Helen goes to school

Words: 701-800

Skills: Character Traits Main / Central Idea

Grades: 5th 6th 7th 8th

Topics: History

Genres: Biography / Autobiography

Lexile Range: 1060L - 1290L

Lexile Measure: 1150L

CCSS: History/Social Studies and Reading: Informational Text


Helen Goes to School

by Helen Keller from The Story of My Life

Chapter IX passage: After losing her sight and hearing as a small child, Helen Keller was taught how to sign letters by her teacher, Anne Sullivan. It opened a new world for Helen, and she loved learning about the world she could neither hear nor see. In this passage from her autobiography published in 1903, Helen leaves her home in Alabama to attend the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston. After reading the selection, students will answer questions on the main idea and character traits.

Reading Comprehension Passage

Helen Goes to School

by Helen Keller from The Story of My Life
Born in 1880 in Alabama, Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing after an illness she was just 19 months old. At that time, people who suffered from a disability had very few opportunities. However, Helen’s parents found a teacher, Miss Sullivan, who came from the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston. She taught Helen language by using a finger alphabet. Helen learned to communicate with those around her. In this passage, Helen goes to school at the Perkins Institution. Laura Bridgman was the first blind and deaf person to receive a formal education beginning in 1837.


The next important event in my life was my visit to Boston, in May, 1888. As if it were yesterday I remember the preparations, the departure with my teacher and my mother, the journey, and finally the arrival in Boston. How different this journey was from the one I had made to Baltimore two years before! I was no longer a restless, excitable little creature, requiring the attention of everybody on the train to keep me amused. I sat quietly beside Miss Sullivan, taking in with eager interest all that she told me about what she saw out of the car window: the beautiful Tennessee River, the great cotton-fields, the hills and woods, and the crowds of laughing negroes at the stations, who waved to the people on the train and brought delicious candy and popcorn balls through the car. On the seat opposite me sat my big rag doll, Nancy, in a new gingham dress and a beruffled sunbonnet, looking at me out of two bead eyes. Sometimes, when I was not absorbed in Miss Sullivan's descriptions, I remembered Nancy's existence and took her up in my arms, but I generally calmed my conscience by making myself believe that she was asleep.

As I shall not have occasion to refer to Nancy again, I wish to tell here a sad experience she had soon after our arrival in Boston. She was covered with dirt—the remains of mud pies I had compelled her to eat, although she had never shown any special liking for them. The laundress at the Perkins Institution secretly carried her off to give her a bath. This was too much for poor Nancy. When I next saw her she was a formless heap of cotton, which I should not have recognized at all except for the two bead eyes which looked out at me reproachfully.

When the train at last pulled into the station at Boston it was as if a beautiful fairy tale had come true. The "once upon a time" was now; the "far-away country" was here.

We had scarcely arrived at the Perkins Institution for the Blind when I began to make friends with the little blind children. It delighted me inexpressibly to find that they knew the manual alphabet. What joy to talk with other children in my own language! Until then I had been like a foreigner speaking through an interpreter. In the school where Laura Bridgman was taught I was in my own country. It took me some time to appreciate the fact that my new friends were blind. I knew I could not see; but it did not seem possible that all the eager, loving children who gathered round me and joined heartily in my frolics were also blind. I remember the surprise and the pain I felt as I noticed that they placed their hands over mine when I talked to them and that they read books with their fingers. Although I had been told this before, and although I understood my own deprivations, yet I had thought vaguely that since they could hear, they must have a sort of "second sight," and I was not prepared to find one child and another and yet another deprived of the same precious gift. But they were so happy and contented that I lost all sense of pain in the pleasure of their companionship.

One day spent with the blind children made me feel thoroughly at home in my new environment, and I looked eagerly from one pleasant experience to another as the days flew swiftly by. I could not quite convince myself that there was much world left, for I regarded Boston as the beginning and the end of creation.

Passage Only

Reading Comprehension Questions

1. How does Helen know Nancy was looking at her “reproachfully” if she could not see?

2. What does Helen mean when she writes, “I was in my own country”?

3. What is one thing that surprises Helen about the school?

4. Explain what you think Helen means when she says, “I could not quite convince myself that there was much world left, for I regarded Boston as the beginning and the end of creation.”