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Free online course, iPads for sensory level education

By Sally Millar on Friday 13th February, 2015 at 10:56am

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Did you know that there is now an online training course on using iPads in education for learners with additional support needs? This has been put together on his website by the redoubtable Richard Hirstwood (famous for his energetic and imaginative sensory education training), and is FREE! 

The course is divided into 7 sections (each of which includes text and video material), plus 4 sections covering lists of Apps for particular topic areas. Altogether, there is maybe up to about 7 hours of learning in there, though of course, you can break this up into small chunks of time, as you please. 

It works well on tablets and phones, as well as on computers with larger screens

Ideal half-term browsing!


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Create your PDF prelims, assessments, worksheets and activities on your iPad!

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 12th December, 2014 at 5:36pm

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Previously if you wanted to create an interactive digital prelim, assessment or other resource with answer boxes on screen, you had to use Adobe Acrobat Pro, which costs around about £60 per license under a special licensing arrangement from Education Scotland. Even though this is a very good deal (the full commercial rate for Acrobat Pro is £440), some staff have commented that it is a significant outlay for each department in a school to buy a copy. 

However, there are now some alternatives to Acrobat Pro that are worth considering. I'll outline the Windows software options in a blog next week, and today I want to introduce PDF Office, which is a brand new app that lets you create digital question papers and prelims on your iPad!

DF Office lets you open a PDF, do small edits to the text and add drawings and other annotations, and most importantly, you can insert form fields for answer boxes. There is a form field detection feature that adds fields automatically for you. In testing on my standard prelim paper, I found that it works very well: it even detected the difference between a field where I wanted a tick box, and other fields where I wanted text boxes. (This is better than Acrobat, which puts text boxes into tick box fields that you then have to delete.)

You can change the properties of the fields to make them look like the SQA Digital Question papers, i.e. red borders, multi-line where necessary. I couldn't find a way to select all the fields in the whole paper to make these changes once, but it was easy to select all the fields on one page and set the properties for that page.

You can draw in fields for text, tick boxes, numbers, date, radio buttons, action buttons (e.g. send by email), drop-down lists, and image fields for users to insert photos from the camera. You can tap on a field and duplicate it, which gives a faster way of inserting fields.  

You would want to use a stylus rather than your finger, to get accurate positioning (although it 'snaps' to other fields that keeps things nicely aligned), and I actually found it slightly easier and quicker than using a mouse on a computer.

The completed PDFs can be accessed and completed by students on iPad using apps like Adobe Reader, ClaroPDF and PDF Expert, or on a computer with Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader.

Cost? The app is free, but to use it you need a subscription which is quoted at $4.99/month or $39.99/year. However, when I installed it, it gave me a free year's subscription for nothing because I already had PDF Expert, one of Readdle's other apps, on my iPad. PDF Expert costs £6.99, so for just £6.99 you can get both PDF Expert, which is an excellent tool for reading and managing PDFs, and a year's worth of making digital prelims and resources on your iPad!


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New in iOS 8

By Craig Mill on Thursday 27th November, 2014 at 2:05pm

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The latest iOS, (iOS 8) for iPhones and iPads, features new Accessibility options as well as a few enhancements to existing tools.  

These include:


QuickType is a new context-based word prediction feature for the iPad’s built-in on-screen keyboard. To set up QuickType go to Settings, General, Keyboard and switch on Predictive.  When you start typing in Notes or Pages QuickType will recommend your next word based on your writing style and past messages, which appear at the top of the keyboard. QuickType can also be used in combination with Switch Control.

QuickType with word prediction

Third-party keyboards

As well as the iPad’s default on-screen keyboard you can now use additional 3rd party keyboard apps, such as Keedogo Plus, Swype, Flesky, Ginger Keyboard + Page and SuperKeys – see Allan’s blog post on SuperKeys Assistive Keyboard App. These keyboards can be used in Pages, Keynote, Notes and other text-based apps that make use of the iOS keyboard.  A benefit of using integrated keyboards is that pupils do not need to ‘Send to’ or ‘Copy’ text between different apps, thereby making the workflow process much simpler.  

Keedogo plus


As well as the existing tools in Vision i.e. Full Screen Zoom (Double-tap three fingers to zoom etc.) a new feature, Window Zoom, allows users to magnify parts of the screen by moving the magnification window with a small handle situated at the bottom of the Zoom Window. Positioning can also be controlled with a new feature ‘Show Controller’ allowing you to control or specify which part of the screen is magnified and to adjust the level of the zoom. The Zoom Window can also be resized to suit different needs.  

