Sentence Builder, the 2010 IEAR Language Arts App of the Year developed by the Mobile Education Store, is an educational app that helps children learn how to form grammatically correct sentences. Each sentence is matched with a cartoon or clip art picture to help the student determine the correct way to form the sentence. This application is great for speech-language pathologists and teachers who are working on various grammatical concepts and sentence structure with their students! Continue reading for my review of Sentence Builder.
Once you have heard the charming male voice welcoming you back to Sentence Builder, the title image fades into the Settings tab of the application. Shown in portrait format, it shows a space to type a students’ name as well as various settings you can choose based on a students’ level of cognition, language skills, age, and grade.
If you look at the bottom of the screen, you will find four different tabs with an icon for each. The Info tab (with an icon of a lower case “i” with a circle around it), when pressed, brings you to the developers’ information about the application as well as their interpretation of how the application should be used. The Mobile Education Store states that Sentence Builder is designed to “help children learn how to build grammatically correct sentences”. The Settings tab (with an icon of a file cabinet), when pressed, shows you choices for various settings in the application. It allows you to type the students’ name, select the level of play, and choose whether or not you would like audio reinforcement following correct answers. The Stats tab (with an icon of a bar graph) shows statistics on how well a student is able to create grammatically correct sentences out of three trials. Finally, the Play tab (with an icon of a running man), opens the sentence building activity itself. More detail on each of these tabs will follow.
When you click on the box underneath the label “Student Name”, the keyboard will appear at the bottom of the iPad. You can then type the students’ name into this box, and it will carry over to the Stats tab. On the iPod Touch/iPhone, only one student may be entered at a time. On the iPad, multiple names can be stored in the application, and you must select which student is the one who is currently playing in order for him or her to be scored. Once a name is chosen, the name will carry over to the Stats tab with the data remaining the same until you press the “Reset Stats” button.
Select Level of Play
Underneath the label “Select Level of Play”, you will see three buttons on a tab bar labeled “Level 1”, “Level 2”, and “Level 3”. Here is what each level is supposed to focus on:
- Level 1: The subject and adjective are fixed in the sentence, but the student will choose the appropriate modifier and verb, out of 2-3 words, to match the fixed sentence structure as well as the picture.
- Level 2: The student chooses the correct modifier, verb, and adjective (2, 3, or 5 choices) in the sentence to appropriately match the already fixed parts of the sentence as well as the picture.
- Level 3: The student must correctly choose the modifier, verb, and adjective in the sentence that match the already fixed parts of the sentence and the picture, but they will have more choices of words (3-5) to help them use correct sentence structure.
Another setting for you to choose is whether or not you want correct audio reinforcement for your student. There is a slide switch or button that is already set to “on”, but if you click it or slide it to the left, it will turn off audio reinforcements following each correct answer.
Correct Answer Animations (iPad only)
On the iPad, you have the choice of whether or not to have cartoon animations following each correct answer by pressing the on or off button next to the text. If you are using an iPod Touch or iPhone, you will see an animation every other sentence and do not have the ability to turn this feature off.
Audio Instructions (iPad only)
Prior to each sentence, a male child voice states “make a sentence about the picture”. If this is too repetitive for your students, on the iPad you have the option to turn this statement off by pushing the on or off button next to the text. You do not have this option on the iPod Touch or iPhone.
Available Packs (iPad only)
The iPad version of this application has the ability to add Teen Boy or Girl Modules to it for $4.99 each. Once you have purchased either module, or both, in the application, you must select which module you would like to use. If you select the “Original Game Module”, Sentence Builder will run without any additions. If you select the “Teen Boy” or “Teen Girl” Module, you can use that version, but you cannot select more than one module at a time. If you accidentally reset your iPad or lose data, you can click the “Restore Purchases” button on the Settings page.
Once you have decided which settings are the most appropriate for your student and select the Play tab, you are set to go! You will hear the voice of a male child encouraging your student to “make a sentence about the picture”. For the iPad, this instruction will only be given if you have “audio instructions” on in the Settings tab. You will see a cartoon/clip art picture at the bottom right of the screen, a select button on the left hand side or middle of the screen, and multiple vertical word wheels at the top.
To start creating your sentence, press and move the separated word wheels up and down. Each wheel contains a grammatical part of the sentence (noun, pronoun, verb, article, preposition/prepositional phrase, adjective, etc.). Whichever word is highlighted, in gray, in the middle upon release of the wheel, is the word that will be selected for the sentence. There will be some wheels that are static, or will not move and have a word pre-selected, and some wheels that you are able to move, with 2-5 choices of words on them. Move the word wheels to highlight each word or phrase (2-3 words) in the middle to make a sentence that is grammatically correct.
Once you believe that you have created the grammatically correct sentence that matches the picture, press the “Select” button. There is only one grammatically correct sentence per picture. If you get the sentence lined up with the correct words there will be an option to move on to the next sentence. If you have correct answer animations (available to turn off on iPad only) and the correct answer audio reinforcement on, you will either first see a silly 3D animation with a short audio reinforcement and/or hear the male child’s voice state “that’s right, the correct answer is _____” with a repetition of your sentence. If you do not see the silly animation, do not fret! The animation only appears for every other sentence. If you do not have correct answer animations or audio reinforcement on, you will not see an animation or hear a repetition of the sentence. If the sentence is lined up incorrectly, whether you have audio reinforcement on or not, you will always hear an audio motivator for your student to keep trying.
