2000 Conference Proceedings

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Developing Language Skills Using IntelliKeys

Jana Birch, M.A.
Computerade Products
2346 Wales Drive Cardiff, CA 92007

Development of emerging language skills from one-word repetition to beginning sentence building can be fostered through use of IntelliKeys and supportive software such as IntelliPics and Picture Sentence Key.

Individuals with severe language disorders are often very visual learners. Use of computer animation offers an opportunity to draw in the attention of such learners and pair it with the language we want them to absorb. This presentation will focus on activities that encourage vocabulary learning beginning with single word repetition, moving up to combinations of words and construction of simple sentences.


Use of an IntelliKeys keyboard with a keyguard is an excellent way to present vocabulary in the form of picture symbols. The keyguard serves to define the active area in which to point and also prevents the student from easily moving or playing with the paper overlay used. Students with accurate mouse or touch display control may also be able to access these programs from a screen display. Switch users can access IntelliPics in a cause and effect mode. A selection of switch scanning methods is available in Picture Sentence Key.

Single word repetition

IntelliPics offers the opportunity to create custom activities. Picture items can be assigned both a sound and a spoken word, a movement and an animation. If we wish to maximize the visual draw of a picture item, it is recommended to combine these features so that they happen automatically when a picture item is selected.

When creating an activity, a Picture Item should be selected first. It can be chosen from the picture library that comes with IntelliPics or from a separate library such as the Mayer-Johnson Picture Communication Symbols available in Boardmaker. It can also be chosen from a picture scanned in or taken from a digital camera. In this case it is recommended to paste the picture first into a simple graphic program and making a lasso around the main outline of the picture or carefully erasing extraneous background. Then the main cut-out of the picture can be copied to the clipboard and pasted into IntelliPics when creating a Picture Item.

The spoken word is located under "Advanced Features." Here the word for the picture item should be recorded. Whenever recording a sound you want to have as little "dead time" as possible without cutting off part of the word. This goes for spoken word, sound effects and speech recorded within a quiz.

"Sound" can be used as a sound effect for motivation, but if the student is likely to confuse that sound effect with the word or repeat it inappropriately, the sound could also be used to repeat the spoken word in another voice or as part of a sentence. For students drawn to music, a short song a piece of music could be recorded into this feature. This seems to be particularly effective with students having Rett’s Syndrome.

A variety of movements are already created within the IntelliPics program. You can also create your own movement. You can even attach sound to the movement. Be careful to select a movement that still displays the picture when the movement is finished. "Crash," "Fly Away" or "Melt" are not good choices for a student whose attention is fleeting, because the picture is no longer there when the movement is finished.

Under "Advanced Features" you have the opportunity to change the size of your picture item by selecting scaling. For increased emphasis you may want to enlarge it to 200%.

You also can choose to enable "Frame Animation." This is a three-step process:

1) First you must create a second picture that is slightly different from the first. To do this you can use any graphic program. KidPix or HyperStudio work fine. On a blank screen paste your original picture. Then lasso a part of the picture and move or alter it. For example, you can make a tail wag, arms wave, or eyes blink. Try to keep the main part of your picture centered in a similar manner as the first. Then copy your new picture to the clipboard.

2) Go back to IntelliPics, Advanced Features and select Frame Animation and check either the box for looped or repeated animation.

3) Go back to Picture Item and paste the second picture right over the first. The scroll bar below the picture will become active and you can then scroll between the pictures attached to that picture item.

Sometimes you don’t want to use both movement and frame animation, especially if the movement is fast. Experiment to see what works best. As you experiment you can also adjust speed to have the movement best fit the sound that goes with it.

When you have added all these features to your picture item, click "Done" and test it out. To test it during the create mode, make sure you have checked Picture Items displayed under Activity Preferences. Continue to create Picture Items, saving your activity when it matches the keyguard or number of choices that you want to use. Then create an Overlay according to your manual. If you wish to add pictures to your activity, first rename it using "Save As..." and a slightly different name. Do this right away because changes are saved automatically in IntelliPics. When you have added enough pictures to match the next level of keyguard, create another Overlay. Overlay names should always match the name of the activity exactly plus the word "Overlay."