Zoom Window

Follow Focus and Zoom Keyboard

Another addition to iOS 8 and Vision is Follow Focus and Zoom Keyboard. Follow Focus tracks the text wherever the cursor is placed when typing which is particularly useful if a document is magnified at high zoom. With Zoom Keyboard you can set the on-screen keyboard to the default size underneath a magnified window (and/or Double-tap three fingers to magnify the keyboard)  thereby making it easy to both type and see what you’re typing without having to continuously zoom in and out of different sections of the screen.

Speak Screen

By far my most favourite new addition is Speak Screen which can be found in Accessibility, Speech and Speak Screen. Once Speak Screen is turned on a simple ‘swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen’ will activate the Speak Screen bar, similar to the illustration below:

Speak Screen in iOS 8

Speak Screen will read anything where there is content on the screen such as text in Safari, Pages, Kindle Books and queries asked of Siri.

Guided Access

Guided Access is designed to keep pupils on task by ‘locking’ them into a specified app. A new feature in Guided Access is setting time limits so teachers and parents can stipulate the length of time Guided Access is to be used. This could be useful for setting timed reading/writing activities with a ‘you can play a game now ’reward (which could also be timed) after the time limit has expired.  

Enhanced Braille Keyboard

iOS 8 adds support for 6-dot and 8 dot Braille input system-wide in combination with VoiceOver. This feature involves a dedicated Braille keyboard that will translate 6-dot and 8 dot chords into text and can be used for searching apps via Spotlight Search or in Pages, Notes etc. A useful video tutorial can be found on the Luis Perez YouTube Channel.

To find out more on iOS 8 watch the CALL Live webinar on ‘What’s new in iOS 8’ which explains how to add and select 3rd party keyboards and make the most of the new tools and features.  


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App for AAC assessment?

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 4th November, 2014 at 11:14am

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Sandra at Logan Technologies (who sell a range of iPad accessories including customised keyguards) challenged me this week by asking if there was an App for AAC assessment. Here is the information that I passed on to her - but if anyone out there knows more about possible AAC assessment tools on iPad, then let's hear it, please?

We need to be clear  - apps are no substitute for a full assessment by a speech and language therapist  / AAC specialist! - they are only potentially useful additional tools.

The app AAC Evaluation Genie  (£8.99) is a helpful tool to evaluate certain aspects of function, relevant to AAC: visual perception & discrimination (broad brush only); accuracy of targeting of different numbers and sizes of targets on screen; and some early vocabulary, basic concepts, and categorisation skills. It is also designed to be switch accessible and to allow evaluation of three common scan patterns, and a range of scan timings, from within the app.

           Later sections of the app focus specifically on Pixon symbols and the Unity vocabulary, so may not be relevant for all, although these could be used to explore the general ability to learn to 'decode' more abstract representations. The final sections look at putting together symbol choices from a grid, to describe a picture, and word recognition / picture matching (to determine whether text/word prediction could be considered as an AAC medium), so the app covers a huge range of skill levels.

The AAC Evaluation Genie is a far cry from being a full AAC assessment. It certainly is not 'diagnostic' nor does it aim to 'prescribe' which AAC system or device is most appropriate, but just informally supports AAC specialists in evaluating a number of relevant skill areas.

The app is easy to use and the 'Settings' allow you to select which skill areas you want to turn off, or on, for testing. The user interface is very clear and uncluttered, and the picture quality is good (and by and large suitable for both child and adult users) - though American. Correct responses get a mini tinkle of fairy bells, while incorrect responses just move on silently.

The app also collects full data of the users responses and can be printed out (or saved as a screen shot)

There is a little video that illustrates it well. Reviews are available.


There is a 'bundle' of apps called Speech Therapy Assessment (£84.99) - each app can also be bought separately - we have not tried this.

More affordably, the Receptive Language Assessment with Splingo (£17.49)  seems useful  (but it's for language, not AAC as such). The fun Splingo language apps in general (cheaper!) can reveal useful information about the ability to listen, follow verbal instructions, and about language level (child oriented). Try Splingo's Language Universe (£1.99) and Pronouns with Splingo (£1.99). You can also construct your own highly customised assessment suite using the wonderfully versatile Bitsboard app (free) - I find the 'Photo Touch',  'Odd One Out' and 'Sort it' games most useful for this function, out of the 14 available game formats.

In fact, just using ordinary Apps and carefully observing the user, with a clear idea of the skills you are looking for, is often just as useful, as an informal form of assessment, as a 'test' would be. The iPad is a powerful 'viewing window' into a user's functioning. I often recommend the AAC app Sounding Board  (free) as an evaluation tool (to get info about user's ability to cope with different numbers of locations on screen, recognition of photos, pictures etc., ability to navigate links, and ability to learn functional use for requesting, responding to questions etc. etc. 


