We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

Teacher Guide by Elizabeth Pedro

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We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball Lesson Plans

Student Activities for We are the Ship Include:

We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson tells the story of this historic organization from the very beginning. From the 1920s through the late 1940s, this baseball league gave rise to Jackie Robinson and many other notable players.

We are the Ship Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

We are the Ship Character Map

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In this activity, students create an outline for the characters in the story, paying close attention to the feelings and actions of both major and minor characters. Students can also provide detailed information regarding the character’s actions, how they influence other characters, and how the main character changed over time.

You can click on this map and create a copy on your teacher account. Use it as is, or to edit it for the level of your class. Printing it as worksheets, for your students to complete while reading, is a fast and easy way to incorporate this character map into your classroom.

Characters included in the character map are:

  • Andrew “Rube” Foster
  • Gus Greenlee
  • Josh Gibson
  • Satchel Paige
  • James “Cool Papa” Bell
  • A. B. “Happy” Chandler
  • Branch Rickey
  • Jackie Robinson

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in We are the Ship and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a Storyboard That character to represent each of the book characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in Textables for each question.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Key Vocabulary in We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball

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Another great way to engage your students is with storyboards that use vocabulary from We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball. Here are a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the book and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

Here are some ways to help your students find the meaning of the vocabulary words they choose:

  1. Use context clues; sometimes you can figure out the meaning of a word by reading the sentences that come before and after the unknown word.
  2. Sometimes, the author may tell the definition of the word in the same sentence, or in the following sentence.
  3. Picture clues may help define an unknown word.
  4. Look at the unknown word and look for parts you may know. Sometimes a new ending or beginning has been added or changed.
  5. Use a dictionary or glossary.

Example Vocabulary Words from We are the Ship

  • segregation
  • barnstorm
  • The Great Depression
  • ambition
  • dignity
  • wit
  • rival
  • pride
  • consistent
  • prohibit
  • roster
  • unsavory
  • inexplicable
  • rickety
  • dedication
  • peculiar
  • thrive
  • epithet
  • assure
  • debut

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in We are the Ship by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Point of View in We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball

In this activity, students will examine the narrator’s point of view. The point of view is from an African American baseball player playing between the 1920s and 1947. Knowing the narrator's point of view helps us understand the knowledge, background, and any biases that the narrator might have. This narrator experienced the events first hand, and he shares his experience with the reader.


"Those major leagues learned a lot by playing us, and we learned a lot by playing them. They learned we were men just as they were, and would shake our hands and look us in the eye after we beat them, as did we."

"We played on some of the worst fields you could imagine...Some ol' pasture. You had to pray the ball wouldn't land in some cow stuff."

“In Latin America, if you were a good ballplayer, they treated you like a king. Kids followed us in the streets asking for autographs.”

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Integrating Information

In this activity, students will read a news article about the Dominican Republic and their current experience and role in the major leagues. Students then compare the life of minorities in the Negro Leagues to those playing in the Dominican Republic.

In this example, two differences have been identified and are supported with textual evidence.

Player Treatment

    Jackie Robinson “received death threats, and someone even threatened to kidnap his little boy. On the field, the fans called him names and threw stuff at him.”

    "There are many opportunities for athletes to make it big in the country, thanks in part to the support from American leagues. There are player showcases, many different training academies, and professional leagues."

Love for the Game

    “We were fortunate men. We got to play baseball for a living, something we would have done even if we hadn’t gotten paid for it.”

    "Kids wearing local teams’ uniforms shouted in Spanish as they scrambled up the walls, trying to get a view of the action. Some people climbed over the walls or perched on the top of the dugouts to watch the game."

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Text Evidence

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In this activity, students will be provided a question or prompt to answer using textual evidence. Questions should be modified to suit the objectives. Make this storyboard activity an alternate assessment to a long answer question, to promote discussion, or as a planning activity for a longer written assignment.

Example Prompt: “How did segregation impact ballplayers in the Negro League?”

Text Evidence

    1. Many times players were not allowed access into hotels and had to sleep on the bus.
    2. Ballplayers in the Negro Leagues endured racist comments from fans and had to be careful not to win by too many runs.
    3. Players in the Negro League played more games than the major leagues, and had fewer men on the team.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that answers the prompt using at least three examples from We are the Ship. Click on "Add Cells" to change the number of examples.

  1. Type the question into the central black box.
  2. Think about examples from the text that support your answer.
  3. Type text evidence in the description boxes. Paraphrase or quote directly from the text.
  4. Illustrate each example using scenes, characters, items, etc.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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A Quick Synopsis of We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball

Baseball is believed to have been invented in the 1800s; in the mid-1860s, most professional teams had only white ballplayers. Negroes who did play were often mistreated, and by the late 1800s were banned from playing professional baseball altogether. In the early 1900s, Negro teams began growing all over the Northeast and the South.

Andrew “Rube” Foster was a manager and player who ran his club, the Chicago American Giants, like a major league team. After this success, Rube decided to organize an entire Negro baseball league that would be competitive with the major leagues; he wanted there to be the American League, the National League, and the Negro League.

Rube called together all of the owners of black baseball teams to agree on rules and standards in order to eliminate the player raids and poor conduct on and off the field. It was so successful that white owners of Negro teams began forming rival leagues of their own.

