Helen Keller--Citizen and Socialist

Helen Keller

This lesson sees to explore the multifaceted and nuanced ways in which Helen Keller is remembered. By starting with an entry level text, students will be exposed to the way in which Keller is taught to elementary and middle school students. From there, students will seek to rewrite the story on Helen Keller using primary sources via a jigsaw activity to generate meaning. Students will consider the role of historical memory and consider the ways in which some of the ideas and beliefs of historical actors are ignored by history.

  • 1-2 class periods (Including Pre-Reading)

1. Students will independently complete a reading on Helen Keller designed for younger children and determine what the author believes children should learn about Helen Keller.

2. Students will participate in a jigsaw activity specializing in one area of Helen Keller’s activism and then share out their ideas with a new group.

3. Based on hearing all five areas of activism in the life of Helen Keller students will seek to come up with a “mission statement” for the life of Helen Keller.

4. Students will rewrite the biography of Helen Keller for a 5th to 7th grade audience based on the pre-reading and what they have learned in class to better illuminate the life and accomplishments of Helen Keller.

  • None. It would be helpful if students have some knowledge of the Progressive Era, World War I, and a surface level recognition of Helen Keller. An understanding of the concept of socialism would also be fruitful.

1.  Prior Night’s Homework: Students will read and annotate the reading about Helen Keller with the following instructions:

As you read, annotate the text, and think about why elementary schools study Helen Keller. What about her life is relevant to our understanding of American History? What do you think are the important details to know about the life of Helen Keller based on this reading? Why do you think her legacy has lived on in American history?”

2. Do Now: With a partner, how do you think Helen Keller should be remembered based on the reading? Students should have these individual discussions at their tables.

3. Explain to students that they will be completing a jigsaw activity today to truly understand the real Helen Keller. Each group will specialize in one document and seek to answer the two questions on the graphic organizer.  The teacher should inform students that the questions on the documents do not need to be written down, but should be discussed as students analyze the document. Teacher Note: Documents differ widely in length and difficulty. This was done intentionally to differentiate and provide diversity of source material. 

4.  After completing the first document with their table, students will reorganize groups with a member of each document team forming a new group. Each group will have at least one person who has read each document. The students in each group will present to one another about their document, taking notes in the graphic organize.  Teacher Note: The jigsaw activity may require groups to be pre-selected by the teacher to ensure diversity within groups and efficiency.

5. Teacher will explain the concept of a mission statement and why they are important. It could be useful for the teacher to share the mission statement of his or her school. Students will take several minutes to write their own mission statement for Helen Keller. Space is provided for this in the graphic organizer


6. Whole Class Discussion Prompts

  1. Please share your mission statement for Helen Keller.
  2. Why do you think there is such a difference between the Helen Keller you read about for homework and her own words?
  3.  How should Helen Keller be remembered?
  4. What are the dangers of ignoring Keller’s activism in American society? Who benefits and who loses when her voice is silenced?
  5. Who or what does Keller blame for the evils of society? How would she fix them?


7.  Assessment

Explain to students they will be creating a new biography of Helen Keller for elementary and middle school students based on what they have learned today. Students should seek to merge material from the pre-reading with what they have learned today to create a more accurate history.

Assessment / Homework

1.Student collaboration on graphic organizer during jigsaw activity (in class, Day 1)

2. Student writing and creation of a mission statement for Helen Keller (in class, Day 1)

3. Creation of a new biography for Helen Keller (in class, Day 2 or homework)



Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.


Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.