Between The Lines – App Review

Between The Lines – App Review

Developer: Hamaguchi Apps

Price:            $15.99



CC whose blog is entitled “If Only I had Super Powers” recently wrote a post on trying to teach social-pragmatic skills to children. I totally concur with her. “Social –Pragmatic skills are HARD to teach” and yet more and more children are experiencing difficulty learning and generalizing these skills.

Between the Lines by Hamaguchi Apps is designed for primary(elementary)  school students through young adults, who would benefit from practice interpreting vocal intonation, facial expressions, perspective-taking, body language, and idiomatic or slang expressions. There are three levels available – Level 1, Level 2 and Advanced.

The app uses real photographs, voices and short mini-video clips of a variety of social situations and expressions. This app provides a dynamic way to help learn and practice interpreting the messages that are “between the lines” and simply can’t be replicated with worksheets and static flashcards.

All three levels adopt the same format. Although Level 2 is slightly more difficult than Level 1, there is not much in it and the division between the two levels is largely due to the size of the app rather than the difficulty level. The Advanced is slightly more difficult, but I have been able to use this level with my primary school children (9-10 year olds) with success.

Format of App:


1. Listening


The user hears a voice speak a sentence, e.g., “Oh wow, I can’t believe he’s here!” A question is then asked, “Who said it?” The user is shown a series of photographs. Depending upon the settings selected, there can be 2, 3 or 4 choices shown. The user touches the correct facial expression that matches the voice.

Who said it?

2. Body Language


A very short video-clip is shown that depicts an interaction or situation. For example, a girl is sitting on a bench waiting for her friend. Her friend eventually strolls along and sits down and she exclaims “It’s almost 8:20! Hello!” Her body language suggests she is really exasperated. The camera closes in this actor and says, “What is she thinking?” The user’s task is to look at the choices of responses and select the one that matches the facial expression/body language. Depending upon the settings selected, there can be 2, 3 or 4 choices shown.


What is she thinking?



3. Expressions


A very short video-clip is shown that depicts an actor speaking a sentence that contains an idiomatic expression, e.g., “I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck.” The user is then asked, “What does that mean?” Depending upon the settings selected, there can be 2, 3, or 4 choices shown. Text can be read to the user by touching the sentences.


What does that mean?


Level 1 contains 204 tasks in total.

Level 2 contains 199 tasks in total.

Advanced contains 225 tasks in total.


  • All three levels can be played by up to 75 users or as a group.
  • The percentage correct is reported for each user’s performance on each of the three activities.
  • Individual users can select their own settings; the group must have the same setting selections for the entire group.
  • Settings include:

– Selection of the activities,

– Order of the activities (or random)

– Praise phrases and correct sound effect bell on/off

– Answer choices (group of 2, 3 or 4),

– How to display choices (automatically or manually)

– Automatic progression to next activity or manual progression using the arrow.

– Progress can be tracked, and displayed or not displayed.

– Reward animations are provided at selected intervals for a welcome fun and break including Dunk Tank,  Bull’s Eye (darts), and Knock ‘Em Down

  • Data can be saved, stored, printed and emailed.


Special Features


Although the App only provides a correct/incorrect reinforcement, each level has an Extension Activities sheet which provides specific guidance on how to extend the child and improve performance.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

App Review Checklist & Rating Chart: Total Score   /20

Speech/Language/Education Apps



Content is appropriate 1
No in app purchases required for use 1
Help/tutorial Available 1
Students can launch and navigate in the app independently 1
App is fairly priced and/or comparable to other similarly priced apps 1


App can be customized for different users 1
App can be used for single user or groups 1
Content/data can easily be exported 1
User data is saved from session to session 1


1 ½ /2
Design graphics/sounds are appealing 1
App is interactive, engaging & motivating for user 1/2


App is designed to target speech/language skills 1
App is designed to target auditory processing – phonemic awareness 1
App can be adapted to target speech/language skills 1
App encourages critical thinking and higher level language 1
App has good potential for interaction between user and therapist 1
Response to errors is specific and results in improved performance 1
Targeted skills are practiced in an authentic learning environment 1
App offers complete flexibility to alter settings to meet students needs 1
App can be used across a variety of age/developmental groups 1


