2000 Conference Proceedings
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Developing Beginning Sentence-Building Skills
Jana Birch, M.A.
2346 Wales Drive
Cardiff, CA 92007
Picture Sentence Key for Windows lets students create
sentences and see them animated. Uses mouse, touch display,
IntelliKeys or switch. Great for persons with severe language
disorders such as autism and beginning augmentative communication
Picture Sentence Key can help students to take the first steps
towards combining words into sentences. This totally
success-oriented program motivates users by rewarding completion
of a sentence with an animated picture that illustrates and
repeats the sentence just formed.
Words can be selected using any mouse-type interface, touch
display, single switch or Intellikeys. The program will only
allow selection of a word that makes sense in the sequence of the
sentence, thus only reinforcing successful responses.
The original version of Picture Sentence Key was developed in
1991 by Ann K.Morgan, M.S. It is illustrated with black and white
pictures and runs on the Macintosh computer. The new Windows
version retains the same methodology and original vocabulary
while adding several new features, making it easy and flexible to
The new version of Picture Sentence Key for Windows has been
enhanced to full color animation, provides ongoing record keeping
and evaluation as well as exploratory mode, and allows the number
of symbols displayed at any one time to be reduced as needed or
expanded up to 18. Picture Sentence Key will now highlight each
word as it is spoken during animation, allowing an opportunity
for developing word recognition. Custom display screens can be
designed and saved for any number of student names. A record of
performance accuracy and sentences created is maintained for the
last 25 trials of each student. This allows easy accountability
and tracking of student performance and progress.
Evaluation mode allows the teacher to select the sentences to be
presented to the student. In this mode, only an accurate
repetition of the sentence spoken and illustrated is allowed.
A wide sequence of sample boards and displays is provided in the
IntelliKeys mode, based on IntelliTools keyguards of 12, 15, and
20 holes which allow for use of the four columns necessary.
Boards for the IntelliKeys can be printed by anyone using Overlay
Maker from IntelliTools. It is also possible to modify or create
custom boards for the IntelliKeys using Overlay Maker.
The sequence of displays corresponding to the IntelliKeys
overlays can be used in any of the access modes. They provide a
ready-made guide for a gradual introduction of verbs. Within this
sequence many other variations can be made to focus on different
areas of need. Subjects can easily be modified to present
"girl/boy" or "he/she/they" as the student becomes ready to work
with pronouns. Position of symbols within a group can easily be
altered so that responses do not become location specific.
Corresponding objects can be varied and can be selected to offer
a high opportunity for agreement of multiple objects with the
verb (such as "eat" with different food items) or a need to
select a specific object to go along with a verb (such as "read"
Pictures and symbols can also be printed easily using the Print
Screen feature available in Windows. It is recommended to use
either the Print Screen feature, Overlay Maker, Boardmaker or
Board Builder to print and make Picture Communication Symbol
cards to support the vocabulary learned in Picture Sentence Key.
Using Picture Sentence Key
The vocabulary in Picture Sentence Key is designed around
everyday items that easily lend themselves to role playing. It is
recommended to complement use of Picture Sentence Key by both
role playing and using picture cards which can be laid out in a
similar manner as to how they are presented on the screen. There
is greater opportunity for generalization when the student has
three opportunities to practice using the sentences:
1) Working on the computer with Picture Sentence Key.
2) Describing a picture with the aid of Picture Communication
Symbol cards on a velcroed board.
3) Describing a role-played or live situation with Picture
Communication Symbols and/or speech.
Picture Sentence Key teaches the student to form sentences by
making four selections based on the structure, "WHO IS DOING
WHAT." Five choices are available for WHO: the boy, the girl, he,
she and they. The student must select between "is" or "are." Six
DOING verbs are available: eat, drink, pour, wash, pet and read.
Then nineteen object words are available in the WHAT category:
hot dog, milk, ice cream, pizza, pretzel, apple, hamburger,
french fries, juice, book, dishes, dog, face, hand. (You could
use a toy dog for role-playing.)
Picture Sentence Key has been designed so that the task of
selecting symbols can be simplified to the level of a student who
is just beginning to learn sentence structure. The root word is
displayed with a Mayer-Johnson Picture Communication Symbol. As
the words are selected, they are pronounced and expanded into the
appropriate form to make a syntactically correct sentence. (i.e.,
"boy is eat cracker" becomes "The boy is eating a cracker.") The
student then hears and sees the syntactically correct form of the
sentence repeated, with each word highlighted as it is spoken.
This provides an accurate model for some of the earliest
grammatical morphemes that occur in language development: the
present progressive [-ing] and the noun plural [-s]. The animated
feedback provides great motivation and support for the visual
Working on the computer lends itself to several variations in
presentation. Students who prefer working with free range to
explore can create any sentence possible using the given symbols
while in exploratory mode. Students who work better with greater
direction can be given a sentence to repeat using evaluation
mode. This mode can also be used to evaluate students on their
ability to create specific sentences after they have had the
opportunity to work in explore mode.
The "Animate" button is provided to allow students to see the
animation again with or without the spoken sentence. In order to
give students with speech an opportunity to practice saying the
sentence, the speech feedback can be turned off for re-animation.
Then after a sentence has been created, the student can be
prompted to select the "Animate" button to see the action again
and be asked to tell what is happening.
The display can also be modified to hide selection symbols on
re-animation in order to create a better focus for students who
are easily distracted. Using the "Erase" button will display the
selection symbols once again. Other options can allow only words
to be displayed either with the selection symbols or with the
sentence as it appears below the animation.
Single Switch Mode
Picture Sentence Key offers an excellent opportunity for
beginning switch users to experience creating sentences. Students
who may only be able to choose between two to four choices are
enabled to build whole sentences because single switch mode scans
only the column necessary for each choice and automatically
advances to the next column. Inappropriate responses are ignored,
allowing an immediate opportunity to make another selection. The
high opportunity for success can be increased even more by
selection of a symbol display with multiple objects that
correspond to a given verb or verbs. This is an excellent program
to present to students who are ready to move beyond cause and
effect but don’t yet have the control or skill to use a
row-column scan or to make multiple, sequenced selections. This
can help to prepare students for later use of an augmentative
Picture Sentence Key for Windows was created using the same
vocabulary as the original Macintosh version. Development is
underway for new versions with different vocabulary sets and the
ability to incorporate digitized pictures. Feedback is welcome as
to what users would like to see in future products.
Picture Sentence Key for Windows is a highly structured program
designed to guide students in putting words together to form
sentences. It is not an open-ended communication system, but
within the structure and vocabulary given the student can choose
what words will go together to make a sentence. The meaning in
each completed sentence is clearly illustrated by an animated,
full-color picture. There are 72 possible animations.
Picture Sentence Key is designed to be easy and friendly to use
with excellent record-keeping and customization features. It is
appropriate for students with emerging sentence building skills,
whether they be verbal or non-verbal. It supports the use of
Mayer-Johnson Picture Communication Symbols and offers easy
access to students using touch display, mouse, IntelliKeys or
Picture Sentence Key for Windows was developed by Computerade
Products. It is available from:
P. O. Box 1579
Solana Beach, CA 92075
Picture Communication Symbols, Boardmaker, Board-Builder, and
Picture Sentence Key for Macintosh are also products of the
IntelliKeys and Overlay Maker are products of:
55 Leveroni Court, Suite 9
Novato, CA 94949
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Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.