Three Easy Ways To Use Google Docs

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about Google Classroom and some of the tricks I’ve developed. If you’re interested, check it out here.

Google Docs

Google Docs is a simple writing platform that can be used for many things. In the education world, Docs is most commonly used for creating plans/schedules, taking notes, or writing reports. Sometimes, teachers even utilize Docs for creating worksheets to use in their classroom.

When I first discovered Docs, it was life-changing at the moment. “Back in the day”, I had to do all my high school writing assignments on Microsoft Word – the greatest (and worst) way to complete an essay. Although I did like Clippy, I had a love/hate relationship with Microsoft Word. 

Floppy Disk, Save, File, Data, Diskette, Storage

To be honest, it was mostly love, but if my computer shut down, or I exited out of my work without saving, I felt a burning, loathing indignation towards Word. It was infuriating: if I forgot to push “Save”, all my work disappeared. 

As far as writing essays or papers, it’s obviously faster to type than it is to print with a pencil. But if I was writing on a piece of paper and left it alone for an hour, it wouldn’t just catch on fire or disintegrate into dust, making me start all over again. That’s what it felt like with Microsoft Word if I failed to push the “Save” button every 5 minutes.

Suffice it to say, when I found Docs, I no longer feared losing my work or breaking the save button from clicking it so much. It’s a place I can quickly write down my ideas and process my thoughts while knowing my work would be there until I got rid of it. Google Docs isn’t alone with this concept presently: a lot of programs now offer quick cloud storage, eliminating the fear of lost work. 

However, I lean towards Docs because it is simple and easy to navigate, and because it is connected to my Drive; Google Drive is the hub of my teaching resources. It’s amazing how a clean Drive leads to more time saved, and a strange, yet comforting peace-of-mind. (Need help organizing yours? Click here!)

I use Docs for 3 specific reasons:

  1. To take notes
  2. To create writing samples
  3. And to design quick reading passages for my students

Taking Notes

The simplicity of Docs helps me write down ideas fast; and as an added bonus, it’s all saved in Google Drive. In fact, I originally wrote this whole post on a Google Doc! (And all of my blog ideas are tucked away on a Doc, coincidentally.)

Blogging, Blogger, Office, Business, Notebook

I used to use Docs for creating worksheets, but quickly got frustrated in the formatting and inability to construct what was in my mind. I stumbled upon Google Slides, and my problems quickly dissipated; however, I did learn some tricks when working with Docs that might be worth sharing. 

  1. To Change the Margins (because who needs a full inch border around their page..?), go to “FILE” and near the bottom select “Page Setup.” On the right side of the new little box it says “Margins”; from here, change to your liking! (I usually do anywhere from 0.2 to 0.3 all the way around.) 
  2. Using Tables can be a quick, more organized way to take notes. At the top where it says “Insert”, select “Tables” and from here, choose the dimensions you prefer. I’ll use these for simple partner groupings, quick rubric notes, or when recording what topic a student selected. However, if I want to make a chart with a few more boxes and images, I won’t even consider Docs: I’ll go straight to Slides (more on that later).
  3. To Copy and Paste any text to fit your formatting, use the key shortcut Ctrl+Shift+V. If you do a lot of pulling from online articles and want it to fit on a worksheet you’ve already developed, use this shortcut. In fact, try to memorize some easy shortcuts like Undo (Ctrl+z), Redo (Ctrl+y), Cut (Ctrl+c), and, if you want to get fancy, to Link a word or phrase to a video or website, highlight the word/phrase you want and push Ctrl+K (like linK).

Another way I use Google Docs as a type of “Notepad” is I’ll have various links saved on a Doc. For example, I have a 2-page document that has links to Science Websites and YouTube videos so I don’t have to search or re-find anything I’ve used in the past. Like the keyboard shortcuts, it saves a TON of time!

In truth, I use Google Slides a lot more than Docs for a lot of reasons, so I’ll address those on another post. Yet, if I ever need something written down quickly and saved in the interwebs forever, you know the first place I’m going is Google Docs. 

Writing Exemplars

Another way I utilize Docs is when I need to create writing samples for my students. 

