Rules for survival

14th March 2003 at 00:00
Stranded for PSHE and citizenship activities to use with young pupils? John Stringer has a rescue plan

Islands hold a certain attraction for children. From the island adventures of Enid Blyton's characters on Kirrin Island and Johann Rudolph Wyss's The Swiss Family Robinson to Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and the wild schoolboys of Willam Golding's Lord of the Flies, people on islands have always faced moral and practical decisions.

Islands - particularly those that are mysterious or desert-like - provide a microcosm of everyday life, combined with ever-present danger and challenges to survival. Whether it's deciding what is safe to eat or finding shelter, island-dwellers have decisions to make that could be a matter of life and death.

Let's put your children in an island scenario and ask them to discuss issues, make decisions, agree rules and protect their environment. Choose some of these activities, which are referenced to the PSHE (personal, social and health education) and citizenship framework scheme of work for key stages 1 and 2.

Making Corner Island

Children can discuss the following ideas in groups around the table, but the whole activity becomes much more exciting with a "real-life" island.

Lay down a yellow or green rug or carpet in a classroom corner. Fix fake palm fronds or leafy branches to the wall. Add some wooden crates or strong cardboard boxes for seats, and some sun-hats and safe and simple plastic tools. Toy parrots and monkeys in the trees will help create the right effect, as will playing an atmospheric tape of waves breaking on the shore.

Groups can take it in turn to use the corner, where they will find rules about how to use it pinned to a palm tree or a letter in a plastic bottle setting their challenge. A series of questions about how pupils might live and co-operate on an island (and the Danger Island game) are printed on these pages and you could use these as prompts and place them around your "island space".

Background story

A ship has sunk a short distance from a green, tree-covered island. The children have been washed up on a sandy beach with some of the ship's cargo. They pulled these boxes higher up the beach and opened them. There were tools, clothes and enough food to last a week. The children set out to explore the island.

It was the middle of a warm day, but they knew that the nights would be cold. Their first job is to find food, fresh water and shelter. But will they be able to live together?

Read pupils the following starter:

"Corner Island rose out of the blue sea. At one end was a mountain with a stream running down it that flowed into freshwater pools. The hillsides were covered in green trees bearing strange fruit.

"Wild pigs and goats lived in the woods and small birds that looked like chickens scurried about. The island was warm with gentle winds, but the nights could be cold. Exploring the island, the children came across some large, claw-shaped footprints near the skeleton of a goat."

At this point, you could split the pupils into pairs, tables or groups.

Introduce an appropriate discussion issue from the selection suggested below, which are based on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's citizenship scheme of work. The QCA references are also provided.

You might use "snowball" or "jigsaw" strategies to get everyone to contribute. (In "snowballs" everybody contributes to bigger and bigger groups. In "jigsaw", different groups tackle the same issue, then share their ideas.) Below are some suggested tasks that you can mediate according to pupils' ability levels.

What shall we do first?

Ask the children to decide which is the priority?

They can choose from:

Build a shelter.

Find fresh water.

Find food.

Catch some chickens.

Prepare for the dangerous animal.

"Take part in discussions with one person and the whole class." "Recognise choices they can make." (Choices unit in the QCA scheme of work.) How shall we live?

Suggest the following rules for the island:

Share all food.

Always drink fresh clean water.

Don't argue.

Never go off on your own.

Keep everything clean and tidy.

Ask them why these are good rules. What others should there be? Together, make up 10 rules for Corner Island and ask the children to vote for the ones they think are important. What will they do if people break the rules?

"Why and how rules and laws are made and enforced, why different rules are needed in different situations and how to take part in making and changing rules." (How do rules and laws affect me?) How shall we care for the island?

Chop down lots of trees to make fires.

Burn all our rubbish.

Catch all the chickens to eat.

Throw all rubbish in the sea.

Wash each morning in the freshwater spring.

Which are good ideas? Which may harm the island? What else can they do to care for Corner Island?

"Realise that people and other living things have needs and that we have responsibilities to meet them." (Animals and us.) "Resolve differences by looking at alternatives, making decisions and explaining choices." (Developing our school grounds.) How shall we stay healthy?

Give pupils rules to keep them healthy:

Exercise every morning.

Eat some fruit every day.

Wash every day.

Don't climb trees.

Dig toilets away from your fresh water.

Why are these good rules? What other rules would help keep you well?

"Recognise choices they can make, and recognise the difference between right and wrong." (Choices.)

What shall we do about bullies?

On the island, two children bully the smaller, younger ones. They demand extra food and they won't do their share of the work. What should the others do about them?

Discuss with pupils what action to take. Will their plan make the bullies behave better? Why? Make an anti-bullying poster to encourage people to report bullying.

"Recognise the consequences of anti-social and aggressive behaviours, such as bullying and racism, on individuals and communities." (Children's rights - human rights.)


These extracts from three books raise the issue of what we want and what we need. All these people faced being shipwrecked. How would they survive?

The Swiss Family RobinsonBy Johann David Wyss (1812)Everyman's Library, pound;8.49

From chapter 1:

When we reassembled in the cabin, we all displayed our treasures. Fritz brought a couple of guns, shot belt, powder-flasks, and plenty of bullets.

Ernest produced a cap full of nails, an axe, and a hammer, while pincers, chisels and augers stuck out of all his pockets.

Little Franz carried a box, and eagerly began to show us the "nice sharp little hooks" it contained. "Well, done, Franz!" cried I, "these fish hooks, which you the youngest have found, may contribute more than anything else in the ship to save our lives by procuring food for us. Fritz and Ernest, you have chosen well."

Lord of the Flies By William Golding (1954) Faber and Faber, pound;5.59

From chapter 2:

Ralph: "There's another thing. We can help them to find us. If a ship comes near the island they may not notice us. So we must make smoke on top of the mountain. We must make a fire."

Robinson Crusoe By Daniel Defoe (1719) Penguin Books, pound;1.50

From chapter 2: September 30, 1659.

I, poor miserable Robinson Crusoe, being shipwreck'd, during a dreadful Storm, in the offing, came on Shore on this dismal unfortunate Island, which I call'd the Island of Despair, all the rest of the Ship's Company being drown'd, and myself almost dead.

II had neither Food, House, Clothes, Weapon, or Place to fly to, and in Despair of any Relief, saw nothing but Death before me, either that I should be devour'd by wild Beasts, murther'd by Savages, or starv'd to Death for Want of Food.


Why was the father pleased with his children?

What was Ralph's a good idea?

Why was Robinson Crusoe so unhappy?

What would the children choose to take to a desert island to help stay alive?

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today