And finally - there is also an App called ATEval2Go (£27.99) which looks very interesting, and here at CALL we plan to explore this further as soon as we can. It is not a one-off therapist / teacher - patient/child interaction like the AAC Genie, it is a full scale productivity system for structuring assessment, record-keeping, reporting, photo and video storage, and documentation based on the excellent Joy Zabala's SETT framework, and on other recognised assistive technology assessment processes. 'Banks' of commonly used goals, strategies, tools and recommendations are available (and these are editable so you can add your own) - time would be needed to evaluate the banks to see if they might match the needs of your particular organisation.  ATEval2Go produces a cumulative editable report which can be exported, e-mailed or printed. Adoption of this tool could revolutionize an organisation's whole assessment process - this would need to be an agreed 'whole team' approach.


Look forward to hearing if anyone else has found any useful AAC assessment apps?


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aacorn AAC offer - one week only

By Sally Millar on Monday 3rd November, 2014 at 12:48pm

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A quick 'heads-up'... the AAC app 'aacorn AAC ' is offering a 20% off deal this week only

(the app's first birthday)

As - like other fully featured AAC systems -  this is an expensive app (usually £129.99),  it may be worth your while to take advantage of this £99.99 offer while you can. 

aacorn AAC is innovative and unique amongst AAC apps, displaying a dynamic 'word tree' that provides step by step support for simple sentence building. Each screen / step offers only a very few word choices at a  time, and it learns familiar messages and offers a prediction based on previous choices/ use. The vocabulary available can be highly personalised with the user's own images. The overall design is child-friendly. ​You can view a wee video that illustrates the idea better than I can describe it!






aacorn AAC is very different to conventional 'grid-based' apps that display a (sometimes very large) array of symbols per screen, that may be found overwhelming by users, and with which it can be overly-demanding to expect some users to be able to build a sentence word by word, by navigating through several different 'category folders' (little words, people, adjectives, colours, clothes, actions  etc.).


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New look Predictable with Scottish Voice too!

By Gillian McNeill on Thursday 30th October, 2014 at 5:03pm

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First it was Rhona in Proloquo2Go and now we have Fiona in Predictable!

Another Scottish voice has arrived this week for female AAC users using Predictable text-to-speech app on the iPad. The voice, called Fiona from the company Nuance, comes with a number of other voices to choose from including an Irish voice – Moira and additional British English voices.

In addition to the new voices, a new speech output option has been added, allowing use of your own unique text-to-speech voice. This voice is first created via the ModelTalker project (an online service), which requires you to upload recordings of your own or a friend’s/family member’s voice, which ModelTalker then creates into a personalised text-to-speech version. Once built, your new voice is then available to import into Predictable. (We haven’t checked this feature out yet, but are eager to know how well it actually works!)

Predictable is a text based communication app with word prediction and some symbol support for stored phrases, which are organised into categories. As well as direct touch control, it has an in-built switch scanning option for those requiring alternative switch access.

Other changes in version 4 include a significant overhaul to the appearance and set up of the user interface, as well as Skype integration, changes to  phrase storage set up and a news feed.

Update from the app store and go to therapybox for further details including videos and a downloadable user guide from.

The new voice is a welcome addition for us lassies north of the border, but the laddies will have to wait a bit longer before they too can speak out with a Scottish accent!




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Superkeys Assistive Keyboard app

By Allan Wilson on Thursday 16th October, 2014 at 5:44pm

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Crick Software have just released an interesting new keyboard app for the iPad, taking advantage of the new iOS 8 feature that allows different keyboards to be used across a range of different apps. Superkeys Assistive Keyboard divides the keyboard up into a series of 'chunks' of keys.

The Superkeys Keyboard










The first time you tap on one of these 'chunks' it is enlarged, making it easier to select the key you want with a second tap. Obviously, having to tap twice to select a letter will slow you down, but this could be a very useful tool for a person with poor motor control, or low vision, who finds it hard to reliably tap on the key they want. It could be very useful for an iPhone!

'Chunk of keyboard' enlarged by Superkeys.










The keyboard also has a Shortcuts key, allowing access to a few commonly used phrases, which can be edited and added to.










Unfortunately, it is not currently set up or switch users. Someone scanning with the keyboard will still be offered 'Q to Y' as their first option, rather than the letters in the first 'chunk', i.e. 'Q to E' and A to D'.


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Use your iPad to type into a paper worksheet!

By Sally Millar on Thursday 2nd October, 2014 at 7:37pm

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Now - here's an App to cheer your day. SnapType App 

It's FREE. It lets a pupil type directly into a work sheet.

