As you probably know, Google Drive is far more than a place to store files online. It also includes a suite of versatile creation tools, many of which perform the same functions as the ones we use in other spaces. These include Google Docs, a word processing program that behaves similarly to Microsoft Word, Google Slides, a presentation program similar to PowerPoint, and Google Forms, a survey-creation tool similar to Survey Monkey. Although Drive also includes other tools, these three are particularly useful for creating rigorous, academically robust projects. If your school uses Google Classroom or at least gives students access to Google Drive, your students are probably already using these tools to write papers or create slideshow presentations, but there are other projects they could be doing that you may not have thought of.
Below I have listed 16 great ideas for projects using Google Docs, Slides, and Forms. (If you and your students want to learn more about how to use these apps, check out my Google Drive Basics course; more info at the end of this post!)
By the time a student reaches the later years of high school, and certainly by the time she’s gotten to college, it’s likely that she’ll be required to write an annotated bibliography, a list of resources that not only includes the bibliographical information of each source, but also a short paragraph summarizing the resource and reflecting on its usefulness for a given project. Usually an annotated bibliography is required as a part of a larger research paper, but it could stand alone as an assignment that tasks students with seeking out and evaluating sources just for the practice of doing so. And the research tools in Google Docs allow students to locate, read, and cite their sources all in one place. To learn more, see this guide from Cornell University Library on How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography.
Instead of a book report, have students write a book review instead. This is certainly not a new idea, but publishing the work electronically allows students to enhance the final product with the book’s cover image, a link to the book’s page on Amazon, and even links to other titles the author has written or articles on related topics. For models and inspiration, elementary and middle school students can read student-written reviews on sites like Spaghetti Book Club. Older or advanced students might work toward more sophisticated, nuanced review styles like book reviews written on Oprah.com.
Because Google Docs is cloud-based, multiple people can work on a Doc at the same time. So students can work together on a story, a script for a play, or any other kind of group writing project. They can use the comments feature to give each other feedback and make decisions together. And because students can work from any location with an Internet connection, collaboration isn’t restricted to school hours; each group member can work on the project from any location whenever they have time.
Media-Rich Research Paper
Any kind of research paper can be given a big boost when done in a Google Doc, because students can insert images, drawings, and links to other relevant resources, like articles and videos. Using the research tools built into Docs, students can research their topics and include in-text citations with footnotes.
Super Simple Blog
If you don’t want to mess with actual blogging platforms, but want students to be able to experience writing blog posts that contain images and hyperlinks to other websites, this could be accomplished easily in a single running Google Doc.
Being able to organize information visually is an important skill, and students who understand how to build a table in Google Docs will have a skill for presenting all kinds of information in the future. They can be used as a compare and contrast exercise, to display data from an experiment, or even put together a schedule. Yes, you could do these things yourself, print them, and have students fill them out, but why not have students practice creating the tables themselves?
Because slides can contain hyperlinks to other slides, students could build a whole story where the reader chooses different options at key points in the story, leading them down completely different paths. The reader would consume the content as a slideshow, clicking on the links themselves as they go through. This could be a pretty massive undertaking, but we all know students who would be totally up for the challenge.
These could take a variety of forms: mini-textbooks, children’s books, cookbooks or how-to manuals, personal art or writing portfolios, even yearbook-style memory books. To learn more about the possibilities, see my post from earlier this year on Student E-Books.
Along the same lines as an e-book, students could use a similar template to create a PDF magazine or newsletter that is shared online on a regular schedule. The possibilities here are endless, useful for student clubs or sports teams, classroom or grade-level newsletters, or magazines put out by groups of students who share a common interest, like gaming systems, soccer, or books.
Imagine if we could enhance science fair projects with a looping video display that provides the audience with vivid visuals and text about our topic. Or imagine an art show, where a self-running informational slideshow could be placed beside an art display to share the story behind the piece and photos of the work in progress? This is possible and EASY in Google Slides: Simply create a slideshow, then use the “Publish to the Web” feature to create a slideshow that auto-advances and has no need for a presenter. Pop that up on an iPad or laptop and you’re all set. This mock-up of a slideshow on Coral Reefs shows you what it could look like (click the image to open in a new window).
Students can upload their own images and add text boxes to a slideshow to create an animated story, then record the slideshow with a Google extension called Screencastify. They can either record their own voice as narration, add background music, or both. There are so many different kinds of films students could produce: illustrated stories or poems, final reflections for a 20 Time or Genius Hour project, video textbooks on content-related topics, or news-like feature stories of school or community events. In this quick sample, I added music from YouTube’s library of royalty-free music that anyone can use to enhance their recordings:
Using the same screencasting software mentioned above, students could also create their own video tutorials by creating a Slides presentation on their topic (such as “How to Open a Combination Lock”), then recording the slideshow with narration. This would make a nice final product for a unit on informational writing or a way for students to demonstrate their learning at the end of a unit in science (“How to Take Care of Lab Equipment”), social studies (“How to Measure Distance on a Map”), or math (“How to Multiply Fractions”). Student-made tutorials could even be created to teach classroom procedures. And any tutorials students make could be stored for later, so other students can also benefit from them. Learn more about how Screencastify works right inside Chrome.
Whenever students need to gather data to support an argumentative essay or speech, let them gather data quickly and easily by creating a survey with Google Forms. Links to the survey can be sent out via email, QR codes, or through a post in a learning management system like Edmodo or Google Classroom. When results come in, students can use them to support whatever claim they are trying to make in their argument, or make adjustments based on what they discover in their research.
Have students provide feedback to each other’s presentations, speeches, even videos using Google Forms. Here’s how it would work: Each student creates her own form, asking for the kind of feedback she wants on the project. As other students view or the project, they can be sent to a form to offer praise or constructive criticism, which the creator would then be able to view privately and use to improve the project. Students could even use their feedback to write a reflection on their process after the project is done.
One great way to learn material is to create a test or quiz over the content. Have students use Google Forms to create their own multiple-choice, True/False, fill-in-the-blank, or open-ended quizzes on the content they are learning.
Visual Representation of Data Sets
Whenever people enter responses to a Form, Google allows the form creator to view responses in charts and graphs. Have students gain a better understanding of how data can be represented visually by accepting responses (or entering their own fake ones) into a Form, then looking at how the numbers are represented in graphs. This could work well as a series of math lessons.
Way Beyond Worksheets
Just this morning on Twitter, someone posted a comment along these lines: “A worksheet on a Google Doc is STILL a worksheet. Students should be using tech to create!” I’ve heard this sentiment over and over, and it’s exactly why I’ve put this list together. Google offers some incredibly powerful tools if we know how to use them. I hope this list has given you a few new ideas to put into your students’ hands. ♦
But how do you teach students to use the tools?
Google Drive Basics is a collection of 44 short videos that allow you and your students to learn Docs, Slides, and Forms at your own pace. Because YOU download the videos and store them on your own Google Drive, there’s no need to create new logins or worry about access to YouTube or any other site. Here’s a sample of just one of the videos:
And there’s more than just video: You also get a set of Quick Notes for each tool, so students don’t have to keep returning to the videos to remind themselves of how to perform tasks they’ve already learned, and a Skills Challenge for each tool to give students hands-on practice. Each Skills Challenge offers at least 3 tiers of difficulty, so you can differentiate for various ability levels, plus a link to a completed sample for each level, so students can see how a finished product should look.
Once you have these tools installed on your Drive, students will be able to create all kinds of projects like the ones listed above, but YOU won’t have to spend any time teaching them how to use the tools.