All Hands on Deck: Learning Adventures Aboard Old Ironsides
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Skipper Says
A team activity to build discipline, memory and quick responses

Captain callingThe game “Skipper Says” is a version of the game “Simon Says.” The game will teach students sailors’ language, some specifics about crew members’ jobs and a sense of the discipline required on board. You will issue the commands (in your most formidable voice, of course) and students will respond as quickly as possible. You will need a deck of 29 Crew Cards from Lesson 5 and a shoe box for each team of eight. If the class is larger than 29, copy the midshipman, ordinary seaman, boy and/or Marine cards to make enough to go around.

Divide the Crew Cards as equally as possible among the shoe boxes and place the cards face down. Divide the class into teams of about eight students. Give each team a name or number and write the team designations on the board for keeping score.

Tell students that their group is made up of their mess mates. They are all ordinary seamen, but they will play other roles according to the cards they pick. The classroom is now Constitution. Indicate the bow (front of the class), stern (back), port (left side of room) and starboard (right side). Fore and aft can also be used to indicate bow and stern, and amidships for the middle of the ship. As on Constitution, there are four decks. Tell students that to be on the spar deck, they must stand on their toes; on the gun deck, stand as usual, on the berth deck, stoop, and on the orlop, squat. You might want to rehearse these instructions by drilling the class. Call out a deck for students to practice standing according to the rules. Select a team and call out a deck and a location to see if the team gets it right.

Pass out one shoe box to each team. Ask students to take a card and, without looking at it, place it face down on their desk. If there are cards remaining in the boxes, have some students draw again so that all the cards are in play.

Tell students that some of the words in the commands will not be familiar to them, but they will earn points for a reasonable guess. Teammates are allowed to help each other. If a student fails to interpret an order correctly, give the answer, so they can win points the next time around.

As soon as you read a command, students can turn over their cards. Only the student (s) to whom the command is directed may respond. The rest must remain absolutely still, except for teammates, who are allowed to help. After computing the points earned and lost on a given command, ask students to return their cards to the boxes, mix them up and draw again, making sure not to look until the command is given. Rotate the shoe boxes around the room from time to time.


A team will score one point if the right mess mate jumps up on command; one point if that person reports to the correct location on the ship; one point for standing on the right deck; and one point for interpreting the command for the class.

Thus, for a given command, a team can win four points. A team will lose points if the wrong mate responds to a command. No points will be given for reporting to the wrong place and misinterpreting the order. The first team to get 15 points, wins.

Do a few trial runs until everyone understands the rules. Vary the game by making up new commands, issuing commands faster, or timing responses and having the whole class compete against its best time.


1. Boys, holystone the gun deck at the bow. (Rub the decks with coarse, flat-bottomed stones to give the decks a fresh, scoured appearance.)

2. Cook, report to gun deck amidships to remove the live chicken from the copper in the camboose. (Remove the chicken from the large copper pot 0n the galley stove. Live animals were kept on board, especially right after the ship left port, to provide a supply of fresh food.)

3. Master-at-arms, Take prisoners from berth deck to spar deck for flogging.

4. Marines, attention to colors, spar deck aft. (Colors is the morning ritual of raising the U.S. flag.)

5. Midshipmen report to spar deck, starboard, to shoot the sun. (An octant was used to measure the angle of the sun to establish high noon and compute latitude.)

6. Purser, slops arriving. Prepare to receive on the port side. (Slops referred to clothing and supplies for the storeroom.)

7. Steward, go aft on the orlop deck and break out some salt pork and soak it in the steeping tub. (The steeping tub was a half barrel of fresh water used to soak some of the salt out of the meat, which was salted to preserve it.)

8. Boatswains mates, report to gun deck, starboard side and call hands to dinner. (Boatswains mates carried whistles, called the boatswain’s call, which they used to direct activities, such as the call to dinner.)

9. Lieutenant, survey the spoilage of victuals (pronounced VIH-tuhls) in the barrels in aft section of the orlop deck and report to the captain in writing. (Victuals was the food suitable for eating.)

10. Coxswain (pronounced COX-suhn), report to the spar deck, stern, to prepare the gig to take the captain ashore. (The gig, one of the small boats stored on the spar deck, is the captain’s boat.)

11. Cooper, dismantle empty hogsheads and butts in forward area of berth deck. (The cooper was the barrel maker, and a hogshead was a container that held 52 1/2 gallons or about two barrels; a butt was twice the size of a hogshead.)

12. Ordinary seamen, man the bilge pumps aft of the mainmast on the gun deck. (Pumping water out of the bilge or bottom hold in the ship was part of the weekly routine.)

13. Quarter gunners, secure the starboard-side long guns back from gunports and snug up the tackles (pronounced TAE-kuhls). (To avoid a loose cannon, lines secured the guns to the ship.)

14. Able bodied seamen, report to spar deck, port bow and ready the lines to furl the fore topgallant sail and reef the fore topsail. (Furling is stowing a sail, and reefing is shortening sail.)


Have on Hand- Deck of “Crew Cards” from Lesson 5 and a shoebox, container or basket for each group of eight students in your class

Part 1
Crew Cards (front) (pdf)

Part 2 (continued)
Crew Cards (front) (pdf)

Kids make poster reminders for how to score points and the body positions for each deck.

Kitty Flammang, Curriculum Program Support Teacher
School District of Beloit
Beloit, WI


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