“The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great-grandfather was a pirate.”

Bernard Williams (1929 – 2003), British moral philosopher
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This free ESL lesson plan on pirates has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

Pirate stories are an extremely popular form of entertainment, either in literature or in film. The Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the most successful movie franchises of all time. Yet the protagonists of these stories, often based on real life pirates, are still considered as no more than common criminals by many today (and probably by many more at the time they were active). Sea piracy is still a serious problem in various parts of the world – how will these modern day pirates be considered by future generations? In this ESL lesson plan on pirates, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as the activities of the pirates of the past, whether they were heroes or villains and modern day sea piracy.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for International Talk Like A Pirate Day, which takes place in September. For a bit of extra fun, send this article explaining how to talk like a pirate to your students and have them prepare a speech to practise speaking like a pirate. For more lesson plans on international days and important holidays, see the calendar of world days to plan your classes for these special occasions.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.


Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

BBC | “Coronavirus: Piracy incidents double across Asia during pandemic”

The article concerns the issue of modern day piracy and how this increased during the coronavirus pandemic. It also mentions some of the reasons people choose to become pirates today. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was written? How concerned are they with this issue?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. There are intermediate listening questions and advanced listening questions so teachers can decide which would be more appropriate for their students. Check the answers in the class.

The video for this class is called “The Most Successful Pirate Of All Time” by TED Ed and explores the life of Madam Zheng, considered to be the most successful pirate in history due to the amount of ships she commanded and the spread of her power and influence.


The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including any famous pirates they know about, what pirate stories they have read about or seen in movies and whether the pirates of the past should be considered criminals or adventurers.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with pirates such as privateer, landlubber and ghost ship. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about the issue of modern day sea piracy. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as the causes of this problem, why we think differently about the pirates of the past and how the world can protect against this maritime security threat.


After the class, students will write about the life of a real life pirate. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.


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