The abc of typing
There is no quick fix to learning keyboard skills, which makes it important that software to teach them is interactive and can be accessed in short bursts.
What you choose will depend on the needs of your class. Options to change the font, colour and size of the words to be typed are useful; the software should use real words and phrases; and it shouldn't try to teach too much at once.
UltraKey 4 is a clear and straightforward typing tutor with three-dimensional animated examples. It also looks at good posture and technique. You choose a lesson and are introduced letter by letter to the keyboard, practising letters, words and then sentences.
Font sizes can be changed and text is narrated - both useful features for children with special needs. However, the tutor does not read the letters to be typed, so children need to be able to read the screen. Records are kept so pupils can track their progress. There is a set of timed typing tests, or you can create your own.
UltraKey 4 originates from the US; this does show a little and it is not the friendliest program on the market for primary-aged children because it does not include any games.
Five Finger Typist teaches typing with one hand. An animated hand shows the correct hand movement as keys are typed. One or two keys are introduced at a time, followed by simple exercises. There is no speech and no games.
Now Touch Type has plenty of options that enable teachers to customise it for children with special needs. For instance, you can change the font, its size and colour. Another helpful touch is that it speaks the next letter to be typed. There are 15 exercises, which build on each other, and you can add your own. A "show hands" button shows children the finger they should use and the key to be typed is highlighted in green - make a mistake and it turns red. This software can also produce reports that show what the pupils typed, as well as their speed and accuracy.
2Type is aimed at primary children and consists of seven programs and a video on how to use them. A section on posture and finger position is a good starting point. You can opt to show or highlight fingers and keys. The software can be set so it decides which letters should be upper or lower case; and text font, colour and size, plus the keyboard colours and keyboard font, can all be changed.
Also included are games such as Falling Letters and Falling Words, which are a bit like Tetris, except that it takes accurate typing to make the blocks dissolve. These can be set up for a wide range of abilities.
In typing practice pupils are asked to type paragraphs, and again teachers can create their own exercises. The dictation exercises are friendly and motivational.
TypeQuick for Students hides its structured course behind a multimedia adventure. Users travel around Australia, meeting characters as they master keyboard skills. Starting with typing with ten fingers (without looking), they move on to build up speed and then accuracy. The software concentrates on building up one skill at a time and the adventure aspect means the lessons don't feel dry.
Keyboard Crazy teaches keyboard skills without the use of a computer. This is a board game that imitates a Qwerty keyboard, with children matching letters by placing tiles in slots. The game helps them learn to move from lower to upper case and can be fitted into any literacy lesson.
Keyboard Crazy combines visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles, but it also aims to be fun. According to its maker, a pilot scheme demonstrated that it improved typing speeds and spelling ages, as well as keyboard recognition. Braille and British Sign Language overlays are available for the keyboard.
* UltraKey 4, pound;39 (for a single user licence); Touch Type, pound;42 (single user); Five Finger Typist, pound;45 (single user); and TypeQuick for Students, pound;21 (single user) are available from Inclusive Technology (www.inclusive.co.uk)
* Keyboard Crazy, pound;48, is available from Key Wise Systems (www.keyboardcrazy.co.uk)
* 2Type, pound;29, is available from 2Simple Software (www.2simple.com)