Introducing Google Docs to the Class

Day one of introducing Google Docs to a class is always an exciting one, I have been fortunate to be able to see three cohorts experience the fun ways to use it. Today we made a start with our Year 5s and had a great afternoon.

The first thing that you need to have ready is a document that the children can work on – a task to kickstart their use of Docs and one that may illustrate some of the features. Spreadsheets can have 50 simultaneous editors, the highest number in the Docs suite of tools, as we were all working at the same time this was ideal. Documents and Presentations have a limit of only 10 simultaneous editors – after that anyone opening them will only be able to view – not edit.  (Check out this Google Docs Help section for more.)

This makes Spreadsheets an ideal first choice for your first collaborative writing experience. Not only is the simultaneous editor limit high but the cell, column and row structure of spreadsheets provides a lovely clear scaffold to shared work. I would always go on to use the Documents in smaller groups later on. (Of course Presentations are also clearly structured, perhaps make something with a slide for each person to edit – either way make it easy for the children to be successful.)

(We used some little sheets for the children’s password and usernames. Feel free to grab a copy.)

I created a spreadsheet called “My Favourite” and shared it with everyone. There is a screenshot below and it basically had, in the header row, lots of different subjects: My Favourite…Band / Fruit / Sealife Creature etc. In the first 2 columns, which you cannot see, are the children’s names. This clear structure works very well.

Preview a blank copy of this document and grab a copy of your own from the Templates Gallery.

This first foray into the use of Google Docs was all about logging in, opening and editing this document and you can see from the picture that they added all of their information. There was a great buzz around the year group as they realised they could see everyone editing in real time, I wandered next door and the same was taking place in the other Year 5 class. The children enjoyed sharing their work together and, often contrary to what some people might think, they were chatting away with each other – speaking to those who had written something elsewhere in the Doc.

I know Google Wave gives us an even more refined real time collaboration experience, but I am unsure about whether it would really change things yet. Google Docs already lets me work in real time with someone else. I suppose the added functionality of what might be created with Wave is where the potential lies.

Children were working in pairs on laptops and I asked them to Sign Out from their session and then repeat with the other person. In this way the children are supporting each other on their first attempts at logging in.

I decided to push them on and we went through the procedure of creating a new document and then sharing that with me. We talked about the idea of “handing-in” your work and the kids were quick to catch on and they spent the rest of the afternoon creating and sharing something.

I think it is really useful to be in the same place as the kids when they share their first document. I put my own Docs home page on the SMARTBoard and tell kids when they have completed the sharing successfully. They wouldn’t get this sort of confirmation when away from class. It just helps them to know they have done it correctly and reinforces the process.

As I speak – a couple of hours after school has finished – some of my class have been busy creating documents and sharing them with me from home.

A quick checklist then for your first Google Docs session.

  • Get all of your passwords and usernames ready to hand – you will almost always have to refer to them. If you are using Ed Apps then you will have already made a CSV file for a bulk upload.
  • Use a simple sheet to share the username and passwords with the class – writing them out yourself might be time consuming but saves problems with children writing them incorrectly.
  • Do a quick login on the school computers using a child’s account – remind yourself of the process. Does it behave the same?
  • Remember that on the first login there is a security question in which children will have to enter a spam filtering word. We needed to support lots of children with this.
  • Have a document already shared with the class, so that when they open their Docs Home there is something there.
  • Use a shared Doc to begin with to demonstrate the collaborative nature of Docs – use Spreadsheets if you are expecting more then 10 simultaneous users.
  • Keep it simple and easy like the My Favourite idea I used today.
  • Before you get into the document show the children around the Docs Home screen.
  • Demonstrate how the different views or filters on your documents changes the view. This is often a problem when children think someone has hacked their account and deleted everything, but they haven’t clicked on ALL ITEMS. Good to take time to demo this.
  • Show children that there is a right click menu on the documents.
  • When viewing a document talk about how it is automatically saved and how each change is logged and can be viewed.
  • Explain how important it is to SIGN OUT at the end of the session.

