Tips for Using an iPad with an External Keyboard: Shortcuts & More


Up until this week, I rarely used an external keyboard with my iPad. The on-screen keyboard was fine for what I needed to do and unlike a lot of people, I really have no problem typing on the screen. I can’t type as fast as I can on a standard keyboard, but I can type fast enough to churn out emails and blog posts with no real concerns. This week, however, I decided to try something a little different. I resolved to use the iPad as my only device for a week.

On a “normal” week I would spend my time switching between a MacBook, a Surface Pro 4, and my iPad for the tasks that I need to get done. However, I happened to read an article entitled, Stop Using A Laptop in 2017; It’s Time To Use A Tablet. In it, the author made a case that desktop operating systems are less relevant than they used to be, so that got me thinking. Could I use an iPad, and only an iPad, for a week? No reason why not, right?! The challenge was on, and I took a Bluetooth keyboard along for the ride.

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Keedogo: Child-Friendly iPad Keyboards for iOS 8

I’m a fan of the iPad keyboard. For me, it does everything I need it to, and it does it very well. It’s intuitive, predictable and got a whole lot better with iOS 8. However, I am an adult, and a proficient user of technology. Younger students may not find it as easy to use, and they may not be able to remember the hidden secrets and power-tips for using the iPad keyboard. Enter Keedogo.

keedogo keyboard

Keedogo is a third-party keyboard app that simplifies the keyboard interface and makes it more colorful and appealing for students who are learning how to type. It is optimized for ease of use. For instance, there are only two keyboard screens, as opposed to the three layers you get on the standard iOS keyboard. The exclamation point and the question mark get their own keys that don’t require the use of the shift key to activate them. It uses lower case letters, has the vowels highlighted in a different color and can be used in a QWERTY or ABC layout.

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How to Become an iPad Keyboard Ninja! (The Education Edition)

Some people love it, others hate it, but the iPad keyboard is here to stay. Personally, I love it. I almost never use an external keyboard because the on-screen one works so well. It is also packed full of hidden features you might never have used before. So, if you are ready to become an iPad Keyboard Ninja, read on!

Three Layers of iPad Goodness

So, let’s start with the basics. There are three layers to the iPad keyboard. The first is the one you see every time the keyboard pops up. It has a QWERTY keyboard and some of the other most often used keys. To access layer two, tap the .?123 button in the bottom left or bottom right hand corner. Here you will find numbers, punctuation and an Undo button. Layer three is accessed from layer two by tapping the #+= button in the bottom left and bottom right of the keyboard. Here you will find more punctuation, special characters like the percentage sign, asterisk and even some currency symbols. The Redo button is also on layer three. To get back to the number keyboard (layer 2) tap .?123, or tap ABC to go right back to the first layer (QWERTY).

Thumb Texters Unite

In iOS 5, Apple added the option to use a split keyboard for typing. Some students prefer this as a typing option because they have been raised on cell phones and small screens where they tap away at insane speeds to type their messages. Some adults like it too. How do you do it? Put two fingers on any two keys and pull them apart. The keyboard will stay that way until you push it back together with a finger on each side. If for some reason your keyboard will not split, go to Settings > General > Keyboard and turn on the switch next to Split Keyboard.

split ipad keyboard

Hide or Move the Keyboard

Sometimes the keyboard just gets in the way, especially in landscape mode, and it can be hard to see what you just typed. However, you can hide, or move the keyboard very easily. In the bottom right hand corner of the iPad keyboard is a button that looks like a keyboard with a down arrow. Tap it once to hide the keyboard. Press and hold it to see another way to split your keyboard or undock it. If you undock the keyboard you can slide it up and down your page to see text that may be hidden behind it. To move the keyboard, press and hold the same button and slide up and down on a page. To dock the keyboard, press and hold the keyboard button and select Dock.

undock split ipad keyboard

SHOUTING ON THE INTERNET!!

