Instructional Implementation Strategies Using Google Docs

 It's no mystery that the Google Apps suite is an incredibly useful and powerful way to bring your classroom into the 21st century. However, like many other kinds of technology, it isn't always obvious how you could or should start using these tools right out of the "box".

In this series I hope to explore each of these tools for the sake of classroom instruction. I'll describe how I've used these tools successfully in my classroom and offer some lessons learned through my use. This tutorial will assume that the educator has little to no experience with Google Apps for Education, so if already have some experience I would skip down to the "Instructional Implementation Section", which is what I'll be focusing on. 

Authors Note: These strategies and techniques for using Google Apps in your classroom apply for any iteration of the Google Apps suite. Including: Google Apps for Education, Google Apps for business, personal Google Apps. Some of these versions have increased storage capacity, access to developer tools, and increased functionality. For the sake of transparency, I used my personal Google account for all of the strategies and techniques that follow. 


If you're asking yourself this question then you might want to click this button (see below).

    Once you've gotten the general idea, you should create a google account and head over to their well-formatted Help section if you have any questions on general or more specific features and functions of the apps.

Authors Note: The first app you're going to need to download is Google Drive. From there you can simply click the "new" button and select the kind of document you would like to create, in this case it's going to be a "Google doc" that we're dealing with.


    As I said before I am not going to go through the steps of physically creating a doc, rather I'm going to focus on how you can incorporate a doc into your instruction.

If you need a "refresher" on how to create a Google Doc, click this button (below). There you can learn how to create a doc and go through some of the features like creating a table of contents, using headers, sharing the doc with others, etc.


    Once you have the technical stuff taken care of I suggest you get a few things together before you start creating docs for or with students.

1. The first thing I suggest you create is a social contract. A social contract is a document that you create with your students that helps them identify some of the challenges associated with working on documents together. Here are some example prompts you might use with your students to create this document:

  • What happens if/when some or all of the work you've done is "accidently" deleted? (there is a revision history option with Google Docs, you can simply revert it to an earlier version - and identify the student who deleted the work)
  • How will the documents be formatted? This is important to go through with your students. Model how to create a title, when and where to use headers, how to include a table of contents, Footers, Headers, Footnotes, and Citations.

2. All of your students should use their own personal Google Profiles to share docs with one another. If you're not in a school with a 1:1 initiative you're going to have to show students how to make sure they're logged into their own account if they're using a class or school set of devices. 

3. Where are these docs going to go? Obviously their Google Drive, but what folder structure are they going to use? Fewer things are more useless than poorly labeled, poorly organized cloud docs. 


Collaboration 2.0. 

The group project is one of the most basic implementations of Google Docs in the classroom. To up the ante on a traditional report you can assign each student a different task (Jigsaw), and the real challenge becomes working together to create a coherent report from the various pieces. The assignment isn't the doing, it's the collaborating.

Copy Editor Challenge 

So your students have written a paper, now you have to go through and give it a grade. Not so fast! Why not have your student share their paper with another student, where that student then becomes a copy editor. Have the copy editor go into "suggestion mode" and edit the paper. Make sure the copy editor leaves constructive comments and even possibly corresponds via email, the same way a contract copy editor would do in the real world.

Where do I write?!

How to avoid writer chaos! So, the first time I used Google Docs I conducted an experiment with my class. What happens when you throw 30 students into a single doc and ask them to respond to a "provocative prompt". Well, you could imagine what happened next... Chaos! So there are a few workarounds, but the best solution I've found is the "box" strategy. Say you create a doc for an assessment you would like to do, it's much easier to go through one doc, than for you to go through 30 different docs. At the top of the doc it might say something like, "Respond to the following prompt: [insert relevant question here]". What you should follow that with are X number of boxes with students names in them so students know where to write their response. This suggestion shows that I'm a high school teacher, but I can confidently say I could do this with my middle schoolers after a few modeling sessions. 

Turn it into a Web Page 

Alright so instead of writing, lets think about creative applications. One interesting way google docs sets itself apart from pen and paper is allowing you to turn your doc into a web page. By going to "File" > "Download As..." > html, Web page you can download the Google Doc into a web page that students can share with one another and collaborate on. No tech expertise necessary!

Collaborate Across Borders 

Get on social media and find a teacher in another country who you can collaborate with (and also uses Google Docs). Students from your class and theirs can work collaboratively at the same time! A less risky version of this can be to have each student work on it at a time. Make sure you and the other teacher agree on the terms of the engagement. 

Near Peer Tutorials 

Collaborate with other teacher in your school who teach different grade levels/subjects than you do. Once you've got a teammate use Google Docs to upgrade your thematic units. My two favorite subjects are Art and Science, I might have students conduct a research investigation in their science class, while the art teacher down the hall has them find instances in popular culture where that discovery has made an impact. These kinds of thematic lessons are really effective when used with google apps (including docs).

Lesson Planning 

Rather than only using Google Docs with your students why not use the power of the cloud to help streamline lesson planning? Get together with a group of teachers and create chapter folders to divide up the lesson planning efforts? Work with teachers from other subjects or same-grade level instructors to build an entire years worth of lesson plans in a few sessions. Example: I am particularly good at designing lessons plans geared towards genetics, I might get together with a teacher who has a strong background in ecology to create a powerful folder filled with two chapters worth of plans. 

Journal 2.0 

Rather than having students keep physical notebooks to record their notes and do their work, why not have them create a well formatted folder or single document with a built in table of contents? This will save students a lot of time and save a lot of paper.


Please leave a comment letting me know what you think of the post, what strategies I should add, resources I should include, and/or general feedback. Also follow me on Twitter for more more posts like this one, and share the ones you find useful. 

Thanks for reading!

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