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Special Words User Guide - Keyboard Control

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Keyboard Control with Special Words Plus

Special Words Plus includes the unique facility to operate activities and change many of the app's 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.

When using Special Words Plus on a Chromebook, Mac or Windows PC, keyboard control can be used with either an external keyboard, or the device's own physical keyboard, or both. With iOS or Android, you will need an external keyboard.

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.

Using an iPad with a keyboard

More Usage Scenarios

  • Introducing Keyboards

    Simply stand a tablet, with an external keyboard in front of it, and let the child drag the card by pressing and holding the arrow or number keys. Alternatively, for desktop users, let the child use the built-in physical keyboard in the same way.

  • 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 or built in physical keyboard that works with built-in apps on a supported tablet or desktop, can also be used with Special Words. You can use the same keyboards with phones, although the smaller screen may pose challenges for some children.

  • Bluetooth Keyboards

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

  • USB Keyboards

    On iOS: To connect a USB keyboard, use the Apple Camera Adapter. 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.

    On Android: To connect a USB keyboard with a standard cable and USB-2 plug, you will typically need an adapter or extension cable with a USB-2 socket at one end and a plug matching the USB/charging socket on your device. Older devices usually have a micro-USB socket, newer ones often have a USB-C socket instead.

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

  • Smart Keyboards

    Apple's Smart Keyboard, and similar keyboards that attach to the 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.

Device Settings on iPad and iPhone

To make use of keyboard control in Special Words, the Full Keyboard Access option in the device settings under Accesibility > Keyboard must be turned OFF.

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, 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 on any device by pressing the Tab key (but not holding it). 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.

You can download a PDF keyboard map for Special Words Plus in English, Catalan, Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, Polish or Spanish. Note that these maps are based on an Apple keyboard layout as used with an iPad.  However, the key mappings are the same when a keyboard is used with macOS, Android and Windows, except that (a) you need to use the Control key instead of the Apple-specific Cmd key, and (b) some key combinations may be intercepted by the operating system, and so not available to Special Words.


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 Mail, a word processor or a web browser. If you can enter characters, the keyboard is connected.

If you have problems with a wireless keyboard, check the device 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 device cannot find the keyboard, see if the latter needs recharged or new batteries.

If a USB keyboard isn't working, check there isn't a fault with the keys or cable. If an 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 the keyboard draws a lot of power, you may need to use a hub.

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

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