Typewriter, Antique, Old, Machine, Mechanical, Metal

I’ll have another post soon about how I teach writing, but for the most part, I use Docs solely for the purpose of showing my students what their Final Copy should look like, as well as for sharing the example I wrote myself. Being able to use the exact tool they will be using is a great way to model. 

When using Google Docs for my writing exemplars, I tend to write a grade-level example myself so I can use it to show my students. I like write my own examples for a few reasons:

  1. I like writing (to an extent), so it’s a chance for me to lead by example.
  2. I know what a good grade-level paper will look and “sound” like, so I know if I create an exemplar, it will have all the things and teaching points students will need. (I highly recommend this practice if you don’t do it already!)
  3. Creating my own examples allows me to “edit it down” to worse examples. It sounds silly, but having multiple levels of writing allows students the ability to really see the difference of quality; and it’s fun for the kids to see such awful papers written by their teacher! 

Typing my writing examples on Docs is a quick, clean way to communicate expectations for their task. Additionally, if I write a story that I particularly like, it stays with me forever. I don’t know about you, but there’s some sort of inner-peace knowing that I won’t have to recreate the wheel next time I’m teaching Narrative writing. 

If you want to save your work, keep it organized in your Drive! Then, before you know it, you’ll have an entire “curriculum” saved virtually on your online account. Dang, that’s pretty smart. 

It took me almost 2 years to have all of my writing work planned and developed. My system is fairly simple, and Docs has played a significant role in helping me have clean, organized documents!

1-Page Documents

The last key way I use Google Docs is when I am creating a quick, 1-page activity sheet of paper for my students. In a pinch, I simply find an article I want my kids to read (either on a specific topic, or a topic of interest), then I just easily copy and paste (Ctrl+Shift+V !) it into a Doc. 

Adding pictures is optional, it just depends on what I’m wanting for the task. Here are a couple easy examples of how I use Docs for quick 1-page activities. 

Paper, Pencil, Writing, Stationery, Lined, Note, Page

Scribe: Scribe is a task I give students to practice taking notes. It’s a simple idea, and gives students a chance to see, read, and transcribe from a piece of paper. My kids love this activity because it has a high success rate, and helps them learn how to take notes in bulk, not letter-by-letter. It’s a short activity that activates their speaking, reading, and writing skills. Click here for an example!

Fluency Practice: For this activity, my students are put in groups and then further divided into pairs. Students read the whole passage out loud together, asking for help on tricky words. Then, partners are given a stopwatch and are tasked with reading the page as fast as they can. Each student gets 2-4 tries to record their fastest time, and then will share their “scores” with the group at the end! Click here for a Fluency Practice page about Flamingos!

Another cool part about using Docs (in Drive) when it comes to producing these 1-pagers is that it’s easy to build a collection. If I want kids to practice the same skill a lot, but want to provide different topics, I can “Make a Copy” of a previous document and simply change the contents and title. With a few hours of specified planning, I can develop a whole year’s worth of pages for a particular skill.

Closure

Google Docs is a great resource for teachers, and has a lot of strengths. I like using it for quick production or simple tasks. However, it’s not my first choice if I’m developing a worksheet or item that requires more customization-ability (is that a word..?)

In my opinion, there are some limitations to its simplicity. When I first started teaching, I used Google Docs for a lot of things! It worked ok-ly (now that’s not a word), but because I didn’t know better, I would get frustrated at times when I tried to “squeeze” my ideas into some of the restrictions of Docs. 

Now I do feel like I know exactly when and how to use Docs to best serve my needs. It’s a nice, easy application; just like any other tool, its true power is found when its function is utilized in accordance with its strengths.

So, to recap, I think Google Docs is best for quick notes, writing exemplars, and 1-page reading passages. I’ve spent a few years really figuring out what works best to save time, energy, and avoid potential annoyance. If you noticed, Docs, in my opinion, is best applied in quick, easy tasks. Items that require more complex formatting (like schedules, reports, and worksheets) I actually avoid Docs and save those tasks for Google Slides – more on THAT later!

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