Bottom Line: A useful and fully-customizable app for early readers to practice sentence structure. Best suited as a child-adult play-together app. There is a free trial version linked to below.
Sentence Builder is one of a growing number of language arts apps from developer Abitalk. This focus of this universal app, geared towards early readers ages 4-7, is on constructing sentences that accurately describe a picture from a bank of given words. The menu contains 35 cartoon pictures, each of which has an accompanying sentence. Sentences start small with three words and build up to nine words. The scenes are mostly common everyday things children of this age would be familiar with: houses, cars, pets, days of the week and colors.
The interface is extremely simple and easy to navigate. My special needs child used it independently after doing one sentence with him. Level one presents only the words needed to make the sentence and kids drag words into the sentence window. Once in the window words can be dragged to reorder as well. The motor control needed is less than that required for a picker wheel. When satisfied with the sentence, users tap the check mark to submit. If correct, a star shoots across the screen as clapping sounds.
Wrong answers get a wah wah wah gong-type sound. Players just have to keep trying to get the sequence right as there is no hint or auto completion available. I like the progression through various sentence types, but some of the grammar would be beyond what students in the recommended age range would ordinarily be exposed to.
Level two has the words necessary for the sentence as well as extras for more of a challenge. The pictures and actual sentences are exactly the same as in level one. The decoy words may be plurals of the same words found in the sentence or not capitalized. Students not only have to get the words in order, but also distinguish between several different grammar skills addressed. It’s a fairly clever way to get extra bang for the buck ($2.99 actually).
Settings have a few options to further control the level of difficulty. Having the sentence and individual words read can be turned on or off. There is also choice to have the award on or off, but sometimes turning it off didn't work.
The best feature of Sentence Builder is the ability to customize with one’s own photos and sentences. Doing so is very easy and an embedded YouTube video demonstrates the process. Pictures can be captured directly with the device’s camera or taken from the camera roll. Sentences are typed in and then can be custom recorded in one’s voice or just read by the device’s text to speech voice which is high quality and clear. Custom entries also can have decoy words to punch up the difficulty. I envision using this option for subject-antecedent agreement or testing on use of indefinite articles like each and some.
The custom feature has great flexibility. Possibilities for its use go far beyond unscrambling sentences. It makes for an easy way to introduce vocabulary or illustrate concepts. I copied in a photo of a hexagon and made a sentence that said, “A hexagon has six sides.” I also added five, eight and nine as alternate words.
As much as I like the customization function, there are a number of other features I would like to see in the app. Using the same photos and sentences in level one and two is really limiting especially when only 35 are included. Level two should really include more difficult sentences in addition to the extra words. Having a question about the picture asked, and then arranging words to make an answer would also be a useful builder exercise. The other feature most noticeably missing is any recording of data. Right and wrong answers are not tracked. Also, custom sentences cannot be grouped in folders based on subject or difficulty. The menu only holds 35 custom sentences at a time so parents and teachers will have to edit frequently if the app is regularly used.
Additionally, the graphics and sound are very rudimentary and the app doesn't really offer anything motivating enough for children to want the return to the app by themselves.
Abitalk’s Sentence Builder bears a name markedly similar to Mobile Education Store’s SentenceBuilder, but it functions more like Rainbow Sentences without the color coding. If that app with the ability to customize but with less data collection is of interest then give Abitalk a look.
There is a free version with limited sentences and functionality that gives a good idea of how it works.
If you would like to purchase Abitalk Sentence Builder ($2.99, iPad) please support Smart Apps for Kids by using this link button:
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This review was completed by Jill Goodman. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.