Thursday, January 31, 2013

App Review and Giveaway: Language Builder

It's no secret that the iPad has changed the face of speech and language therapy.  What an amazing tool to capture the attention and interest of some of our most challenging kiddos!  Today I'd like to share with you one of Mobile Education Store's first apps designed with SLPs in mind.  Without further adieu, here is Language Builder ($9.99 in the App Store)!

Language Winner was voted the 3rd best educational app of 2011 by and the 9th best educational app of 2011 by!  

According to the app description, Language Builder is designed to help children accomplish the following educational goals: 1) Improve sentence ideation ; 2) Improve sentence formation; and 3) Improve receptive and expressive language.  

Let's take a look, shall we?


As with all Mobile Education Store apps, there is an "info" tab along the bottom.  Tapping this tab will bring you to a brief synopsis of the purpose of the app as well as how to use the app.


From the settings screen, you can set up/add/change a student profile.  You can choose to have the "hint button" enabled or disabled, turn on/off audio instructions, change the level of hints, and select image themes.  You can also watch the Video Tutorial for more information.

The Available Image Themes include:
  • Original Game Pack
  • Inside Playtime Game Pack
  • Places Game Pack
  • Winter Game Pack
  • Pets Game Pack
  • Sports Game Pack
  • School Game Pack
  • Water Game Pack
  • Hobbies Game Pack
  • Medical Game Pack
  • Playground Game Pack
You also have the option of randomly selecting from all of the themes.  

From the settings screen, you can select one of three different hint options:  Hint Level 1, Hint Level 2, and Hint Level 3.  We'll see more about these in a minute.


You will be shown a picture and prompted by a voice recording to "make a sentence about the picture."  There will be three buttons - "Record," "Hint," or "Skip Picture."  As you can probably guess, tap "Record" to record the child's response.  "Skip picture" will move you along to the next picture.  (All the levels begin the same way...the hints are the what changes.)

Hint Level 1

Tapping "Hint" on Level 1 will give you a fill-in-the-blank sentence with two blanks:

Hint Level 2

This time you are shown just the beginning of a sentence and the student must complete the rest.

Hint Level 3

On this level, when you tap "Hint," you will be given two words to use in the sentence.  For this example, you are told to "Use the words 'big' and 'sky' in your sentence."

Notice that you can record your students' responses?  Once you record, you can play it immediately and/or save the recording for future analysis.

When you save the recording, you are prompted to give it a name.


The last tab along the bottom of the screen is "Archive."  This is where you can see the recordings that you saved.

Tap on a saved sentence and you will be able to play the saved sentence, delete the sentence, or share the sentence.  Tapping "Share Sentence" will attach the image and audio clip to an email, which you can send to yourself, teachers, and/or parents:

In case you want to see some more samples of the target images:

And that's Language Builder in a nutshell!  Here are my thoughts:

The Pros:

  • Real-life photos.  The photos are great for depicting action.  Students will be able to relate to many of the images as well.
  • Simple, yet effective.  This app is simple to use, but can be used to target many different objectives - sentence formulation, pronoun use, present progressive verb tense, articulation carry-over, monitoring voice and fluency strategies, etc.
  • Recording feature.  What student doesn't love to hear their own voice?  This can be motivating for some of our kiddos who would not complete this type of task in a flash-card format.
  • Archive feature.  This is a great feature when you want to keep pre/post test data. I also love that you can email the recordings to yourself so that you are not taking up too much space on your iPad.  
  • Ability to add multiple players.
  • The different hint levels allow for scaffolding with students.  From any given picture (before you record), you can change the hint levels to provide more/less support as needed.

The Cons:

  • No multi-player option.  I don't know about you, but most of my sessions consist of groups of students.  You could come up with a profile of "Language Group" and save recordings with the child's name.  
  • There is no audio for hint levels 1 and 2.  Not a major con, but most of the students on my caseload cannot yet read, so I need to read the hints to them.
The Bottom Line:
Language Builder is yet another quality app from Mobile Education Store!  Language Builder is great for targeting sentence formulation, but can also be used for a variety of other objectives.  You could also use this app with a variety of age ranges.  I love apps that are versatile and Language Builder is definitely one of those apps!