Here's how it goes - 

  • Take a photo with the iPad of the paper worksheet other kids are completing by hand.
  • Tap the screen, a yellow box appears.  Tap the box, the keyboard appears. Type. 
  • If necessary, drag and drop the text box to better position it against the backdrop of the worksheet.
  • Adjust the text size slightly.
  • Take a screen shot to store a copy of the work and then print it out and/or share it with teacher. 

It's not perfect, in fact it's quite limited. Unless I'm missing something, it only works in portrait. But it's very simple to use, unlike some other options, and I know quite a few frustrated kids who struggle with handwriting, who will LOVE this!

Read the story by developer graduate student Amberlynn Gifford

See review 


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SoundingBoard webinar

By Joanna Courtney on Thursday 18th September, 2014 at 5:13pm

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If you'd like to know more about the great FREE communication app SoundingBoard and how it can be used with pupils who have communication support needs, why not have a look at our recent webinar?

It covers simple editing, using digital images on buttons, sharing resources and switch access for those with physical difficulties.

Also make sure you download this FREE app onto your iPad so that you can use our app board symbolised resources which accompany the Scottish Children's Book Awards Bookbug category of shortlisted books!


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Voice Dream Reader app for iPad Half-Price till 7th September 2014

By Stuart Aitken on Tuesday 2nd September, 2014 at 4:55pm

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To mark start-of-term (USA style!), the Voice Dream Reader app is available half price until 7th September 2014. 

Voice Dream Reader is one of our favourite text-to-speech apps. Although originally designed with blind and visually impaired people in mind it was quickly taken up by many people struggling with literacy because of dyslexia, Indeed, Winston Chen the developer, mentions the story of the mother of a 10-year old boy with dyslexia using the app. It's an interesting account because it draws attention to a few of the specific features of the app that enhance the experience of literacy. 

Incidentally, we've been in touch with the developer a couple of times to make a plea to include the Scottish Voices as options for user. No luck so far but we'll keep trying!


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Bargain alert! New symbol apps, introductory offer.

By Sally Millar on Monday 1st September, 2014 at 10:18am

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Widgit Vocab

Widgit has just launched a new series of iPad apps called 'Widgit Vocab'. These apps introduce and develop basic vocabulary around a range of different themes, and are specifically designed ​to help extend a user's vocabulary range with listening, speaking and reading activities, supported by Widgit symbols. They could be useful for a range of listening, comprehension and other types of language development work for learners at a pre / emergent literacy stage​, ​who need picture support (including those who might happen to use other symbol systems for their AAC) .

There are currently eight apps in the series, covering a range of themes:  

ourselves; around the home; supermarket; town; countryside; seaside; animals; time.

More information about these apps can be found on the Widgit website 

You can download these apps now from the App store while they are at an introductory price of £1.99 each - probably only for a limited time - they will be £2.99 each after that it seems (so not a HUGE saving, but still worth going for..).


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CALL Scotland's new AAC Apps Wheel

By Sally Millar on Friday 23rd May, 2014 at 12:07pm

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The new CALL Scotland AAC Apps Wheel is now officially 'launched' and available for free download and sharing. Enjoy, and pass it on! 

The AAC Apps wheel is in .PDF format and was designed for display in A3 poster size but it works equally well (only smaller!) as an A4 leaflet. The App names on the electronic version are 'clickable' links, taking you directly to more information about the individual App on the UK iTunes site.

This new 'Wheel' authored by Sally Millar and Gillian McNeill of CALL Scotland, provides a categorised guide to iPad Apps for people with complex communication support needs, who may need to use some form(s) of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).

There are many hundreds of communication apps, and deciding how to categorise them – never mind identifying the best fit to meet the needs of an individual user – is a bit complicated. We define some Apps (from 12 o’clock round to 6) as potential full ‘expressive’ communication systems. Whether text and/or symbol based, these tend to be highly featured, and include text to speech, a built-in symbol library, at least one or two sample pre-stored user vocabulary sets, and an onscreen message bar to allow for sentence/message building.

Other Apps (from 6 o’clock round to 9) are identified as more ‘simple’ forms of communication. These may provide basic, functional ways of expressing needs and making choices, or for recording news or stories. They contain limited, if any, starter content and will be customised for the user from ‘bottom-up’ using familiar photos and pictures, and recorded messages. Others may use the iPad to mirror and add speech output to particular low tech communication approaches such as PECS.  Finally, many are useful for building basic vocabulary and sentence construction skills, receptively as much as expressively.

