Find your way through Syntax City

Syntax City

If there is one thing that many speech-language pathologists may agree almost unanimously, it is how difficult it is to teach syntax to our kid clients.  Smarty Ears makes the learning of grammar rules more fun and infinitely more colorful with their latest release:  Syntax City.

The developers of Syntax City has this to say about the City our students are about to explore:

…We wanted to create a utopia where all verbs would agree with their subjects, all actions would be spoken with the right tense, and all people lived peacefully with the proper pronouns.

(don’t we all?)

Syntax1

The app greets you with an attractive main screen with two choices as to how you want to access the app:  Visit the City, or do a Quick Play. We wanted to visit the City of course.  And before one does that, you create your own Visitor ID.  Enter a name, add your student’s photo (or an avatar, if you don’t want using real photos, or not at all), and click either Settings or Next.  Settings is pretty straightforward:

  • audio on/off
  • emit a buzz if a mistake was made or simply remove the item, and
  • toggle voice recording prompts on/off.

Tap on Next and we finally enter the City.

Explore Syntax City’s environs by dragging the map around.  One can see different streets, buildings, parking lots, foliage, even a ski resort within the City.  The options are:

  • Third-Person Singular Beach
  • Plurals Zoo
  • Was-Were Bakery
  • Is-Are Park
  • Have-Has Grocery
  • He-She Ski Resort
  • Irregular Past Tense Farm
  • Do-Does Gym

Below the draggable map is a bar containing the avatars of the selected students who are to start exploring the city.  Drag the avatars onto a place in the map (we chose He-She Ski Resort simply because it’s 34 degrees Celsius outside) and the app offers Level 1 and Level 2 as the beginning activity.  We chose Level 2.  The app brought us to a picture screen with an introductory text on the bottom about ski resorts.  And of course, the task screen looks as chilly as one would expect a ski resort to be! You have:

Syntax3

  • the stimulus picture in the middle
  • the sentence to be completed below the stimulus picture
  • the choices (two to four, depending on level of difficulty), located below the incomplete sentence
  • the buttons Done, Back, and Next as well as the child’s avatar take up the screen’s corners

Depending on the Settings you made, tap on an incorrect choice and the word either buzzes or disappears.  Select the correct answer however, and the user is rewarded with a quick animation.  In our case, our cartoon skier skied past the picture.  

After answering correctly, the user is asked if he/she would like to record his/her phrase.  If you do not want to make any recording, just tap Next to go to the next item.  

Syntax4One may end the activity anytime by tapping Done.  Naturally, one would like to view a quick assessment of the child’s performance, or a ‘Report Card.’  The app asks you what would you like to access:

  • treasures found in town, or
  • the players performance

Syntax5

The former shows ‘treasures’ that the child has earned from different locations.  Those that the child has yet to earn are grayed out.  Choose the latter and you are led to a very comprehensive report of the child’s performance:

  • child’s name and date of the first session
  • a bar graph showing 
    • the different syntax activities (do-does, was-were, have-has, etc.)
    • which activities were already accomplished (grey for tasks the child has not practiced yet, green or yellow for accomplished tasks)
  • a report window that shows
    • date of the activity
    • number of participants
    • number of foils
    • how long it took to finish the task
    • accuracy, in percent
    • results: what tasks were accomplished for that day, and accuracy in percent
  • a Share button

What we love about this app:

  • engaging artwork and concept: a lot of cartoon work went into this app, the kind that can be hard to ignore and harder to not use the app with!  The concept positively invites any user to explore and see what each location offers.
  • profiles can be created via the Visitor Information screen: this one’s cute… it makes it look like you are really accomplishing a new registration form.  Save the form by tapping on the signature.
  • 50 targets per location, totalling to 400 total targets across 8 locations: and 8 different goals!!
  • allows multiple players AND individual difficulty settings: this feature is a HUGE plus!  You want three (five, tops) of your kid clients to go to Was-Were Bakery, but you want one child to work on Level 3 Was-Were, another child to use Level 1, and your third client to use Level 2.  BOOM.  You got it.
  • beautifully sharp stimulus pictures: we DID say engaging…
  • a quick animation rewards a correct answer: serves well as visual feedback
  • option to record one’s voice
  • lets child keep track of collectible treasures:  most children remain hooked on collecting stickers and badges.  In the case of Syntax City, the app makes it easy for them to check which ones they’ve already earned, and which ones are waiting to be discovered by them.
  • a very informative Report Card: the bar graph gives the teacher/clinician an idea how each child fared in any Syntax City activity AND keeps track of each (registered) child’s performance in past activities.  This matters big time.