Could you use Language Builder in your practice?  Kyle was gracious enough to provide a copy for me to give away.  You can enter using the Rafflecopter below.

Disclaimer:  Although Kyle from Mobile Education Store was kind enough to provide me with a copy of Language Builder to review and another to give away, the opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.

Interactive PCS Books

Remember the other day I told you about Busy Bee Speech's Preschool Week?  Lauren asked a few SLP bloggers (myself included) to share their favorite materials for working with preschoolers.  I wanted to share this series of interactive books created by Beth E. Breakstone, a licensed SLP, and made with Picture Communication Symbols from Mayer Johnson.  I have seven of these books:

Want to find out more about them and see what the other bloggers had to say?  Head on over to Busy Bee Speech!

Book of the Week: Don't Wake Up the Bear

We all love Jan Brett books, right?  "The Mitten" and "The Hat" are amazing books for this time of year!  I find, though, that when I bring these books into classrooms, most of the kids will tell me "My teacher already read us that story!"  Some will have no problem listening again (and even need the repetition), but others will complain enough that I usually DON'T use those books in therapy (even though I absolutely love them).  Here's my solution:

"Don't Wake Up the Bear!" by Marjorie Dennis Murray parallels "The Mitten" in a few ways:

  • First, most of the animals are also in "The Mitten."

                "The Mitten"
                        mole, rabbit, hedgehog, owl, badger, fox, bear, mouse
                "Don't Wake Up the Bear"
                        bear, hare, badger, fox, squirrel, mouse

  • Second, the animals are all seeking a nice warm place - a mitten, or a bear's cave.

  • And probably most significantly, in both stories, there is a big SNEEZE!  In "The Mitten," the mouse's whiskers tickle the bear's nose.  He sneezes and all of the animals are scattered out of the mitten.  In "Don't Wake Up the Bear," the mouse (who is sleeping soundly in the bear's ear) sneezes, waking up the bear.  The other animals are afraid he will eat them, so they run away.  

When I introduce either of these stories, I typically review the animals first.  How many of your kids have seen/heard of a badger?   So, I do a quick image search on my iPad using Google Images and save pictures to my camera roll and create an album for the book.  (Don't know how to do this?  Click HERE for instructions).

Once we're done with that, I read the story.  There is a repetitive line in this one:  "You may come in said the hare.  But don't wake up the bear!"  I have the kids say this line, usually 2-3 times - until I know that ALL the kids are trying!  While we're reading, I either use my story stick or another visual:

The images for my story stick were created with Boardmaker.  I wish I could tell you where the other pictures came from.  I loaned my copy of "Don't Wake Up the Bear" to a colleague last year and she returned it with the pictures...colored and laminated!!!  (Have I mentioned before that I really do have some awesome colleagues?!?)  When we're done with the story, we work on sequencing and story retell using whichever visuals we used during the read aloud.

What we do next depends on whether or not they have already heard "The Mitten."

If they HAVE, we usually compare the two stories....Which animals were in both stories, what elements were the same/different, etc.  I created this simple diagram to sort pictures of the animals from each story:

You could also do a hula hoop Venn Diagram with the actual book in each hoop!  (Missed that post?  Read more HERE).  Need more portability?  Do a paper/pencil Venn Diagram!

If the students HAVE NOT read "The Mitten," I've tried a couple of things.  For the younger ones, I assign them each an animal and ask them to act out the story (They ALL want to be the bear!).  I also have a bunch of kids working on sentence formulation (Subject-is-Verbing is a big one!).  So, I used the Make Dice App ($2.99 in iTunes) to create a die of the animals in the story:

I made another with action words.  The students took turns "rolling" the two dice and saying the sentence.  I wasn't sure this would make sense for them since there is an animal and then a human completing an action, but they did great!

Then, in another session, we might read "The Mitten" and complete the other activities listed above.  Have you read this story?  What do you think?  Which story do you prefer ("The Mitten" or "Don't Wake Up the Bear")?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

App Review: Language Empires

Hey Everyone!  Back with another FABULOUS APP by Smarty Ears!  And here to review it for us is my friend and colleague, Stephanie.  Stephanie works in the same school as I do, servicing students in grades K-5.  Take it away ...