The CALL Scotland AAC Apps wheel does not include every App available in each category. It shows Apps that CALL finds useful: i.e. reliable, relatively straightforward to use; reasonable/good value for money; and / or that stand out in their category for some reason.

Users may use a ‘set’ of various Apps from different categories at different times – there is no single ‘best’ App for communication. It can be a mistake to jump directly to the most complex and powerful full communication system App, without trialling simpler App(s) first to evaluate ability levels and communication needs, and to build basic skills.

All the Apps are controlled by direct touch, and many (but not all), will also run under switch control within iOS 7 Accessibility settings. A few were specifically designed for switch access, which tends to offer better switch access features, and these are marked in this wheel with small red ‘s’ (beside App icon).



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SPEAK all! app for PECS users

By Sally Millar on Wednesday 19th March, 2014 at 5:10pm

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I've become interested in a communication app called SPEAK all! designed by researchers at Purdue University specifically for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder who use PECS.   SPEAK all! is still somewhat in development, so I don't want to mislead by over-lauding its praises at this stage, for there are still a few steps needed to make it really usable / useful. Meanwhile, you can get a free version, to have a look at it (can ugrade via in-app purchase to a version that supports more users/ activities) and the developers provide support and welcome feedback and suggestions from users. Hopefully, it will soon be improved, providing an app that fits neatly into a very significant niche slot that has been waiting for it for some time - a simple speaking PECS book.

There are student videos showing Phase 1 - Phase 5  training, using the app within the highly structured PECS training format. 

The app's user interface is nicely uncluttered, basically showing a 'bank' of picture options, and a sentence strip. 

Unlike some other apps that claim to be ideal for PECS users, SPEAK all! mirrors really closely the exact PECS Stage 2 process of discriminating and selecting a picture with intention, and transferring it to a sentence strip (settings to let user select either by touching each picture or by drag and drop). To speak it out, the user can either touch each picture in turn (preferable, in my view), or hit a 'Speak All'  button. Once spoken, the user hits 'Revert to Original' (this button needs an icon on it, methinks) and the sentence strip empties again and returns the pictures to the 'bank', waiting for construction of the next message. The picture banks (termed 'activities') are fully customisable.

The row of 'activity folders' at the top is equivalent to topic or context-linked pages in a PECS book, and can be hidden by a semi transparent cover that leaves them accessible but minimally distracting. Beginner users will be fine with the vocabulary set within a single context-linked activity. More advanced users can explore the different activity folders freely to find the picture they want.

The 'Done' button at the top (that takes you out of the communication screen) can be hidden by a 'Lock Screen' setting (beware - this is a bit TOO efficient for now - you can get locked out of your iPad completely!) or by - safer for now - using Guided Access (download CALL's fact sheet on how to do this)

Watch this blog for news of future developments of SPEAK all!. It is just about  'workable' now with recorded speech only, but I think that to be a really serious contender in the crowded AAC app market-place it may need:

  • Access to a built-in symbol bank - as it is too time consuming for school staff to source every picture individually
  • Better synthetic voice options 
  • A 'screen lock' function that is not quite so fiercely effective! (coming soon, I'm told)
  • Back up and Sharing options


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AAC Apps - Proloquo2Go is not the only app!

By Sally Millar on Friday 28th February, 2014 at 2:43pm

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Had a great day yesterday on the CALL course 'iPads and Communication - fully featured AAC apps from symbols to text' . It can be hard work ploughing through a range of complex apps that all look somewhat similar but actually have a wide variety of different features, strengths and weaknesses. Luckily we had a strong group of participants and we all survived smiling!

Interestingly, most participants had all heard of/tried the widely advertised and powerful Proloquo2Go, and many were suffering pressure from parents determined that this was what their child needed. They had signed up for this course at least partly because they did not find Proloquo2Go to be suitable for 'their' clients, and wanted to explore alternative AAC apps. Happily, participants discovered a few that they were keen to try further with their clients. Amongst the favourites that emerged (both of the following offer free 'cut-down' versions, for trial), were GoTalk Now



and Widgit Go 

P.S Widgit Go (free Lite and £54.99 full versions) is also available for Android. Turns out that - unlike on the iPad which does not provide access to the Scottish voices -  it will run with the Scottish voices Heather or Stuart, that can be bought separately for Android for only £1.19 each.


And of course, the completely free Sounding Board



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Using Word Grids in the Clicker Books App

By Allan Wilson on Friday 13th December, 2013 at 9:15am

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My colleague, Craig, quite likes the Clicker Books app, particularly the word grid/bank support, but it took a while to work out how to create word grids/banks – unfortunately it isn’t very intuitive and not immediately obvious. Craig has now created a very, very quick guide.



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