Google Docs for Collaboration

Despite the fact that I’m clearly using an iPad, I actually much prefer Android to iOS. We use Google Apps at our school, and I’m one of the few teachers who actively seeks ways to use Google Docs with students. This is a real shame, as the collaborative aspects are too good to simply pass over. I wanted to outline one such way that I use Google Docs in my lessons.

One of my year 8 English classes are currently working on writing their own plays, with a view to performing them in the last week of term. There is a relatively high rate of absenteeism in this class, not helped by approximately one third of the class missing a single lesson each week to go to their intervention session. It has the potential to make group work very difficult, especially if the work is written in a particular student’s book and they are not in class for whatever reason.

I decided that instead of doing the work in their books, we would use Google Docs. Using this with a new class requires one of two things: spending a good portion of time teaching students about how Google Docs works, in order to avoid work being deleted, overwritten or simply interfered with; or using the share settings to manage who can edit the document and who can view it (which then has implications in terms of evidencing progress during a lesson). I chose initially to go with the first option, but, as is bound to happen when working with students, the message didn’t quite sink in. For the simple reason of time management, as well as managing my stress level, I switched over to option two part way through the lesson. I’ll explain more about how I did that shortly.

Before the lesson, I created the document, labelled it and shared it with the appropriate students. I have two groups in the class, so the document was shared with the students in that group. Students were automatically emailed a link to the document via their school Gmail account. At this point, all students had editing rights to their particular document.

The next step was to take some time to set up the group management. To do this, I used STORM, a particular approach being implemented across our school. STORM stands for:


Essentially each member of the group should have a role. As I have more than 5 students per group, I told them that each role could be doubled up except the observer, which could only be one student.

I then put the task instructions (which I’d given verbally the previous lesson for their planning) and space for their STORM details onto the top of the document. I also inserted a comment instructing students to not alter what I’d already written on the document, after having to re-insert it several times. The document at this stage looked like this:

Google Doc 1

The coloured boxes in the top right are the students viewing the document at the same time. There is a built in chat feature to allow for collaboration.

Students were instructed to work together, led by their manager, to complete the plot and character descriptions before starting to write their scripts. I was flicking between the two group documents and listening to their conversation, and quickly realised that they were far more interested in playing with the ability to overwrite each other’s work than actually completing the task. To that end, I redid the share settings, changing all students to ‘can view’ from ‘can edit’, with the exception of the scribes. This meant that one group had one ‘author’ for the text, and the other group had two as they had doubled up. There was an immediate impact on the quality of work being produced, as well as the quality of discussion around the task.

As Google Docs automatically save work, and have a handy revision feature, all students have access to the latest version of the task. I can make corrections live on the document, and I can insert comments as I have done above. I often use these comments and revision histories when work is on-going over the course of several lessons, as I can essentially tag where the student has got up to in a lesson and this allows progress to be monitored.

Students enjoy using the laptops instead of writing in their books, and they also appreciate the live feedback that they receive from me. If you haven’t yet considered using this as a tool in your classroom, I highly recommend it.

photo 1 photo 2


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