After the correct answer is chosen and the reinforcement is played, the “Select” button will disappear and be replaced by a “Next Sentence” button. This allows you to move on to another mixed-up sentence. If a part of the sentence is formed incorrectly, once the audio motivator is played, you may not advance to the next sentence until your sentence is grammatically correct. Keep forming grammatically correct sentences until you choose to stop playing the app for the day!
Even though the Stats tab is third in line, one does not need to use it until after he or she is done building grammatically correct sentences. The Stats tab, once pressed, will show you a word chart of data based on the student’s performance. The student’s name will be shown at the top followed by the level in which the student played last. It will next show a total of how many sentences at each level were attempted. Underneath each level heading, it will state how many of the students’ sentences were accurately formed on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd+ attempts. This information is stored on the iPad version of the application; however, if you use the iPod Touch or iPhone, then you must take this information and record it on your students’ own data sheet elsewhere. In addition, if the therapist wants a percentage or fraction of answers correct, he or she must calculate that on his or her own. Once your student has completed his or her turn on the app, you can click the “Reset Stats” button to delete the quantitative information reported. After this is done, the application is ready for a new user!
What I Like About This Application:
- Audio Reinforcement – The ability to have my students hear a sentence read back to them is wonderful! Students not only learn from reading, visual cues (pictures), and through hands-on activities, but it is important for them to also hear it. This way they are getting input on correct grammatical structure through three different senses and they are better able to learn.
- Positive Reinforcement – I absolutely love the fact that there are animations and audio to state that my students have done a great job! I can only tell them how great they are so much, but hearing it another way means a lot to them and puts a smile on their faces. In addition, when my students make an error on this app, it encourages them, through different wordings each time, to keep trying. The result of the animation and audio makes them want to make the sentence grammatically correct. Visuals and animations allow us to have more fun in therapy and get away from flashcards and writing all the time.
- Stats – It is helpful to have this application keep data for me. Of course, I am always sitting over my students’ shoulder, guiding them through each sentence, but this way I do not have to distract them from learning by quickly writing notes on a piece of paper. At the end, I can take the data and write it onto their data sheet.
- Focus on Grammatically Correct Sentences – Having different ways to work on a concept is wonderful. You can only do so many pencil and paper worksheets. This app is motivating for my students and it works on what it states that it works on – building grammatically correct sentences.
- Different Levels of Play – I work with students from Kindergarten through 12th grade with different disabilities and I love how I can adapt this application for each of their needs (granted, I wouldn’t use this app with my youngest or oldest students…). Having the option to choose a level of difficulty helps me be able to use this application with students of different skill levels.
- It would be nice to see an update that highlights or changes the color of the portion of the sentence that is incorrect. That way, my students can fix their part of the sentence that is incorrect!
- I would like to see the iPod Touch/iPhone version of this application updated similar to the iPad version in regards to data collection. What I mean by this is currently, the iPod Touch/iPhone version does not allow for multiple students to store their data or track data over multiple sessions. What I would like to see on both applications is the ability to work with more than one student at a time. It would be great if students could take turns correcting the sentences as I often have groups of 2 or more students at a time. In addition, I would love it if I could e-mail or print data.
- Some of the elementary school students I work with have trouble reading, but I still need to work on their sentence structure. It would be amazing if, when selected, each part of the sentence or word could be read aloud. That would greatly help my students figure out how to make the sentence grammatically correct!
- It would be cool, like in some of the other Mobile Education Store apps, if my students could record themselves reading the sentence and listen themselves reading a sentence before they submit it to be reviewed. This way, they may be able to catch mistakes they made on the first try themselves before submitting the answer. Then, they can also match up the sentence they stated to the male child voice’s verbal repetition of the sentence!
- Parents Center (iPod Touch/iPhone only) – On the Settings tab, Sentence Builder is already connected to the Parents Center of SmarTots. SmarTots is an organization that provides application reviews, additional activities, and learning reports to go along with various educational applications. To access the SmarTots Parents Center, you must sign up an account with SmarTots through the application.
- Sentence Expansion – The application itself already has sentences that are expanded slightly more than the simple subject + verb + object sentence. However, one can keep expanding sentences by encouraging students to add more detail about the picture. You can encourage students to add a preposition, adverb, or adjective to the sentence to expand it even further.
- Inference/Prediction – Ask your student what he or she thinks will happen next after the sentence. For example, one of the pictures shows a boy going down a waterslide. The student may state “he is going to make a big splash” or “he is going to go down the slide again!”
- Emotions – Ask your student how the person or animal in the picture is feeling. Place emphasis on facial and body cues (smile, frown, eyebrows, arms crossed, etc).
- Problem Solving/Social Situation – Some of the photos show the characters in the middle of a problematic situation/conflict. For example, one image shows a girl eating ice cream and the ice cream is melting on her dress. Another picture shows two chickens fighting. Ask your students what they would do if this happened to them.
- Describing – Have your students describe the picture. They can state adjectives including colors, shapes, and sizes as well as state emotions, location, category, function, and parts of the picture.
- Narrative – Have the student think of a time when he or she performed or saw someone/an animal perform the action in the picture. Did he or she enjoy it? What else happened?
- Articulation – Have the student read the sentence aloud prior to selecting the answer correctly producing their speech sound if it is in the sentence.
Sentence Builder is available for $5.99 for the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad.