Introduce your students to the strong character of Helen Keller, who started life with blind and deaf and ended up changing the world. These Helen Keller lesson plans are based on the classic movie "The Miracle Worker," which depicts Anne Sullivan's struggle to teach Helen how to communicate.
At the end of these Helen Keller lesson plans, students will have improved their understanding of what Helen Keller felt like when she experienced her disabilities. They will have practiced their analytical and evaluative skills, and will have thought deeply about Anne Sullivan's methods of helping Helen.
You will need to obtain a copy of The Miracle Worker on DVD - the original version works best. Note that Disney came out with a remake in the year 2000, but the 1962 version is more dramatic.
Let the Lesson Begin
Divide students into pairs. Member A of each pair should be blindfolded, and Member B of the pair is not allowed to talk. (In this way, the pair is like Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan.) Write a task on the board that Member B has to try to get Member A to do, such as "sit down on a chair and clap hands." Member B of each pair must try to get Member A to understand what to do within thirty seconds, without talking at all. The two then switch places and repeat the activity with a different, more complex prompt, such as "Say 'hello.'" After the activity, discuss with students how it felt to be unable to hear or see the directions, as well as how it felt to try to give directions to someone else without being able to talk to them or show them what to do.
Give some basic background on Helen Keller's life, including the following facts:
- She was born in 1880 and died in 1968.
- She was born able to hear and see.
- She became deaf and blind when she was a year and a half old.
- At age seven, Helen was extremely hard to discipline. Her parents felt bad about disciplining her, so she ran wild.
- Anne Sullivan, who had been blind herself, came to help teach Helen to communicate at age seven.
- Helen eventually became a famous speaker who opposed war, promoted women's suffrage, fought for equal rights for blacks, and campaigned against segregating people with disabilities.
For more information on Helen Keller's life, you can take a look at the information available at the American Federation for the Blind.
Watch and Discuss
Show students the "kitchen scene" in the movie. This scene shows Anne Sullivan in one of her earliest struggles with teaching Helen, and it has virtually no speech in it. When the scene finishes, discuss with students what they saw. At first, leave your questions open-ended (e.g., "What did you think about that scene?"), but eventually, discuss Anne Sullivan's teaching methods. Do they think those methods were correct? Can they think of other educational techniques to teach deaf-blind students that she could have used to teach Helen effectively? Why do they think Anne chose the methods that she did?
In addition, discuss with students the similarity between the scene that they saw and the introductory activity. Did the activity help them better understand how Helen felt? How Anne felt?
You will know that students have benefited from these Helen Keller lesson plans based on their discussions in the "Watch and Discuss" section. Students should be able to relate to both Helen and Anne, and they should offer coherent arguments either for or against Anne's teaching methods. You may want to encourage them to write a short paragraph in response to the lesson as a means of assessment.