“Teach Like A Pirate”: Boost your creativity on even the most boring topics

During our middle school renovation, we are going to relocate into “modular spaces” behind the high school. Since we will be there for two years, two of our brightest teachers thought it would be helpful to dedicate the first two days of the school year to role-play specific appropriate behaviors in our new environment (aka Positive Behavior Support or PBS). They asked me to design a lesson plan to ensure students understand the behavior expectations in the classroom. My lesson would be one of the dozen or so lessons delivered by teachers during our first two days of school.

I was in the middle of reading Teach Like A Pirate (#TLAP) by Dave Burgess and I thought that it would be fun to apply outrageous teaching to a lesson such as this one. After all, at every start of the school year, students expect they will be told the rules of the game, they also expect that learning these rules will be a boring activity. What if I could surprise them? What if I could make rehearsing the rules something engaging?

The plan for the lesson immediately came to me: split the kids into teams according to their interests, give them a few statements related to positive behaviors and let them come up with some kind of  enacting of these positive behaviors. But that is pretty much standard operations for me. I often do this: work in groups, offer a choice of activities based on interest, do skits, listen to music, etc. I am a foreign language teacher, I rarely use lecture in my class.

But my standard ops was not going to cut it. So I went through the tremendously helpful questions (called “presentational hooks”) Burgess shares in his book in order to spark teacher’s creativity. I am already inclined to use movement, music, and student interests in my class, so I focused on hooks I am not good at:

 – The costume hook:

  • Can I wear a costume for this lesson?
  • Is there an existing character I can impersonate?

– The interior design hook:

  • If I were throwing a theme party at  my house for this subject, what would I do?

– The opportunistic hook:

  • What aspect of pop culture can I tie into this material?
  • In what ways can I incorporate currently popular trends, fads, TV shows, and movies in order to make this relevant and engaging for my class?

As I was reading the questions and thinking about splitting the students into teams based on interest, key words started “swimming” in my head: 4 teams, a sorting device, costume, popular movie, team members working together to create and deliver a product. And BOUM!! It came to me: a HARRY POTTER theme for this lesson.

Imagine: you enter the classroom on your second day of school and you find yourself at Hogwarts, you are welcomed by Dumbledore himself (guess who gets to wear a costume?). You then get to wear the sorting hat and after answering a quick interest question, you are placed in one of the 4 houses of Hogwarts. Wouldn’t you do whatever Dumbledore asked for after such an intro?

Burgess was right: creativity comes to those who work hard at it. Asking yourself the right questions while planning for your lesson will eventually trigger some pretty wild ideas that are sure to keep your students engaged.

I submitted my PBS lesson plan yesterday; I cannot wait to hear feed-back from our elite teachers (If you are reading, I really mean this!). Regardless if they like it or not, going through the creative process using questions as hooks was a very energizing experience. Even if I don’t get my Harry Potter theme this time, I have a much better understanding of, and a renewed motivation for creatively planning my own classes.

8/15/13 edit: it has been pointed out to me that Minerva Mcgonagall is actually the one sorting the students. So if you are a female, it would be so much easier to dress up as her, right? Sure, but not as much fun…


  1. An FFS colleague Beth Toerner will be teaching at Wyo MS. Please take her under your most creative wings! You will love her! Great personality like you!

  2. Please send me an email if approved. I am really thinking about doing it, but what I’d like to do is have each of the groups come up with expectations like this: 1. for themselves re: respect, 2. for themselves re: being safe, 3. for themselves re: responsibility, for themselves re: 4. for me re: what do they want me to do as their teacher. But I don’t know how I would do the sorting….I would have to think about that some.

    BTW…Dave Burgess book talks about needing to collaborate to figure out hooks to engage. I wouldn’t mind collaborating with you if that is a direction you would like to take.

    • Jeanette, I really like the four outcomes for your groups. Happy to collaborate as much as 5 preps permit 🙂

      Regarding sorting, you could still group them by interest like in Harry potter lesson plan.

      • Bonjour! 5 preps!!! And I am anxious about two preps! Well, for sure I am doing this activity as a way to get students to “own” our class expectations for our PBIS. Let me know if u ever need feedback on anything. I could try 🙂

  3. Cecilelaine,
    Your idea sounds like such a FUN way to begin the year. I think the students and I get tired of filling out questionnaires and/or hearing expectations for the year on the first day. When I used to begin spelling out all of the expectations on Day 1, I sounded like the teacher in the Peanuts television shows. Now I present expectations as they arise, and find that the students respond better to them because they’re relevant!

    What are the four questions you are planning to ask? Your Aug. 2 post references a Harry Potter lesson plan. From where did you obtain the lesson plan?

    Thank you!

    • Thanks Lisa, I look forward to turning more boring lesson plans into engaging ones using the TLAP techniques 🙂 I absolutely love your idea of presenting expectations as they arise as opposed to front loading them!

      Regarding your questions, the Harry Potter lesson plan is the one I designed, you can find it as a link (called PBS lesson plan) in the post. The four questions are:
      What I love the most (yes, you must choose ONE!):
      a. Listening or playing music and/or singing
      b. Playing sports and/or games
      c. Watching movies/TV and/or acting
      d. Writing and/or reading

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