Saturday, May 5, 2012

iPad/iPhone app: Word Cracker (free for a while)

Word Cracker app
iPhone/iPad app: Word Cracker in iTunes (free for a while)

What it is: A word game where you are presented with (mostly) common words with missing vowels, which you have to fill in. In terms of game options, there are 3 settings that affect difficulty level: First, there's a choice of how much information is missing from the target words: you can have the words presented without spaces (e.g., "VWLS" for VOWELS), and you have to figure out which vowels to put and where, or you can go a level easier by having the word presented with blanks where the vowels go (e.g., "V_W_LS" for VOWELS), and all you have to do is figure out which vowels to insert. Second, and a nice benefit for Tx purposes, you can control how much time is given for each round: in minutes the choices are 1, 3, 5 or infinite, which is equivalent to untimed. Third, there are 3 levels of word difficulty: easy, hard or random. There's also a multi-player option, but that's less interesting for us

To play the game, you are presented with the vowel-less word, and the vowels (a, e, i, o, u) below it, and you drag the vowels into the appropriate spaces in the word. As far as I can tell, when there's more than one vowel option to form a word, the game will accept any of possible vowels. You can also "pass" turns if a word is too difficult, which is nice. And if you submit an incorrectly spelled word, you lose some points but you can continue the game nevertheless. Easy levels, ability to pass, un-timed option and "redos" are what make this word game especially useful for Tx purposes.

Screenshot of game
How we can use it in Tx: Simple answer to this: play the game with your patient. Decide how much cuing to provide (e.g., word definition or example of use), and which words to pass if they are too difficult. But be aware that the easy level of this game is still not that easy (it certainly doesn't qualify as an easy level language task). You can reduce difficulty by inserting all vowels but one in each word, and letting your pt figure out the last vowel only (and pass difficult words).

Goals we can target in Tx with this app: Apraxia, and other language goals. Some reasoning and sequencing is involved in playing this game, but mostly it's about accessing language information and recognizing the words. Surprisingly, I cannot think of a useful way to address memory goals with this app (if you look at my previous posts, you'll see that I can almost always think of memory-related applications to any task) but give me time...

Some specific examples:

1. The most obvious use for language goals is to play the game, at whatever difficulty level is most beneficial to pt, and choosing the amount of cuing to provide. If you need to make the game easier than the easy level with vowel locations marked by blanks, you can add all the vowels but one (in most cases the words have at least 2 missing vowels). You can further reduce the difficulty by narrowing the choice down to just two vowels (e.g., for the word in the screenshot above "str_ng_" add the final "e", and then ask the pt if it's missing an "a" or an "o"; and if needed you can use the two choices and ask "is 'strange' a word or is 'stronge" a word?"). Additional cues can be added with descriptions or definitions. If you want to up the difficulty a little (not so much as to move the word difficulty to "hard" or "random") you can let the pt fill in the vowels and then ask them to provide a definition and/or have them use the word in a sentence. Basically start with what the game provides, and add cues or additional tasks as needed for each pt's goals.

2. For lowest-level language goals, a good task is to work on text/word recognition. Set the game to easy level with no time limit and showing blanks, and pass any words that seem too difficult (here's an easy way to determine: if you couldn't tell what the word is at first glance, it may be too hard for a low-level lang goal pt). Add all but one vowel, and then that last one--fill in with the correct or the wrong vowel and ask the pt if it's a word or not. Determine accuracy based on how many correct words are recognized as such, and how many incorrect words are recognized as non-words.

3. Apraxia goals (this is what I've used it for, with very good results): just play the game at whatever level is appropriate for your patient. Play it together, so if the pt can't figure out the more complex words, help (I cue with either a definition or description at first, but then I'll say the actual word if my pt needs it--this particular pt still needs to see the word written and also benefits from hearing it spoken to attempt to produce it). I have the pt figure out the vowels by saying the word (giving the answer to the puzzle verbally) and then I move the vowels into position (my pt does not have use of his dominant hand or the dexterity in his other hand to grab the vowels on the screen). Once the vowels are in place I have the pt repeat the word again. So we use this game to access higher level language as well as for spoken language practice. I find that my pt is able to produce words with complex consonant clusters that are normally much more difficult for him because attention is on solving the puzzle instead of on how hard it is to produce the sounds. This has been a great find for treatment with the apraxia pt!

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