permanent murals in the playground. Indoors, artists worked with children to create large batik banners of boats and fish that were used to decorate the school.


* Jim Hawkins knew what mattered to him: his home, his family and his loyalty to his employers. What or who do the children value as "treasure"? Make a list on treasure cards decorated with sparkles and jewels and keep them in the class treasure chest.


* What is a treasure map? Ask children to think about the language of maps.

What might "Dead Man's Cove" be like, for example? Get them to create their own treasure map on a grid with co-ordinates, then swap co-ordinates with a partner to discover buried treasure.


* After children have heard the unabridged (Puffin) text of Treasure Island read aloud and read an abridged edition of the story, and cartoon versions, they can improvise sections of the plot, wearing their pirate costumes.

* Using their improvisations (Ashton Gate pupils were also able to see a professional production), children can write a script that includes conventions such as stage directions, and perform scenes from the book to other classes and year groups.


* Learn pirate songs and sea shanties exploring Britain's maritime traditions and sing these at whole-school assemblies.

Treasure Island

By Robert Louis Stevenson * Oxford Reading Tree Stage 16 Treetops Classic Adaptation by Alan MacDonald Oxford University Press pound;4.50

* Fast Track Classics Retold by Pauline FrancisIllustrated by Neil Reed Evans Brothers Books for Children pound;3.99

* Centenary edition (out of print) Illustrated by NCWyeth Gollancz Children's Paperbacks lYoung Reader's Edition Abridged by Steve ZornIllustrated by NCWyeth Running Press pound;8.99 Tel: 0020 8673 7726

* Puffin Classic Puffin pound;3.99 lLivewire Graphics By Philip Page and Marilyn Pettit Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;4.99; Teacher's Resource pound;27.50

With thanks to Sheenagh Stewart and Year 5 pupils at Ashton Gate Primary School, Bristol. See the Bristol Treasure Island project at www.bristol2008.comtreasureisland

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