Smarty Ears has recently released a new app called Language Empires ($29.99 in iTunes).  This app targets 8 different aspects of language:

  • Figurative Language
  • Vocabulary
  • Inferencing
  • Which questions
  • Why questions
  • How questions
  • Sequencing
  • Predicting.  

As you open the app, you will notice that you have a few options listed at the bottom.  Visit the City and Quick Play get you playing the game immediately.  The Support button leads you directly to the Video Tutorial for the game.  The video is a comprehensive overview of the app, narrated by one of the app developers – who is also a speech pathologist.  That’s always a bonus!  Who better to develop an app for speech pathologists?  I would recommend running quickly through the tutorial because it’s a fast way to understand all the features and settings of the app for those of us who just want to take and go. 

When you decide to visit the city, you will be prompted to enter in your student’s names.  You can choose an avatar or use a real picture to represent your students. 

Once you have chosen your players, you are presented with a map of the empire.  The empire consists of little areas devoted to each of the 8 target skills.  Simply drag the players into the area you would like to them to target.

You can further customize their play by selecting a level of difficulty within each target area.  There are 2-3 levels of difficulty per area. 

Once everyone is in the right location, you can move right into the questions.  Students will immediately begin answering questions regarding their language target.  These questions are read aloud to the students and feature a small coordinating picture and multiple choice responses. 


Figurative Language:


Which Questions:

How Questions:

Why Questions:



After you have finished playing, you may go back to the home screen and find the Report section.  You are able to view, share or email students results.  Students might like to see all of the trophies they accumulated along the way. 

Pros of the app:

  • I like the fact that you can work on so many different language targets all in the same place!  It was great for those groups of kids that all have different goals. 
  • The idea of levels within each skill area provides allows for greater customization.
  • The graphics and music were engaging enough to keep the interest of my students.

Future app update recommendations:

  • It would be great is there was a sense of “game play” between the different players.  Once you are playing, the questions are asked back to back with no feel of moving from one area to another for the next players turn. 
  • When the questions are on the screen, all players are listed at the bottom, with no indication as to whose turn it is.  I would love to see only that player’s avatar at the bottom, so that I didn’t have to remember who was in what area.   

Bottom line:

My student’s and I definitely enjoyed playing this app.  Everyone was happy and engaged - which is a sign of an effective and productive speech session in my book!  I feel like this app is best suited for Grades 3-5.  However, you could use it for slightly younger children as well, if you take more time to explain every question and really talk it through.  I would definitely recommend this app to anyone looking to add a versatile language tool to their iPad toolbox!

I would like to personally thank Carrie for being a wonderful colleague and friend.  It was so sweet of her to pass along this app for me to review with my older students. 

DISCLAIMER:  Although a copy of this app was provided to me in exchange for my review and another for the giveaway, the thoughts and opinions are my own.  (Thank you Smarty Ears!  I love all of your apps!)


Another disclaimer:  I did not pay/compensate Stephanie in any way for the kind words!  :)  If you would like to enter for a chance to win a copy of Language Adventures, you can do so using the Rafflecopter below!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Noisy Stories and Some AAC

Have you heard about Preschool Week over at Busy Bee Speech?

Well, Lauren recently contacted me and asked me to write a short blurb about one of my favorite materials for preschoolers. You're going to have to wait until Thursday to see what I wrote about for her ;)  But, I figured I'd share another of my can't-believe-I-ever-performed-therapy-without-this materials:  Noisy Stories!

Noisy Stories is by Joan Rivard, MA, CCC-SLP and Jessica Rivard and is published by Mayer Johnson.  The cover of the book states that the book provides "language activities for children of all communicative abilities."  I purchased this book with a select few of my students in mind - a classroom of preschool students with a variety of significant special needs.  Many (but not all) of these students did not talk.  Some used sign, some used vocalizations, some used voice output devices.  What I found, however, was that this program is PERFECT for all of my preschool kids!

Noisy Stories is a collection of short stories.  Many of the stories follow common themes (Back to School, Halloween, Winter, etc.).  There are very little words in each story with one picture per page (all Boardmaker PCS).  The stories are predictable as well.  Because of this, the kids learn pretty quickly when it's "their turn" to talk.  You could program a switch for your non-verbal kids to participate in this activity as well.  Here is an example from "The Mitten" story:

The book gives you the ASL sign for each word as well!

