Teaching Techniques

Anne Sullivan: Teaching the Mute to Speak

Teaching Techniques


Anne Sullivan would fingerspell words into Helen Keller’s palm as a way to teach her. This technique was used by Laura Bridgman, and so Anne Sullivan utilized it in the teaching of Helen Keller. The Perkin’s School has used the fingerspelling method “...over the years to help students who are deafblind connect with the world around them” (“The Evolution of Deafblind Communication”). This method, while not only used by Sullivan, was very important in the teaching of Helen Keller. Had this method not been developed, or not used, Keller and Sullivan would have been even more challenged in communicating if at all. 

Anne Sullivan fingerspelling into Helen Keller's hand in 1887

[Source: Perkins School for the Blind Archive]

Anne Sullivan's gift of a doll to help Keller connect word to object.

[Source: "Helen Keller"]

Learning By Doing

Anne Sullivan used the Learning By Doing Method to help Helen Keller make connections between words and objects. She would fingerspell a word into Keller’s hand and then have her feel the object so she could make connections. This method created a breakthrough in the teaching because it was the first way Helen was able to connect a word to an object. Because she was teaching Keller “...in a day and age when most instruction consisted of rote memorization without necessarily comprehending, Anne’s insistence on teaching through constructed experience was truly innovative” (Strategies Anne Sullivan used with Helen Keller). The use of learning by doing changed the way Keller thought. Instead of knowing words and having no meaning or use of them, she was finally able to connect objects to their names. This was an important breakthrough because it helped Sullivan realize that Keller was teachable. 


While using the Tadoma method, "sometimes referred to as 'tactile lip-reading', the person who is deafblind places his or her hand on the speaker’s jaw and lips, while also feeling the vibration of the vocal chords" (Perkins School for the Blind). Anne Sullivan proved that using the Tadoma method correctly, can be a way to teach the deafblind and mute to speak. Sullivan and Keller demonstrate it in this video:

Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller demonstrating Tadoma

[Helen Keller Channel]

Created By: Yulianna Bullock, Mataya Pacheco, and Emma Reynolds