Using interactive iPad apps for early language assessment

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I’m a big fan of interactive apps (and indeed books or games) that encourage children to comment spontaneously on what is happening. The Wonderkind zooToddler’s Seek and Find apps were a recent discovery on the iPad of a friend’s toddler. The free ones (Animal Circus, My Zoo Animals, My Little Town) are all pretty good and give you plenty to work with even though not all of the scenes are available unless you pay a bit more. A bit like My PlayHome, they are all interactive scenes. You can’t move the characters around but when you touch them, something happens e.g. the camel spits at the man, the woman flips a pancake etc.

I particularly like the range of activities that happen as even a child with only a few basic words will be able to say something about it.

I regularly use this kind of app in informal assessments with preschool children, especially when formal assessments are not appropriate because of attention span or level. They could also work well for the younger primary ages. I keep the apps in the same folder on the iPad and asmorning townk the child to choose one. I then demonstrate a few of the the activities and talk about them simply – usually the child follows my lead and starts doing the same. Be warned – you can’t usually move on to another activity until they have had a chance to activate every single element of each scene.

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Using iPad timers for children with autism

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Using iPads interactively (the theme of this blog) is all very well but we often find that children are often more than happy to play with the iPad on their own without any adult interference.

I’ve ofteasd timern used iPad timer apps at school with children who have autism as they often benefit from clear visual and sound prompts to help them understand what is expected of them. It has been helpful to give a warning of when I plan to use the iPad with them and when they are allowed to use it on their own.

An iPad based signal can be more effective than any verbal or other visual warnings when a child is already focused on the iPad itself. It also works wonders when trying to encourage children to take turns sharing the iPad with each other.

timer sandMy favourites are ASD timer and Sand Timer (both free). You can set for any period of minutes/seconds and there is a noise when time is up (regardless of which app you are using at the time). Both of the apps above allow you to choose the ‘time up’ noise from a range of bleeps and tunes.

The iPad timer doesn’t just need to be a timer for iPad activities. You could also use it as a visual for other activities at home and at school e.g. ‘time for brushing teeth’ or ‘time until play has finished’.

Watching the clock hand moving round or the sand filtering down can help a child understand what is next in a concrete and visual way. This can be much more effective than saying “in 5 minutes” to a child who has difficulty understanding what that means.

Using My PlayHome app for early language activities

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playhomeI love this app. Since discovering it a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been trying to find different ways to fit it into my sessions at a preschool. It has a range of different scenes, each with moveable characters and objects and decent sound effects e.g. in the kitchen scene you can open cupboards, turn taps on and off and put pizza in the oven. And it works on a wider range of vocabulary than I can ever quite achieve by getting a box of small world toys together. This app could be used as a tool in targeting a range of expressive and receptive language skills.

The free version of the app (My PlayHome Lite) has two scenes which give you plenty to work with. You can, however, upgrade it for £2.49 to upload lots more scenes and there’s also a shops version for £1.49 which I haven’t tried.

I used the app in a small nursery group session and told the children that we were going to tell a story.

  • First, I showed them the kitchen scene and we agreed on names for the characters (Mummy, Daddy etc. worked better for the language level of the group I was with).
  • I demonstrated a sequence of actions one at a time and asked different children to describe each one e.g. “The Mummy opened the fridge”. “She poured a glass of juice”. “She drank the juice”. You can make the actions as complex or simple as you like depending on the language level you are working at.
  • I asked each child to direct me on what happened next. This can work well for children at a very early language level who might give a one or two word instruction such as “TV on” as it is very easy to model an expanded phrase e.g. ” turn on the TV”. It helps to demonstrate a few of the fun actions first so they know what to request.

Developing use of Wh questions using videos

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Making the most of the iPad video function deserves a few entries on this blog. It’s not a very groundbreaking idea to use videos in sessions but it’s now so easy to record and playback on an iPad that ideas which might have been too fiddly or time consuming until recently can be revamped.

I have been using short videos to work on developing understanding and use of Wh questions but it could be used to work on a range of language targets. This idea has worked well with both preschool and primary age groups and is very simple to plan:

– Find some willing members of staff to act out an everyday scenario and film it on the iPad e.g. someone pouring out some cereal in a bowl, then going to the fridge to find that there is no milk. It might only be a 5 second clip – you can do a lot with a very simple scenario.

– Play the video to the group and ask questions about it based on the question words or other targets that you might be working on, e.g. “what is he pouring into the bowl?” “why does he open the fridge?”, “where can he go to get some milk?”

I usually preferred to film two part sequences (only a few seconds each) as having a second video to play proved to be a successful way of maintaining attention during the activity for groups who had particular difficulties in this area.

The children loved watching familiar staff members act out scenarios and they sometimes chose who they wanted to see in the video the following week. (I didn’t have any problem recruiting staff to star in the videos – I think it helped when they saw how much the children enjoyed watching them!)

I got most of my inspiration from the book Language for Thinking (Stephen Parsons & Anna Branagan, 2005). It has a wide range of pictures, each of which describe an unfolding scenario. Each picture is accompanied by questions which are separated into different levels of difficulty. The pictures were easily adaptable into video scenarios which made it very easy to set up and hand over to a member of school staff for running a language group.LFT

There’s lots of ways of extending this activity – am hoping to try out a few different versions myself and will report back on what works over the next few weeks!

Group attention and listening activity

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sound touch transportAn easy group attention activity this week. Sound Touch Lite is a free app which has pages of animals and transport pictures and each one makes a realistic sound when pressed. I tried this activity using the farm animals page with primary schsound touch liteool aged children who had early language skills and difficulties with attention and listening.

I hid the ipad under a box and pressed one of the animals to make the sound. The children were encouraged to listen and then make the sign or attempt to say the name of the animal. After the animal is pressed, it creates a full screen photo which can be shown to the group and the sign/word reinforced. It occurs to me I’ve spent years attempting to make animal/transport sounds during preschool activities but there’s never any harm in actually using the real thing for a change. You can upgrade to lots more vocabulary pages for £2.99.