Special Words User Guide - Keyboard Control | Special iApps Skip to main content

Special Words User Guide - Keyboard Control

Back     Contents



Special Words Pro includes a unique facility to operate its activities and change many of its settings remotely from an external keyboard. If you were taught to drive in a car where the instructor sitting on the passenger side had a second set of dual-control pedals, you will will recognise some similarities.

We have observed children losing concentration or becoming upset when an adult touches the screen on their behalf, or takes the device from them to adjust something. By employing dual control, these potential issues can be avoided, to make teaching and assessment easier, more effective, and more fun.

Please Note:

From version 4 onwards, keyboard control is only available in the professional edition, Special Words Pro. If you were using this facility in version 3 of the standard edition, please contact us for information about how to continue to use it.

Typical Usage Scenarios

  • Assisting or Correcting

    You can simulate tapping or dragging a card on the screen, or play the sound again, by pressing a key on the keyboard.

  • Navigating

    Using the keyboard, you can navigate the pages (e.g. advance to the next page), or select a different activity (e.g. switch from Match Pictures to Match Words).

  • Adjusting Settings

    Changing the number of cards per page, enabling card-shuffling and adjusting the volume are just some of the adjustments you can make. This can all be done without leaving the current activity, and without presenting any visual distractions.

  • Demonstrating to a Group

    In a classroom, if you are streaming the app to a large screen, and one of the children is holding the iPad, you can demonstrate to the whole class from the other side of the room.

Video: Using Special Words with a Keyboard

Colin and William demonstrate.

More Usage Scenarios

  • Introducing Keyboards

    Simply stand the iPad, with the keyboard in front of it, and let the child drag the card by pressing and holding the arrow or number keys.

  • Assisting a Switch User

    The keyboard can be used alongside switch interfaces. Scanning and selecting can be emulated using the keyboard's Spacebar and Enter keys.

Supported Keyboards

Any external keyboard that works with Apple's built-in apps on an iPad can also be used with Special Words, provided the iPad is running iOS 8 or later. You can use the same keyboards with an iPhone or iPod touch, although the smaller screen may pose challenges for some children.

  • Bluetooth Keyboards

    Simply pair the keyboard with the iPad, from the Bluetooth options in the device's Settings, and it is ready for use.

  • USB Keyboards

    To connect a USB keyboard, use the adapter in the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit. Despite its name, it can also be used to connect keyboards, microphones and some other USB devices, and it also works with an iPhone. There are two models, one with a Lightning connector (for newer devices), the other with a 30-pin connector (for older ones). Both have a USB socket at the other end, into which you insert the keyboard's USB plug.

    Note: Most PC keyboards can be connected directly like this, but those that draw a lot of power may need to be connected via a powered USB hub, as explained in Troubleshooting below.

  • PS/2 Keyboards

    An older keyboard with a round PS/2 plug (typically purple) will work, provided you have a compatible PS/2 to USB adapter. Connect the adapter to the keyboard's PS/2 plug, and then employ as for USB keyboards above.

    Note: Small one-piece PS/2 to USB adapters do not work with all PS/2 keyboards. Adapters with two PS/2 connectors, one for keyboard and the other for mouse, are usually compatible, but only the keyboard half can be used with an iPad or iPhone, as iOS has no mouse support.

  • Smart Keyboards

    Apple's Smart Keyboard, and similar keyboards that attach to the magnetic Smart Connector on the iPad Pro, can also control Special Words. However, these cannot be used while detached, and so cannot provide genuinely remote control.

Keyboard Map

You may like to spend some time practising using a keyboard before trying alongside a child. The keyboard shortcuts are organised into key groups, depending on whether the Alt, Cmd or Ctrl modifier keys are pressed at the same time. The roles of these groups are summarised below.

  • Single Key

    Dragging the card to match, reloading the current page, and emulating switches.

  • Alt + Key

    Tapping the baseboard cards, playing sound, navigating pages and enabling or disabling the padlock.

    The Alt key is labelled as Option on some keyboards.

  • Cmd + Key

    Selecting another activity, adjusting volume, increasing or decreasing animation speed.

    Note that volume adjustment only affects this app, and to allow a full range you should set the device's volume to maximum before opening the app.

    Pressing Ctrl + Key is equivalent to Cmd + Key.

  • Alt + Cmd + Key

    Setting baseboard Cards Per Page (1 - 4), changing the Shuffle Cards setting, enabling or disabling Reward and Advancing to Next Page, selecting Capital Letters.

    Pressing Alt + Ctrl + Key is equivalent to Alt + Cmd + Key.

  • Numeric Keypad and Navigation Keys

    If your keyboard has a numeric keypad, you can use this to drag, play sound, and adjust volume and animation speed. If it has navigation keys (Page up, Page Down, Home, End), you can use these for page-navigation.

    These keys duplicate functions on the main part of the keyboard, but without the need for two fingers.

When used on an iPad running iOS 9 or later, the app supports Apple's standard feature of pressing and holding the Cmd key (or the Windows key on a PC keyboard) to pop up a list of all the keyboard shortcuts that an app implements.

A more pictorial on-screen keyboard map can be shown in Special Words by pressing the Tab key (but not holding it), and this is also available on iOS 8, and on an iPhone. Pressing Tab again cycles through the key groups.

While the on-screen map is displayed, the keys with shortcuts are shown in blue. Tapping any of these (on the screen or the external keyboard) displays a brief description of the associated action.

Alternatively, you can download and print a PDF version of the map in English, Catalan, Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, Polish or Spanish.


We have listed some common issues and solutions here. For further help, please contact us.

To check whether the keyboard is working, open an app such as Notes or Pages. If you can enter characters, the keyboard is connected.

If you have problems with a wireless keyboard, check the iPad has Bluetooth enabled and that it is paired with the keyboard (in the Settings app). Don't forget to turn the keyboard on if it has a switch to do this. If the iPad cannot find the keyboard, see if it needs recharged or new batteries.

If a USB keyboard isn't working, check it with a Mac or PC, to be sure there isn't a fault with the keys or cable. If the iPad displays Cannot Use Device when you connect it, and the message states The connected device requires too much power, try a different keyboard, or use a hub (as described above).

If your iPad is running iOS 8, you should expect the message The connected device is not supported when you connect a USB keyboard. This is not a problem: just tap OK to continue. Although iOS 9 is the minimum version for some keyboard features in iOS, we fully support keyboard use in Special Words at iOS 8 and later.

Note that before you can emulate switches, you must tell Special Words whether to use one, two or three, as explained in Chapter 7.