By Laureen S, First-Grade Teacher, Guest Blogger
Since I was a girl I was fascinated by Helen Keller. I used to close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to learn about the world without my sense of sight. Afterward, I would cover my ears and imagine learning without my hearing. Thinking about not having the use of either of these senses was just … fascinating!
Imagine how excited I was to hear that Hameray has created a new series of books titled Inspire! and included Helen Keller as one of the featured biographical figures! The series includes 40 informational texts about 20 trailblazers of both the past and present. Each of the 20 biographies is paired with a text that contains a theme related to the biography. In this post, I will share ideas for reading and writing using the biography of Helen Keller and in a post to follow soon I will focus on the paired text.
Encourage Rereading to Build Understanding
Helen Keller is a level N early chapter book. The students who are independently reading at this level are reading to learn so it is important that we, as teachers check for their understanding. This can easily be done through oral language discussions either teacher/student or student/student. To check for overall comprehension have students give a retelling of the story. By the time they are at this level of reading students understand that a retell includes the who, what, where, when and why of a story. Equally important is asking questions that are specific to the passage they are reading. Some examples specific to this text are: Was Helen born blind? What was special about the alphabet cards that Anne made? or What is Braille?
Facilitate Discussions about the Text
Helen Keller lends itself to a number of discussions about the text. It is a perfect opportunity to talk about disabilities and the impact that they have on learning and development. As described on, Helen became frustrated resulting in tantrums. This is a great opportunity to encourage empathy through discussions about how people with disabilities may feel and what we can do to help.
Early on in Helen’s work with Anne she taught her how to finger-spell. It took Helen awhile to figure out that these were words. Students will enjoy the opportunity to finger-spell with their peers. The activity below is included in the free download. By closing their eyes they lose their sense of sight and by not speaking they cannot rely on their sense of sight. They will see how challenging it is to understand what their partner is saying.
Using Braille to Read and Write
Eventually, Helen learned to use Braille. Helen used her fingers to feel raised dots on a page. Each letter of the alphabet had a corresponding pattern of raised dots. Asking students to learn about Braille machines would be a great way to integrate technology into their learning.
I have created two activities to use with your students to have them interact with Braille, download them below!
Before beginning, explain to students that we will not be using raised dots but rather pencil dots to represent them. In the first activity, students use the alphabet code to solve the mystery sentence and also to print their names. In the second students use the alphabet code to write a letter to a friend and have them decode. For those of you who use morning messages daily, it would be an interesting challenge to write your morning message in Braille!
Helen Keller’s biography has renewed my fascination with her strength and courage. In an upcoming blog post, I will be writing about how you could use the paired text, The Driving Force in your classroom. Be sure to check out the new Inspire! Series and to visit this blog often for learning ideas and insight into the variety of resources available at Hameray.
Laureen is a first-grade teacher in Canada. She has been teaching kindergarten and grade one for more than twenty years. Laureen loves to make learning fun and you can find her at her blog, Teach With Laughter. You can also visit her TPT page here.