What we hope to see in future updates:

  • an option in Settings to skip the voice recording option: a few of our kid clients get sidetracked by this option that pops out after every item.  
  • tweaked font colors in each location’s starting screen: the text in some of the locations’ starting screens were difficult to read especially if the background was similar to the fonts’ color.  Contain the text in a separate box within the picture, perhaps?

Syntax7

Syntax City can deload the clinician of the challenges behind teaching children the intricacies of learning how and when to use specific words by understanding both the picture and what is being said about it.  As with most teaching apps, the key is to carefully guide the young user in choosing the correct word and understanding what makes a sentence correct or otherwise.  This app helps one meet learning goals, many many many times over.

Price:  $24.99
Weight: 368 MB
Updated:  13 February 2013
Version: 1.2
Compatible with: iPad, iOS 5.0 or later
Target Population: children
Awesome if you want to work on:
  • syntax
  • descriptions
  • naming
  • answering Wh- questions, etc.
Customer Ratings (iTunes): 5 out of 5 stars
iSPeak App says: 5 out of 5 smileys

Beef up your arsenal with these syntax apps

iBooks and PDF readers are extremely useful tools whenever your activities for the day include working on English syntax.  We don’t know about you, but some of our kids eventually don’t find it entertaining to go through .pdf material and learn grammar the usual ‘book’ way.

Thanks to our fellow SLP, Nancy L., we got screenshots of her app collection on her iPad and checked out the apps that she had so painstakingly picked out at the App Store:

  • Preposition Remix by Smarty Ears ($9.99) SLP-designed and made, the app contains 20 of the most commonly used English prepositions, with options that allows one to toggle certain prepositions off/on, thereby customizing the lesson for each kid.  Read our review here.
  • Practice English Grammar 2 by CrowdUni (FREE) this one is a treasure trove!
  • Verbs Game Lite by Mobion (lite version, thus FREE)
  • GetAcross Free (uh… FREE) helps your client learn prepositions and phrasal verbs by making the character cross rivers, lava flows, and canyons
  • Grammar Up: Phrasal Verbs by Eknath Kadam ($2.99) with 26 topics and 750 multiple choice questions with explanation
  • GRE Vocab Study Aid by Mansoor Jafri (FREE) carries 700 high-frequency words in flashcard format and reviews are done via a quiz game
  • Verb Mayhem Series by Generate Learning were designed to help develop and improve children’s skills in recognizing parts of speech:
    • Verb Mayhem 1 ($2.99) designed for typically-developing 7-year old kids
    • Verb Mayhem 2 ($2.99) designed for typically-developing 8-9 year kids or those who have had 3-4 years of reading English
    • Verb Mayhem 3 ($2.99) designed for typically-developing 10-12 year old kids or those who have had 5-7 years of reading English
  • Grammar Express:  Prepositions Lite by Eknath Kadam (FREE) with 68 pages of grammar rules and 265+ examples
  • Sentence Builder by Mobile Education Tools ($5.99) contains over 100 pictures for kids to build sentences around with optional correct sentence audio reinforcement
  • Sentence Maker by Grasshopper Apps ($0.99) a highly customizable app that enables the user to create and complete their own sentences
  • Comparative Adjectives by Grasshopper Apps (FREE for a limited time only) allows a young kid client tap on the picture that matches a voiced-in description
There are so many more syntax apps in the App Store, both paid and free, that we’d love to include in this list… but we need your help!  Leave a comment below and let us know what syntax apps you have on your iOS device, and which ones do you find most useful and why.