The Complicated Life of Helen Keller

11-12 & College


45 Min


Historical Figures


Social Studies



Social Justice Domain


Students will explore Helen Keller’s legacy as a disability rights activist and her lesser-known controversial views using a Smithsonian video and a Keller excerpt. This lesson prompts critical assessment of historical figures and reconciling differing perspectives through textual evidence. Students will discuss in groups to understand Keller’s complex legacy and its impact on the disabled community.

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Students will use textual evidence from primary and secondary sources to analyze the effects of Helen Keller’s complex activism and consider how historians should study problematic historical actors.


Smithsonian Institution: A group of over fifteen museums and research centers mostly located in Washington D.C. The Smithsonian centers are funded by the U.S. government and are free to visit. Some Smithsonian museums include the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of African Art, and the National Air and Space Museum.

NAACP (pronounced N-double A-CP): The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, was founded in 1909 to fight for the civil rights of black people and people of color in the United States.

ACLU: The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, was founded in 1920 to “defend and preserve” the rights of Americans guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU mostly does this by legally defending the civil rights of Americans in court.


1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text.
5. Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
6. Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media.
8. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

  1. Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

Common Core State Standards | Page 61 and 64


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