app advice for speech-language pathologists, educators and parents

Narrative Skills

For Narrative Skills and Comprehension

Once in a while you open up an  app and instantly know you’ve come across something really special. The Surprise by Hamaguchi Apps puts a beautifully executed, wordless story into the hands of your students, setting up all kinds of possibilities for story telling, fluency and articulation practice.  Not to mention the social pragmatics mileage you can get out of helping your students interpret the thoughts and feelings of the characters as they assign dialogue to the story unfolding in front of them.

Your students will watch scene by scene, as a boy tries to smuggle an adorable puppy into his house. His facial expressions and actions speak volumes, as he first puts the puppy into into his backpack and then feigns a stomach ache when his mother offers him cookies. Your kids are “in on it” as the boy gets more and more creative in his attempts at deception. You will enjoy this app purely for the opportunities it offers for perspective taking and understanding non-verbal communication. But there is so much more to it, because after watching the scene through, your students will watch the same scene again and now add their own play by play narration in real time. The sound effects remain in place; only the voice over is added. When you have finished doing this for each scene, you will have pieced together a professionally animated cartoon starring your own student as the narrator. Your kids will be delighted when you watch the whole cartoon back in its entirety.

There is a text box for the written narration for the story, so clinicians and teachers can use this app for writing skill development and/or narrative skill development. There are also other optional supports in place including key words to include and key questions to address. This app has educational value for regular ed teachers, resource room teachers, ELL teachers and of course speech language pathologists. Everyone will craft an assignment around it in their own way.

The animation is of top quality, the storyline is appealing to boys and girls, and the record and play interface is easy to use.  Home version at $5.99 will let you save one completed recorded story at a time, PRO version at $9.99 should cover your whole caseload.


A newer app on the market worth its weight in gold is Story Pals by Eric Sailers. This app is so versatile, it’s hard to define where it even belongs on this website. It could easily land under Academics or Handy Tools.

Story Pals is really two apps in one. It offers 24 stories that can be read aloud through professional narration or through the built in text-to-speech (with individual word highlighting). Each story has an an accompanying picture with some appealing animation features, and each story provides a quiz with a series of follow up WH questions. You decide the types of WH questions that will be asked, and individual data is kept on each of your students. If you are looking for a quality app that offers reading comprehension practice, this app is already worth the $19.99 price tag. In fact, you can even get the basic version for $9.99 if you do not think you need the text-to-speech/word highlighting feature.

But that’s only half of what Story Pals does. It’s also a story writing app and there is truly no limit to what you can do with the creative side of this app. Kids can assemble their own accompanying picture by choosing from the assorted illustration elements and/or importing their own photos. They are then free to create their own stories. They can use the built in text-to-speech feature to have their story read back to them, or they can read their story out loud and record it in their own voice. If you have a newer iPad with Siri buillt in, the keyboard will include a microphone that will allow your students to dictate their stories right onto the page. Everything they create can be saved and shared. When the story is finished, kids even get to set up their own set of WH questions to quiz you with. Because the illustration elements offered in this part of the app are the same as the ones found in the 24 included stories, you can also use the story writing part of the app to have your kids retell one of the included stories that they just read.

The interface is so well designed and easy to use, you can very quickly type in any story you like and add your own WH questions. Now you are using the story writing part of the app to expand your own iPad based library of stories to teach and assess reading comprehension. There are countless ways to use this in speech therapy. But it’s also a great app for our special education teachers, our ELL teachers and our classroom teachers. Ideal for kids in K-5, including our more involved special needs students.

For Narrative Skills and Sequencing

These next two apps are great for helping your kids sequence, explain and narrate events. Both Puppet Pals and Toontastic are free to download. You can add characters and more capability to them by buying the full versions, but you’ll quickly see that just the free versions alone will go a long way toward helping your students create stories. Really great way to do some collaborative projects, and your reluctant writers will not even realize they are writing at all.

Puppet Pals by Polished Play lets you make your own animated movies. Drop the characters in, move the characters with your fingers while you record your show and press play. Just like that you have a fabulously entertaining little movie that is all kid produced. Add the full version, and you get everything including the ability to bring in your own characters from the internet or your own photo album. My upper elementary kids just love the creativity this affords. You will love how easy it is to model and teach character development, setting and plot. Free to start; Director’s Pass for $2.99 is worth every penny.


For a different-but-same approach to narration and story sequencing, check out Toontastic by Launchpad Toys. This app also gives your kids the ability to create and direct short animated movies using an assortment of backdrops and cartoon characters. It has some additional features, though, like some animation traits built right into the characters and theme music that you can adjust for mood and intensity. Toontastic also lets you put together a whole story scene by scene. In fact it requires it. Unlike Puppet Pals, where you record one event and work all of your scenes into that one recording, Toontastic has you go about it step by step. Set the scene, define the plot, set up the resolution, etc. You will have great opportunities to teach story elements and perspective taking with this one, and the finished product is really something special. Just allow enough time to see the project through from beginning to end. Free to start; $9.99 gets you everything.


And for one more option that is great for your younger kids, I again direct you to one of Mobile Education Store’s apps. StoryBuilder is really best described as a story starter or a story scaffolder. Kids see a picture and the start of a sentence and they fill in the rest. They record new sentences one at a time until the story is complete. Pass the iPad around and have kids take turns contributing or let the built in audio prompts guide them to a coherent and well sequenced narrative. When you’re done, you have a spliced together audio recording of your child’s voice telling the entire story. Very rewarding. $7.99.