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The Miracle Worker

William Gibson

Theme: Communication and the Senses
Grades: Grades 9-10

The Miracle Worker is a three-act play based on Annie Sullivan's heroic efforts in the 1880s to teach her new pupil, Helen Keller. At the beginning of the play, an illness renders baby Helen blind, deaf, and, therefore, mute. Pitied and badly spoiled by her parents, she learns no discipline and grows into a wild, raging creature by the age of six. Desperate, the Kellers hire a young governess, Annie Sullivan. After several fierce battles with her new charge, a determined Annie convinces the Kellers to give her two weeks alone with their child. In that time, she teaches Helen discipline and fingerspellings for words. The child ultimately comes to understand the fingerspellings as language in a dramatic "miracle" at the play's end.

  1. In Someone Else's Shoes.
    Urge students to imagine that they have suddenly lost both their sight and hearing and to consider how this new challenge might affect their normal activities. Then ask students, working either individually or in groups, to describe how they would need to change some of their activities to adjust for their blindness or deafness. Have students record their ideas in a two-column chart, one column labeled "Activity," the other labeled "Ways to Adjust for Blindness/Deafness."
  1. Role-Playing.
    Urge students to imagine, as above, that they have lost their sight and hearing. This time, ask them to consider how such a loss would affect their relationships with other people. Divide the class into pairs and have one student in each pair wear a blindfold and ear covers or plugs. Then tell the students to attempt a "conversation" without speech. Using whatever means they can think of, students must try to communicate with one another. Afterwards, have them share their results, including successful and unsuccessful means of communications and the feelings that resulted from their attempts.
  1. Ask the Expert.
    Urge students to think about the problems facing disabled individuals in their community, particularly those who are blind and deaf. Help identify local agencies or groups that might have information about the disabled. Then have students write interview questions that they would like to ask a guest speaker from one of these agencies.

  1. Talking Hands.
    Direct students to a book that teaches the fundamental vocabulary and grammar of American Sign Language. Then have students work in pairs and write a short conversation on any topic, which they will then translate into ASL. After they have practiced, invite them to perform their conversation for the class, speaking and signing simultaneously.
  1. Talking Sense.
    Divide students into groups and ask them to research the five human senses. Suggest that they divide research and writing responsibilities into five categories, one for each human sense. Ask students to explore the purposes of each sense, how the sensory organs work, and the art forms or other human efforts that appeal to the various senses. They might also explore the causes and effects of sensory loss, such as blindness or deafness. Suggest that besides using a library or computer network for their research, students can contact agencies or institutions that specialize in disabilities resulting from sensory loss. Have students prepare their findings in a written research report.

  2. Blindness in Children.
    Instruct students to research blindness in children, focusing on the typical reactions of parents who discover that their child is blind and the recommended parenting methods for a blind child. Have students write a magazine article in which they discuss the challenges of raising a blind child and recommend helpful approaches.