Dr. Cheesman’s App Chat: Don’t Miss These Award-Winning Apps for Vocabulary and Comprehension

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October 2015

by Elaine Cheesman

App Chat LogoPeople with dyslexia may need instruction in both decoding and language comprehension. Initial difficulties with word-reading skills limit early access to written text. Secondary consequences of dyslexia may include a weak academic vocabulary, poor comprehension of complex sentences, and text organization. Mature readers must simultaneously decode text, grasp the meaning of unusual words, and hold many pieces of information in memory to form meaning.

The four award-winning apps in this review are exceptional in both app construction and content. They combine narrated text with interactive, multisensory features and worthwhile content to support vocabulary development, comprehension, or both. The first, Lars and Friends, is for younger children; the others are for upper-elementary and above. All are appealing, engaging, and educationally sound.


Lars and Friends ($2.99)

Developer: Carla Susanto

Website: http://www.larsandfriends.com/kidsapps

Ages 3 – 9

This app teaches collective nouns (e.g., a tower of giraffes, a mob of kangaroos) through a delightful interactive story. An icon at the beginning of the text on each page provides the option to hear the text read aloud, giving the reader a chance to read small sections of text independently before hearing the narration. On each page of the story, a “tap” button briefly appears to reveal short, clever animations that do not distract from the story. The menu at the top of the screen provides easy access to the extra features. The LEARN feature lists many additional collective animal names not contained in the story. The PUZZLES feature helps develop spatial awareness through building different shapes of animals.  Once the animals are built, the collective noun appears in print and narration (a gang of elk; a troop of baboons). Problems are few—the text does not include simultaneous highlighting during narration and the text is in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.

Wordflex Touch Dictionary (free; full version $4.99)

Developer: Schematix in association with Oxford University Press

Website: http://wordflex.com

Ages 10+

Traditional dictionary apps usually show a stagnant display of words, meanings, sentences, and perhaps word origins. This app shows word relationships as networks of semantic word associations in dynamic trees that can be moved and rearranged, with touch gestures. The entered word appears in bold type, with a pronunciation icon in US or British pronunciation. The web displays are organized by the parts of speech (noun, verb, etc.), phrases, and derivatives.  For example, type “walk” into the search box, and a web of related words appears organized by categories: nouns (gait), verbs (stroll), phrases (walk on air), phrasal verbs (walk away), and derivatives (walkable). Each category can be expanded or collapsed with a tap, and the original word is easily found with the “undo” icon. A poster can be generated for printing, emailing, or posting on social media websites. Advanced reading skills or a buddy reader will be required to use this app. This could be an effective teaching tool for middle through graduate school or anyone interested in word relationships. The user can access the in-app directions easily; the website provides a 30-second overview or a full, 7-minute demonstration video.


Sherlock Interactive Adventure ($4.99)

Developer: Haab Entertainment

Website: http://www.unreal-books.us/en/haab-ent-/

Ages 14+

This app features the original text (in five different languages) of “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League” published by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1891. This app has three interactive features that help the reader comprehend the historic vocabulary, characters, and settings.  To clarify the meaning of unusual objects, a magnifying glass appears occasionally, revealing objects described in more detail in a “collections” page. A “dossier” page provides additional information about each of the story’s characters after they appear in the narration. To help the user keep track of various locations mentioned in the tale, the app has an interactive map of London (“you are here”). One pulls down on the illustration to reveal tabs for “Collections,” “Dossiers,” and “Maps.” These extra features are not narrated, though. Using the app in portrait mode gives access to the story’s text, while landscape mode lets readers hear the narration without visible text. Twenty-nine 3-D animated illustrations complement the tale.

The Voyage of Ulysses ($3.99)

Developer: Elastico

Website: http://elasticoapp.com

Age Range: 10 – 18

This abridged, but very engaging prose version of Homer’s epic tale features expertly narrated text in English (British spellings) or Italian. The interactive features aid comprehension in several ways. First, the index is presented in two modes—pictures display the sequence of events and a map shows the path of Ulysses’s voyage and the location of the characters he meets on his long journey home—the Lotus Eaters; Polyphemus, the Cyclops; the Trojan Horse, etc.  The interactive features enhance and clarify the narration.  For example, users tap the Trojan horse, and soldiers jump out; touch the city, and flames appear. Some chapters require the user to activate the interactive features to advance the narrative. The question mark icon reveals pop-up boxes with additional information about each screen. Minor issues include the lack of simultaneous highlighting during narration, and no narration for the pop-up informational boxes.

More of Dr. Cheesman’s App Chats:

Dr. Cheesman’s App Chat: Games to Boost Math Skills

Dr. Cheesman is an Associate Professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. The courses she developed were among the first nine university programs officially recognized by the International Dyslexia Association for meeting the Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading.

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