19 ½ /20



Star Rating

17 – 20 Points  – 5 Stars

13 – 16 Points – 4 Stars

9- 12 Points – 3 Stars

5 – 8 Points – 2 Stars

0 – 4 Points – 1 Star


There is very little that I can fault with this App apart from the motivation games. The choice of three different games is great, but the games themselves don’t provide the user with any control of the game other than touching the “THROW” icon and hoping for the best. The children soon worked this out. As a result, the motivation to continue playing was dampened to some degree. There is also no limit to the number of times the child can press “THROW”  when they have a reward game, and even though there is no skill involved in the game, the children still enjoyed seeing the man dunked and it was occasionally difficult to redirect them to the task.

Never the less, I feel that this App is an invaluable source of targeting those difficult to teach social – pragmatic skills and it is not a bad thing to only work on one or two areas at a time in order to generalize these skills optimally.


Thank you to Patti at Hamaguchi Apps for providing me with Levels 1 & 2. The Advanced level was purchased of my own volition. 😀

The opinions expressed are my own.

App Review: Tense Builder

App Review: Tense Builder


Developer: Mobile Education Store

Price: $14.99


Aside from acting out verbs with children, I haven’t found another activity that provides a real understanding of verb tenses (and there is a limit to the number of verbs that you can act out) over and over again.

Tense Builder is designed to help students learn how to identify and use correct tense forms (present, past, and future) using an interactive movie format. This allows the child to see the verbs in action providing an authentic learning experience.


Features Include:

  • 42 video animations for target verbs (with plans to expand to 58 by December 2012)
  • Ability to choose which verb tense to target (or target them all)
  • Ability to choose irregular or regular verbs (or target them together).
  • Ability to select specific verbs to work on.
  • Two different levels of play
  • Receptive and Expressive tasks during play
  • Store and track multiple students
  • Ability to record, save, and email responses
  • Data tracking through app stats.
  • Built in Video Tutorial


Level One: 

Level 1

–  Receptive Task: The child watches the short movie and is then presented with a         sentence and three picture choices

–       The child has to touch the picture that corresponds to that verb tense.

–       If the child makes an error, it says “that’s not quite right”. The App zooms in on the picture and explains WHY the picture is the incorrect choice. When the child selects the correct picture it reinforces by saying “that’s right” and explains the tense and what it means.

Once the child has selected the correct image, they are prompted to record the sentences, giving them practice with the targeted verb tense.


Level Two:

Level 2

–       The child watches the video and completes a ‘fill in the sentence’ activity for the correct verb tense.

–       After the video it will give the child a picture from the video and 3 – 7 word choices (you can set the amount of choices in the settings) and they have to drag to correct verb tense into the sentence that corresponds with the picture.

–        If the child drags the wrong word into the sentence, it will highlight their response and show a quick video reinforcer of the verb they chose. This will show the student why their choice was incorrect. If the student choose correctly it gives them verbal praise and they you can select next sentence.

Both Level 1 and level 2 offer the full video lesson tutorials. These can be a bit long, but necessary especially when first playing the app.

App Review Checklist & Rating Chart: Total Score   /20
Speech/Language/Education Apps



Content is appropriate 1
No in app purchases required for use 1
Help/tutorial Available 1
Students can launch and navigate in the app independently 1
App is fairly priced and/or comparable to other similarly priced apps 1


App can be customized for different users 1
App can be used for single user or groups 0
Content/data can easily be exported 1
User data is saved from session to session 1


1 ½ /2
Design graphics/sounds are appealing 1
App is interactive, engaging & motivating for user 1/2


App is designed to target speech/language skills 1
App is designed to target auditory processing – phonemic awareness 1
App can be adapted to target speech/language skills 1
App encourages critical thinking and higher level language 1
App has good potential for interaction between user and therapist 1
Response to errors is specific and results in improved performance 1
Targeted skills are practiced in an authentic learning environment 1
App offers complete flexibility to alter settings to meet students needs 1
App can be used across a variety of age/developmental groups 1


18 ½ /20


Star Rating

17 – 20 Points – 5 Stars

13 – 16 Points – 4 Stars

9 – 12 Points – 3 Stars

5 – 8 Points – 2 Stars

1 – 4 Points – 1 Star


  • The short animated videos are engaging and funny.
  • The movies can be paused at any point to allow for discussion and extension teaching.
  • Narratives, attention to details, inferencing, humour and even articulation practice can be targeted using this app.
  • The movies can be replayed if necessary
  • Well defined levels of skill and complexity
  • Level 1 does not allow the child to choose the incorrect response repeatedly and this curbs  impulsivity
  • Recording features allows additional verbal feedback and self-monitoring practice. Recorded sentences can also be saved and stored.
  • Data collection occurs and multiple students can be made users for this app although it cannot be used as a group activity. The data can be printed and emailed.


