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10 Things Every Teacher Should Know How To Do on Google Docs

Google Docs is more than just an online word processor.  It's a tool for online collaboration, formative assessment, reflection, and grading.  To really unlock the power of Google Apps in your classroom, here are 10 important features of Google Docs that you should know.

Full article after the jump.

1. Share & Collaborate with Google Docs

One of the most powerful features of Google Docs is that you can share and collaborate on documents with others, in real time, with no messy trail of email attachments.

Sharing with individuals is relatively easy. Click the blue "Share" button in the top right corner and input the email addresses for those with whom you want to collaborate, select if you want them to be able to "edit," "comment," or "view" and click "Done." If you give someone editing privileges, then they have full authoring power over the document (everything apart from deleting it).

Another unique feature about Google Docs is that users do not need an account to see what you are sharing. There are two ways to share, first by sharing with an email account and second with a link (which you can obtain through "Get shareable link.")

You can remove people and access more refined sharing settings through the "Advanced" link.


Sometimes, you don’t want to make changes on a document. When I am providing feedback on a writing assignment, for example, I want students to craft their project in their own words. I use “comments” instead of making changes directly to their paper. To add a comment, highlight the word or section you would like to change and press the “comment” button (or Ctrl+Alt+M). This will open a comment window where you can type and leave directions or feedback.

Others can reply to your comments when they make changes or ask for clarification. This creates a conversation directly in a document. It could also be used for student reflection as they write about why they make their changes. Authors can also "Resolve" comments as they are acted upon, allowing students to keep track of their corrections.

3. Suggested Edits

Another great tool is suggested edits. This can be found under the "Edit" menu, near the "Share" button on your Google Doc:

By using the "suggesting" mode, you can make changes to the document that the document owner either "accept" or "decline." It’s a great way for students to exercise peer feedback on one another's documents, without making actual changes to the original text.

4. Revision History

One of the most powerful tools in Google Docs is "Revision History." If students are collaborating on a document, they can use this feature to see what changes have been made, and restore an earlier version of the document if necessary. 

Students can also use it individually to observe the evolution of their writing, from initial ideas to final draft. Revision history also can show a teacher whether or not the student is actually making changes to their work.

5. Add-Ons

Recently, Google released a suite of add-ons. These Google Doc-specific extensions have allowed educators to unleash more powerful features within Google Docs and Sheets. To find and apply Add-ons, simply open a document, open the "Add-ons" menu, and choose "Get add-ons.". You can then browse the suite of available tools and apply those that you want. 

Some add-ons that integrate well into the classroom are: EasyBib (for creating bibliographies), Google Translate, and Kaizena (for leaving Voice Comments). You can also find third party apps such as Lucid Charts to create diagrams and mind-maps that you then directly drop into your document. More add-ons are added every week, and it's worthwhile exploring them to see what you can find.

6. Research Tools

Google will allow students to do research directly within the document! With the Research window pane, you can perform a basic Google search, search images, access Google Scholar (academic papers), find quotes, and look up words in the dictionary. You can even search by usage rights (key when teaching students about copyright and licensing). When you put content from the research pane into your document, it will even include the citation with a footnote at the bottom of your page in the format that you choose (MLA, Chicago, etc).

7. Image Editing

With its latest update, Google Docs now allows you to edit images within a document. If you want to include an image in your Google Doc, you can position it by dragging and dropping, wrap text, resize, crop, and change the border. It’s a great time saver when you are creating a document with diagrams and images.

8. Insert Special Characters

Google Docs has a robust library of special characters, accented letters, and different alphabets. You can use the "Insert Special Characters" feature while you type. Simply go to "Insert" and then "Special Characters" (right next to the Ω symbol). 

You can browse symbols by alphabet, purpose (math, technical, copyright), and more. Also, you can utilise the touchscreen on your Yoga (or just your mouse) to draw the character you want to insert.  Google will find the characters that match closest to your doodle:

If you need to insert a mathematical formula, check out Insert → Equation to access easy tools for creating sophisticated mathematical formulas.

9. Download As

If you want to save your Google Doc in another format (such as a Word document), the “download as” feature is your friend! This will allow you to access and edit content on different machines or to send it to others. You may wish to download your Google Docs as PDFs to post on your SWIFT website.

10. Get Help with Almost Anything!

As covered in a previous post, the Synergyse tool that appears on all Google Docs (under the "Training" menu) allows you to access step-by-step, voice-guided instructions to accomplish almost anything with your Google Docs.  Students also have access to this feature, and is a great resource for outsourcing your in-class tech support!

Something we missed?  Any features you'd like to see covered in more depth?  Let us know in the comments.


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