Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about Helen Keller. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Helen Keller. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Encourage children to learn about historical figures and draw inspiration from their lives and work. This movie will explore the life of Helen Keller, from her childhood and tutelage under Anne Sullivan, to her rise as a writer and activist. What does Helen Keller’s life teach us? Have children keep this question in mind as they watch the movie and explore the topic further.

Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880. Helen was not born blind and deaf. When she was about nineteen months old, she became sick and lost the ability to see and hear. Still, Helen was able to communicate with her family and recognize people by touching their faces, feeling their clothes, or even by their scent. But it was still difficult for young Helen to communicate many of her thoughts and feelings. She got frustrated and upset and often threw tantrums. Her family reached out to experts to find someone who could teach Helen and help her communicate. They consulted many doctors and specialists, including Alexander Graham Bell, who had been working with deaf students. Eventually, a tutor by the name of Anne Sullivan came to the Keller home in 1887, when Helen was seven years old.

Sullivan began spelling words using sign language. Remind children that sign language is communicated through hands shapes and body movements. Sullivan spelled words into Helen’s hand so she could feel the letters. However, young Helen didn’t understand that she was spelling words or that the words were associated with objects. Sullivan remained patient and was determined to provide a structured environment for her student to learn. One day, Helen was washing her hands and Sullivan spelled the word “water” into Helen’s hand. Something clicked in Helen’s head and she understood that the words were associated with objects. Helen began asking about everything around her. Sullivan read books to Keller by signing words into her hand, and Keller learned how to write by using a ruler to guide her. Until her death in 1936, Sullivan remained as Keller’s companion and mentor.

Keller learned to read lips by lightly touching the speaker’s lips and throat to feel vibrations of the vocal cords. To demonstrate this concept, you may want children to lightly feel their throats and lips as they read a sentence out loud. Keller also learned to read Braille. Remind children that Braille is the set of raised dots that stand for letters, numbers, and symbols. The dots can be read by touch. Keller read books in Braille and also wrote in Braille on a special typewriter.

One of Keller’s goals was to attend college. With the help of Sullivan, Keller enrolled in Radcliffe College and became the first deaf and blind person to graduate college. Soon after, Keller published an autobiography and described how she overcame challenges with hope and determination. Remind children that an autobiography is a book a person writes about his or her own life. Today, Keller’s autobiography [i]The Story of My Life[/i] has been translated into dozens of languages and published all around the world.

Helen Keller became an activist and spent the rest of her life helping others and fighting for her beliefs. Explain to children that at the time, women did not have the right to vote. Keller wrote articles, essays, and letters and campaigned for equal rights and suffrage. She was one of the founding members of the American Civil Liberties Union and later during the Depression, she called for support for the unemployed and needy. Keller met with presidents to get fair treatment for people with disabilities and traveled the world to encourage leaders to improve conditions for people with disabilities. Everywhere she traveled, she gave speeches about determination and hope and encouraged people to work together and overcome challenges. She raised funds and awareness for nonprofit organizations that supported people with disabilities, including the American Foundation for the Blind.

Help children draw inspiration from Helen Keller’s life. What can we learn from Keller’s character and experiences? Encourage children to find positive role models in their lives.