Areas for Improvement
  • It is quite expensive at $14.99 but in my view well worth it.
  • Some knowledge of reading/word structure needed for the child to use it independently
  • On Level 2, it would be nice if the sentence is read for the child once they have made a selection. This would allow for younger children to work more independently.
  • If  the child accidentally inserts the incorrect word, the app does not allow the child to make any corrections
  • Although the videos are really engaging and funny, this is not a game App (nor was it meant to be), so the child does lose interest after a couple of practice verbs. However, in order to reinforce verbs, then it’s a good idea to only use a few at a time
11 Tools to improve Reading Comprehension

11 Tools to improve Reading Comprehension

Good readers employ strategies before, during, and after reading that help them comprehend text. As I mentioned in my last post “Causes of reading comprehension difficulties,” struggling readers do not understand why they have difficulty comprehending.

There is however, no definitive set of strategies for remediation of reading comprehension difficulties and identification of where comprehension is breaking down will assist in employing the correct strategy to facilitate Reading Comprehension.

In addition to employing reading comprehension strategies, it is important to implement the following:

Provide the Right Kind of Books

One of the most important aspects of facilitating Reading Comprehension is reading fluency.  A child should be able to recognize at least 90 percent of the words without any help. Stopping any more often than that to try and decode a word makes it difficult to focus on the overall meaning of the story.

Reading activities can be divided into three categories, depending on when they take place:

A. Pre-reading

B. Reading

C. Post-reading.


 A.   Pre-Reading Strategies

i.        SIGHT WORDS:

Improve Sight Word Vocabulary and consequently, Reading Comprehension



The child is engaged in enrichment activities prior to reading the passage. In this way, students have the opportunity to activate and enhance existing knowledge before reading. Pre-teaching vocabulary words will also enhance comprehension.



From a very young age, most children are exposed to story books. These fictional texts (narratives) share a common, predictable structure called story grammar. This predictable structure enhances students’ comprehension whether they listen to the narrative or read it themselves. Improve Reading Comprehension by providing a framework for learning and remembering information.

Teaching story grammar structure emphasizes the importance of metacognitive or active reading strategies to improve comprehension. It directs students’ attention on story structure by teaching them to ask five “wh” questions about the settings and episodes of the story.



Encourage the child to preview comprehension questions. This will allow the child to focus on answering those questions as they read.


 B.   Reading


By the end of Grade two a child should be able to read approximately 90 words a minute. Rereading familiar, simple books gives your child practice at decoding words quickly and facilitates fluency. The optimal number of readings has been found to be four.



Graphic organizers, which provide a visual map for the reader, can be placed next to the text as learners read in groups or individually, aloud or silently. They are particularly useful in helping readers to understand the structure of a narrative or of an argument.

Graphic organizers also assist in encouraging visualization of information which also assists with comprehension.


Links to a variety of free graphic organizers can be found here:


iii.    K-W-L STRATEGY

The K-W-L strategy stands for what I Know, what I Want to learn, and what I did Learn. By activating students’ background knowledge, it improves comprehension of expository text. (Expository text refers to writing where the purpose is to inform, describe, explain, or define the author’s subject to the reader)



Increase correct answers to reading comprehension questions by considering both the text and the background knowledge. The question-answer relationships strategy helps students label the type of questions that are asked and to use this information to develop their answers.

 “Right There” Label:
Words used to create the question and words used for the answer are Right There in the same sentence.

 “Think and Search” Label:
The answer is in the text, but words used to create the question and those used for an appropriate answer would not be in the same sentence. They come from different parts of the text.