If you wish to adapt this activity for cause and effect control with a single switch, you can go to "Activity Preferences" and select "Click Response." Then mark the option for "Goes to next item." A switch can be connected through the IntelliKeys or any switch-adapted interface.

Many students who are highly distractible may do better in "Quiz" mode when they are told what to do. To create a Quiz, pull down to Quiz beneath the Create menu. Follow the manual to create a quiz, but keep your instructions and corrections as brief as possible, especially if you are working with someone with a short attention span. You may need to edit and refine your quiz to get it to work smoothly. Once you have the ideal quiz however, you can copy and paste it into any other activity that uses the name of picture items as a "token" in the quiz. (i.e., "Find the ____.") Quizzes can be designed to show a prompt item for matching pictures or to leave the prompt picture out so that the student must match to the spoken name.

You should now have an excellent IntelliPics activity which provides sound, speech, color, movement and maybe even animation. To simplify the screen, go to "Activity Preferences" and take all the checks off of the list of display items. Then just use the IntelliKeys for access. If this still does not draw in the attention of the student, add in your own prompting, modeling and reinforcement. If the student is developing speech, encourage him or her to repeat the word. If the student has better object recognition, you may want to pair the picture with an object at first, or a cut out card attached to the active spot with velcro. This is an excellent way to build vocabulary and picture-word association.

Two or three-word combinations

You can modify these same activities slightly to display colors, size and/or numbers as part of the symbols to choose from. Select "Activity Preferences" and check the desired boxes for a screen display. Or select Make Overlay and choose the desired boxes to include in the overlay. When working in this mode, encourage the student to select the picture first, then tell about the picture. When the picture plays back, (i.e. "red ball" or "3 red balls" encourage the student to listen, then repeat or ask the student to repeat the description to you. If you are using numbers in the activity, be sure you have recorded plural versions of the spoken name.

Creating four-word sentences

Picture Sentence Key is designed to allow guided exploration that enables students to create sentences that fit the WHO IS DOING WHAT structure. Consistent reinforcement of appropriate choices while ignoring inappropriate choices, assists the student in creating a sentence making four selections. The sentence is then expanded into its full form (i.e. "boy is eat cracker" expands to "The boy is eating a cracker." Color animation is built-in as a motivator as well as an illustration of the sentence just created. A series of levels of IntelliKeys overlays are pre-made, designed to progress from one verb with only appropriate object choices available up to three or four verbs with object choices specific to each verb. Overlays are designed to match the 12, 15 and 20-hole keyguards that allow for four columns of choices. They can be printed using Overlay Maker. Custom overlays can also be designed using Overlay Maker.

Picture Sentence Key can also be used directly through screen access using a touch display or other mouse-compatible device or through switch control. Switch control is appropriate for a student ready to move beyond the cause and effect mode of switch control because choices are guided by scanning only the appropriate column. This gives the beginning switch user the experience of creating sentences without the requirements of advanced scanning skills.

The combination of using IntelliPics and Picture Sentence Key enables one to work with emerging language skills progressing from single words up to four-word sentences. This provides an excellent opportunity to focus attention of students with severe language disabilities using a combination of seeing pictures and movements combined with hearing appropriate speech all within a structured program.


Picture Sentence Key for Windows was developed by Computerade Products. It is available from:

Mayer-Johnson Co.
P. O. Box 1579
Solana Beach, CA 92075
Phone: 1-800-588-4548
Website: www.mayer-johnson.com

Picture Communication Symbols, Boardmaker, Board-Builder, and Picture Sentence Key for Macintosh are also products of the Mayer-Johnson Co.

IntelliKeys, IntelliPics and Overlay Maker are products of:

Intellitools, Inc.
55 Leveroni Court, Suite 9
Novato, CA 94949
Phone: 1-800-899-6687
Website: www.intellitools.com

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