Why not explore some more ideas about using Google Docs in the classroom in this presentation. (Let me know if you have anymore ideas to add)

I wrote a couple of guest posts for the Official Google Docs blog about using it in class. The first post has some further information about making a start with small group projects. And don’t forget to explore some of my previous posts about using Docs too. Here are some highlights:

Our Google Docs journey has begun and I know that it will be an exciting one. I hope that you find some of these ideas useful if you are beginning to use it with your own class.


  1. I am teaching 3rd Graders and would like to introduce Google docs in the classroom. Do I have to create account,validate and get parent’s approval before creating their account or is there an alternative way?

  2. What are some of the options for signing up the students for google docs? do you have to validate each account? do you need a separate email for each student? What has worked best?

  3. Hi Karen – I am so pleased to see that this is proving useful for you – let me know how things go.

  4. Thanks, this is very timely as we are finally going Google in my school! Love your ideas.
    Karen Kliegman

  5. I am taking your idea and running with it on tomorrow's field trip to the rocky shore- after gathering population count data in the inter-tidal zones we will collaboratively build a spreadsheet and we can all see the data that everyone else has collated.


  6. Excellent stuff, Tom: I'm at the same sort of stage although I'm not a full-time teacher or even a teacher at all and have just sort of got 'sucked into' teaching Years 2-6 ICT an hour a week each. I created a Google Apps domain for the school a couple of years ago and the kids are quite fluent in Google Docs – getting the staff and governors onboard is taking longer! Funding for our VLE runs out this year and I always hated it anyway, preferring a mashup of free Web 2.0 tools. In fact, I relegated the VLE to the role of 'safe container', embedding third-party web services in it. Over time, though, the need for the VLE seems to have receded: it feels like we have a perfectly coherent ICT approach without it. What do you use? Love to chat to you about it, and the embedding of ICT until it becomes invisible, sometime – although you're such a busy blogger I don't know how you'll have time!

  7. Really helpful post – I am going to try out my first collaborative Google Doc lesson next year. Your advice will be really useful and having read your post I have decided to be less ambitious with the content of the document on the first trial run and to make sure I have set up all the accounts etc. so that in the lesson proper we can concentrate on the collaborative side.

    Thanks for the advice

    Lucy T – aka missmoo72

  8. Really helpful post – I am going to try out my first collaborative Google Doc lesson next year. Your advice will be really useful and having read your post I have decided to be less ambitious with the content of the document on the first trial run and to make sure I have set up all the accounts etc. so that in the lesson proper we can concentrate on the collaborative side.

    Thanks for the advice

    Lucy T – aka missmoo72

  9. Thanks for the great post.
    Is there a cost for setting up an entire class? Did you have to have a separate email account for each student, or can the teacher set up a main account for the class and then add students?

  10. Thank you so much for this helpful information on getting students started with Google Docs. I work with adult ESL students, and I am modifying your spreadsheet to help them take notes on classmates’ autobiographical presentations. Using Google Docs to collaborate on note taking good prove very useful to them in their future college classes, so I’m excited to see how it will all work out.
    I have added this article to the blog that I write for my ESL department and other colleagues who are beginning to investigate using web tools in their teaching. Your ears will be ringing with praise because several of us have talked about using Google Docs but needed a hand to get started. Thank you for that hand!

  11. Great ideas Tom! As a LOTE (Languages Other Than English) teacher I see lots of potential for the use of Google Docs in our classes. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  12. Great post
    We are introducing it to our year 6 pupils after half term. Staff are very excited and I know have shown the system to other local schools. I will include a link to your blog alongside our planning as it is nice to see what other are doing.

    Phil Bagge

  13. Great post, Tom! I went through some similar experiences implementing Google Apps in two of my Social Studies 10 classes this fall. I feel like I am only scratching the surface of all the things that can be done in Google Apps and Google Docs. My students have created collaborative websites where they have inserted some of the work they did in Google Docs. I’ve also begun using Google Forms for general class surveys, self-evaluations, and I will be having my students complete a quiz using a Google Form on Monday.

    I’m looking forward to checking out the work you do with your students over the course of the year. I also look forward to exploring some of the links that you added as well. I would love to keep in touch with you to share ideas as we both go through this exciting process if you are interested.

    Let me know and keep up the great work and blogging!

    Dan Reid

Comments are closed.