Longbeard the Hairy Pirate

poem by Diana Murray , illustrated by Greg Holfeld


Learning intention:

I am learning to compose imaginative texts, experimenting with text structures and language features.

Success criteria:

  • I can analyse a limerick to identify structure and style.
  • I can identify symbols associated with types of characters.
  • I can compose a limerick, following the common rhyming pattern for this type of poem.
  • I can edit my poem, ensuring it follows the common syllable pattern of limericks.


Building the Field knowledge:

Display a variety of limericks from Reader’s Digests, 20 Quirky Limericks for Kids That Everyone Will Find Funny.

Discuss common elements in each of the limericks. Ensure students observe the following:

  • they consist of five lines
  • they are humorous (even if students don’t find every limerick humorous, inform the class that this is the aim of limerick writers)
  • they often begin with the line, ‘There was an old…’
  • the first, second and fifth lines usually rhyme and have a similar number of syllables (usually seven to ten)
  • the third and fourth lines usually rhyme and have less syllables than the other lines (usually five to seven)


Prior to reading Longbeard the Hairy Pirate, place students in pairs or small groups. Instruct students to sketch or list anything that comes to mind when you say the word ‘pirates’. To ensure active group participation, inform students that each member of the group is required to add at least one idea.

After students have had time to respond, discuss their ideas. Most likely students will have included ideas such as the following: scrubbing the decks, parrots perched on shoulders, a beard, wearing a hat with a skull and crossbones, wearing a red and white stripy shirt, walking the plank, working on a sail boat, rowing a row boat.

Inform students that these are all examples of well-known symbols (ideas, representations and images that we associate with pirates).

Read Longbeard the Hairy Pirate and examine the accompanying illustration. Discuss the following questions:

  • What symbols associated with pirates have been included in the poem and the illustration? (in the poem, a beard, oar, rope, ‘swabbing the floor’ meaning to scrub the deck, and in the illustration, a skull and crossbones, aa parrot and a sail boat)
  • How does the use of symbols add to creating the mood in the poem? (it includes symbols of pirates that readers are familiar with so adds to the piratical mood)
  • What other symbols could you add to the poem? (walking the plank, a stripy shirt, ideas included in the illustration but not in the poem, such as a skull and crossbones, a parrot and a sail boat)

Discuss another well-known characters’ from stories, such as fairies or army soldiers. Discuss ideas of symbols associated with the type of character.

Sample responses include:

  • a fairy: wings, sparkles, a wand
  • an army soldier: camouflage clothing, a tin hat

Select one of the types’ of characters. Discuss how the symbols could be incorporated into a limerick. Collaboratively compose a limerick, following the style features identified earlier. Focus first on the rhyming style. Students may find using a rhyming dictionary such as RhymeZone useful for this. Once the rhyming sequence is complete, model editing the poem to ensure the correct number of syllables have been included in each line. A sample limerick has been provided below:

There was an old fairy from Sydney,

Who glittered like a magical bee,

She waved her wand,

And splashed in a pond,

But the glitter washed right off her knee.

Place students in pairs or small groups. If they prefer they can also work independently for this task. Instruct students to compose a limerick featuring symbols that represent their chosen character. Remind students to first focus on the rhyming pattern, before editing their poems ensure they follow the syllable pattern.