12 tips for using Google Apps with young students

Google Apps is only for older students? Not so, according to kindergarten teacher Christine Pinto! She offers Google tips for littles. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

Google Apps is only for older students? Not so, according to kindergarten teacher Christine Pinto! She offers Google tips for littles. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

There’s a common misconception with students and Google Apps: sometimes, they’re just too young to use them yet.

Not so, says Christine Pinto.

She teaches kindergarteners and previously taught four-year-olds in a transitional class. Regardless of their age, her students use Google Apps. No, more specifically, her students thrive with Google Apps.

They create. They take pictures. They read and write.

And they even log in by themselves.

“I wanted my kids creating instead of just visiting sites,” said Pinto, who teaches in Southern California. “They’re naturals at tapping everything. They’re not afraid of clicking on something wrong. I knew there was potential there.”

Pinto is a “GAFE for Littles” evangelist. She blogs (christinepinto.com) and tweets to the #GAFE4littles hashtag. (Her Twitter handle is @pintobeanz11.) She conducts presentations and workshops about empowering young students to use Google Apps in the classroom.

In a video interview with Ditch That Textbook, Pinto shared some practical suggestions and activities for helping young students succeed with Google Apps.

Below are 12 tips and two activities you can use in your own classroom.

Advice for using Google Apps with littles

1. Focus on icons — “Icons are everything for kids,” Pinto said. “It’s like a new language for them.” So many functions in Google Apps can be tied back to icons. Using the mountain (image button) or the A in the square (text button) goes across many platforms. Icons often don’t change (notice the “save” icon is still a floppy disk!) and are a universal language. Plus, they’re visual cues.

2. Use cues they can recognize and understand — Pinto tells students about the dancing line (the cursor in a text field) or the yellow box (the icon for Google Slides). She’ll use those terms repeatedly in directions as something that’s more concrete and understandable. (PS: Creating them on the fly is OK, too, Pinto says.)

3. Don’t shield them from the real terminology — Even though she uses the cues mentioned above, Pinto still uses the actual words from Google Apps with students, too. For instance, she’ll call a cell in a spreadsheet a rectangle, but she’ll also use the word “cell.” Students need to build that technology vocabulary, she said.

4. Don’t give up — The more frequently that young students use Google Apps, the easier it will become for them. If it’s tough at the beginning, don’t give up — they’ll get better with it just like anything else.

5. Use colored indicators — Color coding makes life easier when using Google Apps with young students. Pinto will put colored tape on the back of iPads so students know which one to use. And she’ll color the background of slides so students know which ones to add information to. On Chromebooks, she’ll add colored tape to identify rows of the keys, helping them find letters faster.

6. Build on foundation activities — Pinto has students start with foundation activities to help them build skills — and succeed! — that they’ll need later. Those skills are tech skills (with Google Apps) but also curriculum skills. She builds on those skills as students progress.

7. Get support on social media — Pinto hasn’t been using Twitter long to grow as an educator, and she wishes she could have started sooner. She gathers new ideas and tips — and connects with other Google-using educators.

8. Let students explore — Teachers don’t need to give students explicit instructions on how to do everything, Pinto said. It’s best if they do some exploring and discovery on their own. They best learn how to navigate that way.

9. Start soon — Don’t wait until October to get kids using Google Apps — or any other technology they’ll use during the year. We teach students to sit on the carpet, to line up and to walk respectfully through the hallways at the beginning of the year, Pinto said. Why not get them started with Google Apps too? “That needs to be part of our School 101,” she said.

10. Teach the tech — Pinto starts from square one, showing students a Chromebook and discussing its different parts. They even do a labeling activity with the keyboard, screen and other components when looking at a Chromebook. Even though they might know some of those words, we can’t assume that they know all of them, she said.

11. Build the patterns — “They pick up on patterns so quick!” Pinto said. When they go through a routine with multiple steps, they’ll get the hang of it quicker than we think. We can’t underestimate littles in this way, she said.

12. Use log-in cards — Logging into the computers (or iPads or whatever device) can be trying with young students. Using a log-in card with the students’ username and password can speed up the process. Pinto uses colored tape trick to label different rows of the keyboard (as explained above). She will color code each letter of the students’ usernames and passwords by row of the keyboard to speed the process up.

Google Apps activities for littles

1. Collaborative slides — Pinto sets up a slide presentation with various tasks for students to complete. In one done early in the school year, she starts with a simple sentence on the slide: “I see ______.”

She shares the slide presentation with the students using Google Classroom. Students log in to Classroom and click on the slide presentation with an iPad (the device available in Pinto’s classroom). From there, students work from within the same slide presentation. They have their own slides to add content to.

On one slide, students will find an object in the classroom that’s a certain color. They’ll use the iPad to add a picture of it to that slide. Then, they’ll complete the “I see ____” sentence with the color.

On another slide, students will find several of the same object. They’ll take a picture of five blocks or three pencils and add that picture to the slide. They’ll complete the “I see ___” sentence with the number.

Students know which slides to add their information to because Pinto has color coded the slides. For example, a student will find the two blue slides and will know he/she should just add content to those slides.

To see Pinto’s detailed blog post about collaborative slides, click here.

2. Graphing data — Pinto’s young students work inside spreadsheets, a concept that still blows her away. “To me, that was mind-blowing,” she said. “I think I was in college when I first started using spreadsheets.”

Pinto will give students a basket or container of multiple items of different colors. In the past, students would create paper graphs that show how many of each color were in the basket.

Now, they’ll use a spreadsheet template she created ahead of time. Students will change the background color of cells in the spreadsheet to create a bar graph.

Eventually, once they get the hang of the digital graphs, they can begin creating basic formulas (addition, subtraction, etc.) in those spreadsheets.

These are skills that will serve those students in later grades and later in life, Pinto said.

To see Pinto’s detailed blog post about graphing in Google Sheets, click here.

More ideas for using Google Apps with young students

Connect with Pinto on Twitter (@pintobeanz11) and on the #GAFE4littles hashtag. Her class Twitter account is @PintosKiddos.

Find more tips, resources and ideas on Pinto’s blog, christinepinto.com.


Question: What are your thoughts about younger students using Google Apps? How have you used them (or seen them used) with young students? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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