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Life on the High Seas

Whether you live near water or not, this is a high-interest and creative mini unit on Life on the High Seas. This lesson specifically targets the time period of the Age of Exploration but can be carried forward into 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries … and on towards what the 21st century holds for ocean voyages.

Here are some background sites you may wish to explore before or during the activities:

The Age of Exploration
Age of Discovery
more links on the Age of Discovery
Biographies of Explorers
European Explorers
Voyagers Now and Then
Explorers of the Millenium
National Geographic’s Pirate page for kids
Pirates: Fact and Myth
Bodies of Water
Marine Animals
The Stowaway Adventure
The Mariner’s Museum
Anchor Publishing
Life Aboard Ship
Life At Sea: Sores, Scabs, and Scurvy


1. Vocabulary to use:
Rigging (noun)
Hold (noun)
Pitch (both noun and verb)
Sour (verb)

2. Make a flow chart showing the chain of command on a ship during the Age of Exploration/Discovery. Place the captain at the top of the chart and work your way down.

3. Using resources such as encyclopedias and websites, draw a diagram of a typical sixteenth century ship and label the sections. Include things like: the captain’s deck, captain’s cabin, main deck, hold, main mast, main sail, rudder, and crow’s nest.

4. After you have completed activity #3, consider doing the same thing for a vessel from the 17th, 18th, 19th, and/or 20th centuries. Try and design an ocean going vessel of the future.

5. Pretend you are the captain of a sailing ship called “The Leaky Bucket.” Write journal entries, for at least five days, detailing your adventures.

6. Using resources such as some of the websites listed above, find out what kinds and amounts of foods were taken on a typical sea voyage.

7. Following activity #6, make a shopping list for a two month voyage for a crew of twenty people. How much would all of this cost? Don’t forget such things as nutrition and hygiene when making your list.

8. Make your own hourglass or water clock.

9. One of the ways that sailors passed the time on board ship was to carve intricate designs on ivory, whale bone, or shells. Sailors became expert in the art of scrimshaw carving. Learn more about this art by following the following links and then try and do a piece of scrimshaw work yourself.

http://members.tripod.com/~Print2Paint/scrimshaw.html http://www.antiquescrimshaw.com/ http://www.angelfire.com/ca/antiquescrimshaw/ http://www.sixgunner.com/scrimshaw/Default.htm http://www.sixgunner.com/scrimshaw/history.htm

Literature Selections and Lessons to Accompany this Study:

Treasure Island
The Dark Frigate
Carry On Mr. Bowditch
The Swiss Family Robinson
Master Mariner
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Remember also to check you local library for additional selections.


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