Did I mention that each story comes with a 2-page send-home version?

When I first started using this program, I simply made black and white photocopies from the book.  After a while, I started using my Boardmaker Software to create full-color versions, which I printed on cardstock and bound with a comb binder.  Here's what the Halloween story looks like completed:

Notice the "s-s-s" on the bottom of the page above?  Each page of each story has a simple word or sound to encourage imitation.  The objectives of each story are printed on the first page in the Noisy Stories book.  Some include:  CV sequences, bilabial sounds, etc.

So, when I use the stories, I try to gather physical manipulatives for each vocabulary item.  We read the story - many of the kids will verbally participate in some way at this stage, but some do not yet.  Next, we review the materials and each child gets to hold some (if not all) of the materials.  Then read the story again.  This time, most of the kids will attempt to participate (vocalization, sign, word, or switch device).

Like I said, I used this program primarily with students in a substantially separate classroom.  All of the students in this classroom received speech.  I was so fortunate that the teacher truly believed in the importance of communication and was beyond helpful in carry-over of my activities.  So, she created amazing take-home versions of some of the stories - having the kids create crafts for selected pages.  I don't have pictures of those, but they were adorable!

Additionally, I created Switch-Access Power-Point versions of the stories as well!  (I've actually done this for a few other stories as well, "If you Give a Mouse a Cookie" is one of them).  If you'd like more information on how to do this, THIS is a good start).  I imported all of the pictures and text, added a delay on the advance button, and recorded my own voice reading the stories.  As long as you position the mouse over the advance button, the child simply needs to tap the switch to advance.  The classroom teacher added the Switch-Access story as one of the student centers each day during the week we used the book, so each child got a chance to hear the story numerous times!

Notice the cursor over the advance button?

You could also create a PDF and open on iBooks on your iPad!  You wouldn't have the voice recording, but it would be highly portable.  Also, some kids may have difficulty with switch access, but do fine with the swiping motion.

Noisy Story opened in iBooks

Do you use the Noisy Stories Program?  What do you think of it?

Monday, January 28, 2013

To Start or Not to Start - the Introduction of Solids...The conundrum!

Today we have a guest post from Valerie Gent.  Valerie is an Australian based Speech Pathologist working primarily with infants and children with feeding difficulties.  She has graciously offered to share some insight regarding timelines for starting infants on solid foods.  Take it away Val...

When should I start my baby on solids is a question posed to Paediatric Feeding  Speech Pathologists, Doctors and Baby Health nurses nearly every day. When I answer it in my practice, 'Let's Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology', I find that it's not always a clear 'yes' or 'no'.

The difficulty being that there are lots of different views on when is the "right" time. I hope to be able to summarise most of the recommended guidelines from different authorities as well as tell you as mums what you need to look for in your own baby.

What are International and Australian organisations recommending?

When to start solids
Factsheet link

World Health Organisation

6 months

WHO also notes that at 6 months, infants are likely to be developmentally ready for solids. They also recommend not waiting longer than 6 months as it may affect a child's growth.

On an aside, there is a really strong push in Australia to breast feed up until 12 months with some organisations such as WHO and the Australian Breastfeeding Association recommending it for longer. WHO states that  breast milk provides 'one half or more of a child's energy needs between 6 and 12 months of age, and one third of energy needs between 12 and 24 months.' -  think about it - one third - which is actually a lot!

Australian Breastfeeding Association
6 months

They have written a very informative article on this topic - see link.

National Health and Medical Research Council (The Australian Government)

6 months
They do acknowledge that some babies may benefit from the introduction of solids earlier than 6 months (but not before 4 months of age) - but it is generally advised to discuss this with your doctor first.

Under review - I contacted them when writing this article and they said they should have something available in mid Feb 2013. Email me if you would like this factsheet emailed to you when it's released.

NSW Health

As most of you reading this are Australians living in NSW where my practice "Let's Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology" is located, I thought it would be helpful to also see what our state health is recommending.
6 months

So you may begin to start wondering why I decided to write this blog post? I'm on several "mummy" Facebook groups and it astounded me the varying advice bantered around - controversy, myth, outdated advice and mothers getting quite heated that they had the "right" information with internet links to boot!