 “On My Own” Label:
The answer is not found in the text. You can even answer the question without reading the text by using your own experience

Based on the questions, it is important to encourage the child to think about what they know and make predictions based on what they know and what they have read.



By generating questions, students become aware of whether they can answer the questions and if they understand what they are reading. Students learn to ask themselves questions that require them to combine information from different segments of text. For example, students can be taught to ask main idea questions that relate to important information in a text.


C.  Post Reading


Improve Reading Comprehension by retelling a story to partners, using outlines. By retelling students relate information from the story to their own experiences. In this way, they improve their reading comprehension and memory of story information.


Summarizing requires students to determine what is important in what they are reading and to put it into their own words. Instruction in summarizing helps students:

  • Identify or generate main ideas
  • Connect the main or central ideas
  • Eliminate unnecessary information
  • Remember what they have read

Poor comprehenders do not necessarily have a comprehension impairment that is specific to reading. Rather, their difficulties with reading comprehension need to be seen in the context of difficulties with language comprehension more generally


Explicit teaching of comprehension strategies can be an effective intervention for these difficulties and impact significantly on later academic success.

How do language difficulties affect learning?

How do language difficulties affect learning?

Language is the primary medium of learning. Everything we are expected to learn is either heard or read. Our skills are demonstrated through words or written language.

Language-based learning disabilities are problems with age-appropriate reading, spelling, and/or writing.

It is therefore not surprising, that language difficulties can interfere with academic performance. Language is not just another subject at school; it is the means by which all other subjects are learned.

The vast majority of children with learning disabilities have a language-based disorder which is amenable to treatment.

The following difficulties may suggest that a child has language difficulties:

  • Expressing ideas clearly, as if the words needed are on the tip of the tongue but won’t come out. What the child says can be vague and difficult to understand (e.g., using unspecific vocabulary, such as “thing” or “what-ya-ma-call-it” to replace words that cannot be remembered). Filler words like “um” may be used to take up time while the child tries to remember a word.


tip of the tongue


  • Learning new vocabulary that the child hears and/or sees (e.g., in books)
  • Understanding questions and following directions that are heard and/or read
  • Recalling numbers in sequence (e.g., telephone numbers and addresses)
  • Understanding and retaining the details of a story’s plot or a classroom lecture
  • Reading and comprehending material
  • Learning words to songs and rhymes
  • Telling left from right, making it hard to read and write since both skills require this directionality.
  • Learning the alphabet
  • Mixing up the order of letters in words while writing
  • Mixing up the order of numbers that are a part of maths calculations
  • Spelling
  • Memorizing the times tables
  • Maths difficulties particularly “word sums”
  • Telling time

Oral and written language impairments are easier to identify because they can be heard or seen. However children who have difficulty processing language present more of a challenge.

These are the children who “fly under the radar” because their language difficulties are more subtle.

The following table adapted from Elizabeth Walcot-Gayda, Ph. D., Montreal, QC shows how these difficulties may manifest.


Examples of some cognitive manifestations of underlying language difficulties

Impairments in processes related to:





Language Processing

Difficulties in processing sarcasm or understanding when someone is joking Difficulty taking another’s perspective Difficulties in understanding: long or complex sentence structure; and with figures of speech Difficulties with: retrieving vocabulary words; orally presented task demands Difficulties with new vocabulary and responses to teacher-directed questions

Phonological processing

Sounds in words (e.g. bat/bag) are confused; poor sound sequencing in words; limited automaticity in decoding Difficulty with comprehension of content caused by lack of fluency in decoding Difficulty retaining sound/symbol correspondence Difficulty extracting essential concepts due to focus on decoding

Processing speed

Poor social interactions; does not keep up with fast-paced lessons Few connections between isolated bits of information in texts Slow linking of new with previously learned information Less material covered or takes extra time and much effort to cover material


Few strategies when trying to remember content or concepts Difficulty writing since spelling may not be automatic Difficulty retrieving previously learned information Forgets spelling words after test; difficulty recalling significant events in history; any new learning is difficult


Difficulty knowing when to pay attention Poor reading of social situations; impulsive Poor concentration when putting ideas together Little effort expended for remembering Work may be disorganized; goes off on tangents,

Executive functions (planning or decision making)

Poor recognition of value of planning; impulsive Difficulty problem solving and understanding consequences of decisions Difficulty in linking new with previously integrated knowledge; Few strategies Difficulties in higher levels of learning, but has isolated pieces of knowledge


Most (but not all) children with underlying language disabilities DO NOT simply outgrow their problems.

