What does Anne Sullivan do to improve Helen's reading skills in The Story of My Life?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Helen Keller devotes an entire chapter in her memoir—chapter 7—to learning to read.

She explains that Miss Sullivan first gave her word cards. Each card had a word on it in raised letters. Helen would connect the word to an object and then string the words together to make sentences. She would also place the correct object on or by the card with the word printed on it. For example, if she was writing a sentence with the word doll, she would place a doll by the card printed with the word doll. This helped to reinforce her learning—and she enjoyed the process.

After learning enough words, Helen began with a simple book called Reader for Beginners. At this point, she loved both reading and reading games, and all of it was more like play than work to her. If Helen liked something, such as peaches, Miss Sullivan would find a story or poem about it. The chief way Miss Sullivan helped Helen improve her reading was to make it joyful for her.

Helen particularly loved to learn outdoors, so Miss Sullivan would often take her reading lessons and books outside, which is where she also learned about science and geography.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Before Helen could learn to read, Anne Sullivan first had to teach her the concept of language and letters. She did this by spelling into the child's hand the letters of words, and then putting Helen in contact with whatever the word represented, be it "doll" or "water." Once Helen had become adept at communicating in this fashion, she began to realize that she, too, could spell out words back into Miss Sullivan's hand.

As soon as Helen began to do this, Miss Sullivan began to teach her to read. She would do this by giving Helen pieces of cardboard with words printed on them in raised letters. These letters matched the letters that were spelled into her hand, and Helen would place the pieces of cardboard onto the things they represented. Miss Sullivan made this game more interesting by taking Helen outdoors to learn the names of things there. After this, it was easier for Helen to transition to reading books with raised letters.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial