January 7, 2014

Non-Fiction is for Reading Aloud, Too

I read aloud to my 5th graders every day. It's our favorite time of day. For years I only read fiction aloud to them, usually novels. But lately I've been trying to read aloud more non-fiction because we know that read aloud boosts comprehension, and non-fiction text is an area that students sometimes struggle with.

My current routine is to read aloud one non-fiction book between each novel. Right now my students and I are deeply involved in a wonderful non-fiction book called We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson.

We Are The Ship is a comprehensive and very readable work of narrative non-fiction. In my own reading, I learned so much about the Negro Leagues. Before reading this book, I thought of the Negro Leagues with a certain level of shame and pity. How terrible that these men weren't allowed to play in the major leagues. Kadir Nelson honors this injustice without any sugar coating. However, he also celebrates the strength of community, the fun these men had playing baseball together, and the intelligent ways they approached their careers. My students and I are coming away with a much more nuanced view of the Negro Leagues.

Nelson worked on this book for 7 years and it includes 42 original paintings by him. They are gorgeous and powerful.

In my classroom, I display each page's painting using the document camera. We also examined the photographs and videos at wearetheship.com. On the site, Nelson has photos of the research process he used for his paintings. My students have been amazed by the research he put into each piece.

Not only has this book brought about a deeper appreciation of art, but a more complete understanding of African American history - both the terrible and wonderful aspects. My all-white students (...yep, you read that right...) really love this book.

** This post is part of the 20 Day Blogging Challenge by Kelly Hines **

~ Amanda


  1. What a great treat for your students! I think I now need to go find this book! Read aloud time was my favorite as a 4th grade teachers ... and I still read aloud some for my coworkers at central office now! :)

    1. It's wonderful that you still go into classrooms to read aloud! This one has lots of text though - 88 pages in 9 chapters. We are reading one chapter per day.