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.
…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?)
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:
- 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.
- treasures found in town, or
- the players performance
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?
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.
- answering Wh- questions, etc.