Common Sense Review
Updated November 2013

SentenceBuilder for iPad

Sentence games have potential to build grammar knowledge and skills
Common Sense Rating 3
  • There are settings to help meet students at different levels.
  • Sentence examples follow common rules of grammar and usage.
  • The play button at the bottom of the screen may be hard to locate.
  • Some of the animations may not motivate students as much as they could.
Pros
The sentences cover multiple parts of speech and help kids learn to accurately describe in their writing.
Cons
Because it isn't completely adaptive and responsive, there are some big missed opportunities for explicit teaching that could be very helpful for some kids.
Bottom Line
Students can learn how to create descriptive sentences and can pick up some important grammar knowledge in the process.
Stacy Zeiger
Common Sense Reviewer
Homeschooling parent/instructor
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 2

Although the concept is a solid way to get students using language, the game is quite basic and could use better images, animations, and narration to really engage. More ways to play might also do the trick.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Instead of simply identifying parts of speech, students put them to use creating sentences. Sentence structure and difficulty vary by level, and -- though not explicitly -- some complex grammatical concepts are addressed.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 2

Teachers get data on how many sentences students formed correctly at each level and how many attempts it took them. However, there's no data given on specific skills or parts of speech. Also, getting started is a bit tricky.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Sentence Builder for iPad works well as a wholeclass bell-ringer or as an individual review activity where students take turns building sentences. Because the app misses some opportunities for instruction at teachable moments, it's great if teachers can work with students, asking them to explain the grammar behind their sentences. Standing by, asking "Why did you select the word those instead of them?" or "Did you make sure your subject and verb agree?" might be the best way to get the most out of a tool like this. Teachers might also want students to build sentences on their own, using the stats to think critically about how they've done and analyzing how well they perform at different levels.

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What's It Like?

Sentence Builder for iPad teaches students about grammar and descriptive writing through the process of creating sentences. After selecting from three different levels of play, students are shown a few columns of words and a picture. They'll use one word from the columns, in a grammatically correct way, to describe the picture. 

While creating these descriptive sentences, students will get practice ensuring that subjects agree with verbs, that pronouns match with antecedents, and that verbs agree in tense and number, among other important grammar skills. They'll also learn to pay attention to details. For example, they may see a picture of a cow holding balls and create the sentence "The cow is holding four orange balls," only to have it marked incorrect because the cow is only holding three green balls. Stats track how many sentences students attempt and whether sentences were formed correctly on the first, second, or third try.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Despite the silly graphics and sometimes cheesy animations, Sentence Builder for iPad has some solid academic potential. As students build sentences, they'll encounter simple grammatical mistakes and common areas of confusion. By design, the app seems to set students up to choose from options that contain mistakes often made by emerging readers and writers. It also gives them opportunities to learn from these mistakes, albeit intuitively and through trial and error.

When students build a sentence correctly, they'll not only see the correct sentence, but they'll also hear it pronounced out loud. Unfortunately, Sentence Builder doesn't include specific rules or explanations to help students understand why certain sentences are correct. An added component that helps students understand the why behind the rules of grammar would be a nice touch that could greatly improve the app's learning potential.

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