Playing in the Negro League wasn’t easy; umpires made a lot of mistakes and fights broke out during close games. Some players carried guns in their uniform for protection. Some players clowned around so much on the field, it was like they were in the movies, and nobody kept accurate stats on the players.

Traveling was also very difficult. Negro League players traveled in buses and because of segregation, players were not able to get water, buy food, or shower before driving to the next town. Players slept in the bus or ate from the hot dog stand before the game. The fields themselves were in poor shape, but players looked past it because they loved the game so much.

In 1929, the U.S. stock market crashed, causing the Great Depression. The Negro National League fell apart, and Rube Foster passed away. Many people lost their jobs, and most people did not make any money; however, “numbers men”, or racketeers, were able to make money illegally playing the “numbers” game, now known as the lottery.

Gus Greenlee was the king of the numbers game in Pittsburgh. He decided to get into the baseball business and picked up where Rube left off; he reorganized the whole Negro National League and bought a team for himself. His team had five players who wound up in the Baseball Hall of Fame and were unbeatable, until Greenlee got into trouble with the law because of his numbers game.

Many people don’t realize just how many great ballplayers there were in the Negro League. A few famous players such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell, might sound familiar, but there were many who never received the recognition they deserved.

In Latin America, baseball was also very popular; managers treated their players very well and there was no segregation. Players from the Negro Leagues would play a season in Latin America, but would often become homesick and return home.

When the Negro Leagues played the White Leagues during the off-season, they had to be very careful: they couldn’t win by too much, or else they wouldn’t get paid; the fans could say whatever they wanted, but the players couldn’t do anything in retaliation; and many of the umpires cheated, or were just terrible at calling the game. However, the ballplayers understood each other and could shake hands and look each other in the eye at the end of the game because they knew they were equal men.

In 1941, Americans entered World War II and many of the players were drafted. The military was also segregated and most blacks were not sent to battle; instead, they provided entertainment or did the cooking. When they returned, crowds became larger. More people were attending the Negro League games than the major leagues, which caught the attention of major league owners who were thinking of integrating baseball.

It seemed like the major leagues would never sign a Negro ballplayer until commissioner A. B. “Happy” Chandler made a statement about allowing blacks to play in the majors. He only lasted a few years, but he paved the way for Branch Rickey to take a chance on a Negro ballplayer. The only question now was, “Who would be the first to go?” They chose Jackie Robinson for his baseball skills, as well as his ability to keep his cool. There were mixed feelings among the Negro ballplayers about Jackie Robinson being chosen. In the majors, people treated Jackie Robinson very poorly; people spit at him, sent him death threats, and even threatened to kidnap his son. Still, Jackie remained calm, so as not ruin the chance for others to play in the majors. Jackie Robinson passed away at the very young age of 53; however, he changed the face of baseball and brought the country closer to accepting Negroes as first-class citizens.

As ballplayers joined the major leagues, the Negro League began to diminish, and by 1960 it was gone. The Negro League players who did not make it to the majors felt fortunate that they were able to get paid to do something they loved, and are proud to have led the way for guys like Jackie Robinson who did make it.

Essential Questions for We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball

  1. How did the Negro League pave the way for modern day baseball?
  2. How did segregation impact ballplayers in the Negro League?

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•   (English) We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball   •   (Español) Somos el Barco: La Historia de la Liga Negra de Béisbol   •   (Français) Nous Sommes le Navire: L'histoire de la Ligue Noire Baseball   •   (Deutsch) Wir Sind das Schiff: Die Geschichte des Negers League Baseball   •   (Italiana) Siamo la Nave: La Storia Della Negro League   •   (Nederlands) Wij Zijn de Schip: Het Verhaal van de Negro League Baseball   •   (Português) Nós Somos o Navio: A História do Negro League Baseball   •   (עברית) אנחנו האנייה: סיפורה של ליגת הבייסבול הכושי   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) ونحن على السفينة: قصة دوري البيسبول نيغرو   •   (हिन्दी) नीग्रो लीग बेसबॉल की कहानी: हम जहाज हैं   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Мы Корабль: История о Бейсбольной Лиги Негро   •   (Dansk) Vi er Skibet: Historien om den Negro League Baseball   •   (Svenska) Vi är Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball   •   (Suomi) Olemme Ship: Story of Negro League Baseball   •   (Norsk) Vi er Skipet: The Story of the Negro League Baseball   •   (Türkçe) Biz Gemideyiz: Zenci Ligi Beyzbolunun Hikayesi   •   (Polski) Jesteśmy Statkiem: Opowieść o Baseballu w Negro League   •   (Româna) Suntem Nava: Povestea Negro League Baseball   •   (Ceština) Jsme Lodě: The Story of Negro League Baseball   •   (Slovenský) Sme Loďou: Príbeh Basegrounde z Čiernej Ligy   •   (Magyar) Mi Vagyunk a Hajó: The Story of a Negro League Baseball   •   (Hrvatski) Mi smo Brod: Priča Bejzbolske Crne Lige   •   (български) Ние сме Корабът: Историята на Бейзбол от "Черната Лига"   •   (Lietuvos) Mes Laivas: iš Negro League Baseball Istorija   •   (Slovenščina) Smo Ladje: Zgodba o Negro League Baseball   •   (Latvijas) Mēs Esam Kuģis: Stāsts par Negro League Beisbols   •   (eesti) Oleme Laev: Lugu Negro League Baseball