“Treasure Island”: Middle School Student Activities

Just What Was the Jolly Roger?

These Treasure Island lesson plans are designed for a day when you’ve encountered all or most of the novel, and you are looking for some activities to encapsulate the novel for your students.

The "Jolly Roger" was the flag displayed by pirate ships beginning around 1700. The name may come from the French phrase "joli rouge," — literally "pretty red." The earliest pirates just flew flags that were scarlet. As you can see from the link, though, the flags took on quite a bit of variety, designed to illustrate the personality of the individual pirate.

Give each of your students a piece of black butcher paper, two feet by three feet, and let them choose from red or white (or both) construction paper. If you have a video projection screen, you can either show the flags from the link provided, or you can make a PowerPoint slide show with each of the flags, and have it playing throughout the activity. Give your students anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes to design and create a pirate banner that shows their own personality, and their own understanding of what it means to be a pirate. To extend, you can have multiple students share their banner and explain the design elements they used.

Character Bingo

For this part of your Treasure Island lesson plans, you’ll want to use an automated bingo card maker. Choose the 3×3 template, and put these eleven names in: Jim Hawkins, Billy Bones, Black Dog, Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, Long John Silver, Captain Smollett, Ben Gunn, Tom Redruth, Israel Hands, and Pew.

Distribute the bingo cards to your class. Introduce this activity as a general review of the characters in Treasure Island. The generator will produce different randomized cards, so no two students should have the same arrangement of characters.

Then, read a list of character traits. These could include the following:

Looks like a wild man (Ben Gunn)

Shows deep suspicion and distaste for Long John Silver (Dr. Livesey)

Acts as a cook but is the pirate leader (Long John Silver)

His fight with Billy Bones foreshadows violence in the book (Black Dog)

Pays for the voyage to search for treasure (Squire Trelawney)

Not particularly impressed by Dr. Livesey or Captain Smollett (Jim Hawkins)

Blind pirate and beggar (Pew)

His burial is a symbol for the respect that should be given to the dead (Tom Redruth)

These and other clues will help your students review attributes and deeds of specific characters in the novel. If you want to add quotations, that will add to the complexity of the review.

Which Would You Be?

If you still have some time left in your hour after these two Treasure Island lesson plans, write the following words on your board: parrot, deer, monkey, and sheep. Wait for someone to ask you what those words are for (it won’t take long!), and then you can tell your class that those are animals to which Robert Louis Stevenson compares pirates in the novel. Cap’n Flint, Long John Silver’s parrot, sounds like a pirate as he squawks out words from the crimes he has seen. When the pirates scramble over the stockade in Chapter 21, they are compared to monkeys. In Chapter 28, when Jim stares at the pirates taking him prisoner, they stare back "like as many sheep," suggesting a crew without initiative who would follow anyone. When Jim first encounters Ben Gunn in Chapter 15, he compares him to a deer.

Ask your class this question: if you were a pirate, what animal would your personality most closely resemble? Leaving the structures of normal life behind for piracy would help your students abandon their own inhibitions; what animal would they then represent? Why?

This discussion would serve as a capping activity after a look at the symbols of piracy and a review of the characters.