It is not worth the “wait and see” approach only to find out that a small problem has become a bigger one that affects learning, literacy, social-emotional development and eventual vocational adjustment.

Teach your child to read

Teach your child to read

Children are miraculous! They are born with an innate knowledge of language. BUT children are not born with an innate knowledge of reading.
They need to be taught that text is read from left to right and that words are separate from images.

Although learning to talk and read are two distinct domains, they are also intricately related.

Early language skills are linked to later successful reading.

Young children need a variety of skills to become successful readers. Research indicates that children who enter school with more of these skills are better able to benefit from the reading instruction they receive when they arrive at school.

The following core skills have been identified as being crucial to the development of later reading.



Knowing the names of things is an extremely important skill for children to have when they are learning to read.

Help develop your child’s vocabulary by reading a variety of books (both fiction and nonfiction), and by naming all the objects in your child’s world.



Print motivation is a child’s interest in and enjoyment of books.

A child with print motivation enjoys being read to, plays with books, pretends to write and asks to be read to.

Encourage print motivation in your child by

• Shared book reading a special time, keeping books accessible, and letting your child see that you enjoy reading.

• Explain how reading and writing are used in everyday life, for example shopping lists, newspapers, TV guides, and computer screens.

A fun activity is to read through the TV guide with your child and bookmark a favourite programme to watch or record.



Print Awareness includes learning that writing in English follows basic rules such as flowing from top-to- bottom and left-to-right, and that the print on the page is what is being read by someone who knows how to read.

An example of print awareness is a child’s ability to point to the words on the page of a book.

Your child’s print awareness can be encouraged by

  • Pointing out and reading words everywhere you see them – on signs, labels and the supermarket.
  • Going shopping with young children. This can be challenging, especially with all the sweet temptations within the child’s direct line of sight. I know that it is easier to leave your child at home when you go shopping, but try to make a point of taking your child with you at least once a week.

Something to keep your child occupied in the supermarket is to send him ahead of you in the aisle to try to find a certain brand of crisps/cereal/tomato sauce.

Use items that your child is motivated to buy 🙂

Drawing your child’s attention to prices also creates print awareness.


The ability to understand and tell stories and describe things is important for children in order to understand what they are learning to read.

An example of a narrative skill is a child’s ability to tell what has happened at a birthday party, or a class outing.

Help your child strengthen his narrative skills by

  • Asking him to retell a well-known story. Encourage your child to predict what might happen next in the story. Facial expression can create excitement about what might happen.
  •  Encourage your child to tell you about things he has done that have a regular sequence to them. For example, having a bath.

Letter Knowledge includes learning that letters have names and are different from each other, and that specific sounds go with specific letters.

An example of letter knowledge is a child’s ability to know that the letter B makes a /b/ sound.

  • Playing games like “I spy” will develop phonemic (sound) awareness.
  • Focus your child’s attention on the letters in the words and highlight the letters that are in your child’s name.
  • Encourage your child to pay attention to the shape of letters and trace them with his finger.



Phonological Awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the smaller sounds in words.

Phonological awareness includes the ability to hear and create rhymes, to say words with sounds or chunks left out, e.g. monkey without /mon/, and the ability to put sounds together to make a word.

Strengthen phonological awareness by

  • Exposing your child to songs and rhymes.
  • Encourage them to “make up” silly rhyming words
  • Say words and sounds with a pause between the syllables and have your child guess what word you are saying. E.g. um—bre—lla

The environment and daily routines in your home can be one of the best teaching tools to help children develop pre-reading skills. A print-rich environment helps foster skills needed for reading. By surrounding your children with print in your home and talking to them about what it means, they will learn more every day. As your child points, labels, makes nonsense words, and tells you outrageous stories, they are practicing to be literate. The next time you hear the word “again p-l-e-a-s-e!” remind yourself that you are laying the foundation for life-long literacy. So with the same enthusiasm you’ve demonstrated one hundred times before, “READ IT AGAIN” as if it were the very first time!