Have you found the caps lock on your iPad yet? Simply double tap the shift key on either side and it will turn blue. You have now activated caps lock and everything you type will be in all caps. Tap the shift key again to exit caps lock…and stop shouting on the Internet! 🙂

caps lock ipad

Shortcuts to Success

The iPad Keyboard can be programmed to autocomplete some simple words and phrases to save you time. For example, try typing omw and the iPad will offer up the option to autocomplete the phrase On my way! Just tap space to type the automated text. You can program custom commands too. On my iPad, typing jw followed by the space bar will type my work email address. Think about how often you have to type that. Wouldn’t you or your students like a shortcut? You could even set up some words or phrases for students with spelling or fine motor difficulties, and list them on a card next to the iPad for whenever they need to type them. To create your own, go to Settings > General > Keyboard and scroll all the way to the bottom where you will see Add New Shortcut…

keyboard shortcuts ipad

Parlez-vous francais?

How would you like the ability to switch languages on your keyboard without affecting all the other apps and menus? If you are an MFL teacher or have ESL students in your room, this could be a very useful feature. To add a keyboard from another country, go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards > Add New Keyboard… By default, there is only one keyboard, but here you can add more. Once you have added the keyboard(s) you need, you will see a new globe button appear in the bottom left hand corner of your iPad keyboard. Tap this to switch keyboards, or press and hold to select the language you want to switch to. Oh, and if you haven’t added the Emoji keyboard yet, you should. You can thank me later! 🙂

ipad keyboard languages

The Case of the Missing Apostrophe…and Other Rogue Keys

A complaint I hear often about the iPad keyboard is that there is no apostrophe on the top layer of the iPad. You have to dive into the second layer every time you want to type a contraction correctly. Actually, that’s not true. Press and hold the exclamation mark and, as if by magic, the apostrophe appears above it. Slide your finger up to select it. Press and hold the question mark and you will find quotation marks. Want to write cafĂ© like the French do? Press and hold the letter E to find an e with an accent on it. There are lots more like this. Try some other keys to see what you can find. It is great for word origins, foreign language words, and more.

Hidden iPad Apostrophe Key

The Safari Address Bar Keyboard

Ever noticed the keyboard change depending on whether you are searching the Internet or typing a website address? Take a look, because it does. Typing in the address bar of Safari modifies your keyboard. The space bar disappears, because Safari knows you don’t need a space bar to enter a website address. What you might need however, is the colon, forward slash, underscore and hyphen keys, so Apple adds those instead. You also get a .com button to help complete those URLs you are typing in the address bar. Better still, if you press and hold the .com button, you can also select .edu, .org, .net or .us. Just slide up to select the one you want.

safari keyboard ipad

Speech to Text for (Almost) Everyone!

If you have an iPad 3, iPad 4, or an iPad Mini, your keyboard has a built-in dictation feature that will turn your words to text at the tap of a button in any app you can type in. Simply tap the microphone on your keyboard to activate Siri Dictation and clearly speak the words you want to dictate. Press the microphone again when you are finished and the iPad will turn your speech to text. A list of what you can say can be found here, and again it can be a great tool for young writers, and those with spelling or fine motor difficulties. Be aware that you will need a WiFi connection for this to work, and your mileage may vary on translations if used in a noisy classroom. Consider a USB mic or headset. If you have an original iPad or an iPad 2 try Dragon Dictation or PaperPort Notes for similar functionality.

ipad dictation

Spell Check and Auto Correct

I’m not about to debate the merits of spell check and auto correct here, but if you are tired of the iPad suggesting or correcting words that you don’t want changed, or your students are doing something like a spelling test on the iPad, you can turn off all those automated keyboard corrections by going to Settings > General > Keyboard and flipping a few switches to the off position. You can also turn off the ability to double tap the space bar to insert a period in this menu too.

autocorrect options ipad

And with that, I now proclaim you an iPad Keyboard Ninja. Go forth and spread your knowledge, and feel free to leave any tips of your own on innovative ways you use the iPad keyboard in your classroom in the comments below.