5 Tools That Will Make Your Students Google Docs Pros

Do your students use Google Docs® for writing and publishing? That's great! But now let's make them a Power User or Pro when working with Google Docs.  


Here are five Pro tools to teach your students so they can increase their efficiency and work when using Google Docs.

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If you're unfamiliar with Google Docs, it is part of Google's free online apps which also include Google Slides and Google Sheets.  Think of it as the web version of Microsoft Office, but with one big difference! It's free!  All you and your students need to get going on using these apps is a Google Account.

I am fortunate to work in a 1:1 district and I have a cart full of Chromebooks.  Each of my students and myself have a district issued Google Account which we use to log into anything Google.  So what are these Pro tools?  I believe that these five tools are often overlooked, underused or teachers and students don't know they exist! 


#1 USE THE DEFINE TOOL



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If your class make up is anything like mine, you will have many English Language Learners, Resource students, and students with limited vocabulary.  In a 1:1 classroom, I can not be everywhere.  So if a student sees a word that is not understood, teach the student to use the Define Tool.  Directly to go to Tools, scroll down to Define.  Then type the word or term in the box.


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Instantly you will get the definition AND synonyms if available.   Get students into the habit of using online dictionaries. Why? I'm here in California.  In our version of the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC), students have the ability to use the built-in glossary when working on the reading portion of the test.  How cool is that! But if you don't use it to your advantage, it's a wasted opportunity to improve your score.  So if you get students into this habit of using online dictionaries or glossaries, it will help them later while increasing their vocabulary.  They're also using technology as a tool, just like they would in college or in the workforce.


#2 USE THE DOCUMENT OUTLINE TOOL



A critical Common Core Standard for English Language Arts in third grade is RI.3.5 which is about using text features.  Headers in an informational piece are crucial and used to locate information more efficiently.  When students use the Document Outline Tool, they create their own headers, and it helps them organize their writing.  At the same time, it's an added bonus that they learn how to use headers and how they are used in not only organizing information but helping the reader to find it.


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While they are making headers, they are also learning basic word processing tools and skills that they will need for college and the workforce.



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#3 USE GOOGLE KEEP TO STORE NOTES AND RESEARCH



How many times do we tell our students now:  cite evidence!  Well, first you have to collect the evidence.  That's where Google Keep is handy.  If you're familiar with EverNote, then you'll be familiar with Google Keep.  They work in similar ways to capture information in one place that can then be accessed at a later time.  But the best part is that you can access your Google Keep notes DIRECTLY from Google Docs.


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As with all Google sites, you will need to already have an account for Google Keep to save your information.  Google Keep is a website (keep.google.com), but you can also add the Google Keep Extension to your Chrome browser.  Click on the extension button anytime to bring up something to save. You can also highlight something and then right-click to bring up a contextual menu to let you save it to Google Keep.


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You can see all your notes and organize them any way your want from the Google Keep website.  The key is to organize your notes by using labels. Create a label around a topic, and then anything you save related to that topic should be given that label.  That way, if you have a multitude of notes, you can search for the notes you need by the label.  Organization skills are valuable skills for college and the workforce.



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How do you access your notes in Google Docs? Very simple! Go to Tools, then scroll down to Keep Notepad.  Now you can just drag text to your document.  It will automatically paste anything in that note, including web links.  But we don't want students to plagiarize! So Google Keep should be used as a research tool to gather information for which the student will rewrite in his/her own words.  This brings up the opportunity to discuss being a good digital citizen, plagiarism, and copyright infringement.


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#4 USE THE VOICE TYPING TOOL



This past year I had two RSP students who really HATED to write.  I also had a few other non-RSP students who felt the same way about writing....even typing!  So that's why you want to use this handy tool with select students.  To access the Voice Typing tool, go to Tools then scroll down to Voice Typing.  You might have to test this feature to see if it actually works on the device the student is using.  Though it worked on my MacBook Pro, sometimes I could not get it to work on the Chromebooks.  You should speak to your Tech Department about how to make sure it will work.


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By the way, a workaround for this is the iPad. If you have access to iPads, all the Google Apps are available for the iPad. iPads have built-in dictation, so all the student has to do is open a new Google Docs, then bring up the keyboard.  On the screen keyboard, click on the microphone key, and it will take dictation. Dictation on the iPad or Chromebook can be tricky as ambient noise can mess things up.  Also, you have to say PERIOD or QUESTION MARK or EXCLAMATION POINT if you want punctuation.  It's a nice feature to have for those students who struggle with just writing or typing.


#5 USE THE PUBLISH TO THE WEB FEATURE



This is not so much a tool as a feature of Google Docs.  With this feature, you can turn any Google Docs document into an online web page.  Why would this be important?  As I discovered when I went 1:1, a lot of my students' writing was not up on our writing wall but stored on their Google Drive. So how is anyone going to see it (especially district officials when they come on their yearly tours)?  So here's a way for anyone to see their published writing that's stored in their Google Drive.


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First, go to File and then scroll down to Publish to the Web.  From there you will be presented with a window to ask how you want it posted (link or embed).  Choose link.

Then, click on Start Publishing.  Then you'll be given the link (which you can store on Google Keep).  You will have to have a Google Slide presentation template already set up to receive the link.


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In Google Slides, you will create a small text box.  You will write a title such as, My Statue of Liberty Opinion Piece or whatever is the title of the writing.  Then you will insert a link in the text box.  This is where you paste in the link you already saved.  Now a student can keep adding text boxes with links to this Google Slide, and it can act as a homepage with links to all their writing.  Much more convenient than retrieving it from their Google Drive.  Even better, create a QR code for a link to the Google Slides presentation.  That way, anyone can scan the QR code with a phone or other device and quickly get to the slide and the links.


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If you can teach your students to use these tools, not only do they become a Power User, but learn valuable tech skills and are becoming prepared for college and the workforce.  If you have a PRO or POWER USE tip, submit it below in the comments!



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