Maybe history may explain some of the advice given to mums?
In the early 1900s, Paediatricians recommended cod liver oil and orange juice (with no solids) up until 12 months. More recently, in our grandparent's generation, the recommendation was to start bit earlier than 12 months due to iron deficiencies and in our parent's child bearing era (1950s - 1970s), starting solids was recommended as young as 3-6 weeks of age. So it is likely that our parents started us earlier on solids....

To add more food for thought -

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy
ASCIA recommends introducing solids between four and six months (whilst breastfeeding) and not to delay the introduction of possible allergenic foods (unless you have a family history of allergies, in which case it's advised you speak with your doctor). Here's a link to their factsheet:

What is causing health professionals to hesitate is that there is a lot of debate around solids and their introduction, what we do know is this:

*  Food allergies are rising in Western countries with the frequency of allergic disease in Australia doubling over the past 25 years (ref 1-3)
*  There appears to be a link between allergies and delayed introduction of food but as to starting earlier? A systematic review of the literature suggests there is an increased risk of allergy associated with the earlier introduction (early than 4 months) of solids (ref 3 & 4).

So that's the evidence but how do you as a mum know when your baby is ready for solids?

We use 26 different muscles to eat and swallow. We also have to coordinate our eating and breathing - we hold our breath while we swallow food.  So your baby not only needs to:

  • Develop the right oral muscle strength to control and manage their solids - this is more than just the loss of the 'tongue thrust' reflex which happens around 4-6 months. It is also the development of your baby's jaw, lip seal and tongue.
  • Babies need good body strength (commonly known as core stability) to be able to keep their head and body supported while they concentrate on eating. There is a bit difference in core stability in a 4 month old baby to a 6 month old baby.
  • Show an interest in your food - this is more than just mouthing as most 4-6 month old babies will put just about anything in their mouth - food, fingers, toes etc. The other signs might also be looking at spoons and opening their mouths while you eat, your baby might imitate your chewing/mouth movements etc
  • Another sign is one I don't necessarily agree with - showing hunger signs by waking in the middle of the night. There is a developmental growth spurt around this time so starting solids earlier to help your baby sleep through the night may not necessarily work.

So where does that lead you?

  • Don't start too early (before 4 months) as it is
                    →not ideal for your baby's digestive system
                    →can affect their intake of breastmilk/formula

·        Don't start too late (later than 6 months) as it

                    → may increase their allergy risk
                    → their nutritional sources (zinc and iron) start to deplete (it is a gradual process)

·        Introduce all food types from 6 months and onwards! There is no need to hold back on certain foods (see the Ascia 'infant feeding advice' link above for details). However if you do have a history of allergies in your family, it is best to discuss what to introduce and when with your GP/Paediatrician/Allergy Specialist.

Knowing when your baby is ready for solids is not as clear as black and white. Remember that it is a learning process for them and they may not start eating big amounts for a while which is okay! Let them touch it, taste it and most importantly enjoy the experience. Keep mealtimes as fun, interactive and pressure-free as you can and your baby will thank you for it. Good luck and enjoy this next chapter of your child's life!


1.  Wilkinson, P.W. & Davies, D.P. (1978)  When and why are babies weaned? British Medical Journal 1: 1682-1683
2. Fewtrell, M., Morgan, J. Duggan, C., Gunnlaugsson, G., Hibberd, P., Lucas, A. & Kleinman, R. (2007) Optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding: what is the evidence to support current recommendations?  American  Journal of  Clinical Nutrition, vol 85 no. 2 635S-638S
3. factsheet
4.  Beth A. Tarini, MD; Aaron E. Carroll, MD, MS; Colin M. Sox, MD, MS; Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH. (2013), Systematic Review of the Relationship Between Early Introduction of Solid Foods to Infants and the Development of Allergic Disease, JAMA Paediatrics Vol 167, No. 1
About the author of this blog post:

Valerie is an Australian based Speech Pathologist with 10 years experience in Paediatric Feeding. She has recently opened a private practice called 'Let's Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology' that caters for Newcastle based babies and children with feeding difficulties. Valerie is passionate about working in the area of paediatric feeding and has been involved in the teaching and training of Australian Speech Pathology University students and allied health professionals. You can find out more about Valerie Gent and 'Let's Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology' via her website and Facebook page or email her on
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