The Magic Automatic Lesson Planner with Google Forms

Take the hassle out of lesson planning. Go digital. Make your plans searchable and shareable. Use Google Forms!

Take the hassle out of lesson planning. Go digital. Make your plans searchable and shareable. Use Google Forms!

Traditional lesson plan books have their limitations. Being paper-based, they’re not searchable and they’re not easily shareable.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to search quickly for a specific lesson plan instead of flipping back page by page?

How about being able to share lesson plans with others without making photocopies?

You can use Google Forms to create a lesson planner that creates documents — automatically! — with all your plans in a format nicely designed by you!

Invest a bit of time now (I’m guessing +/- 30 minutes … just my best guess) and you’ll have a system that saves your lesson plans to your Drive that you can find easily later.

You’ll create a Google Form like this one (click here) where you’ll type up your lesson plans.

With the steps in this post, you’ll automatically create documents with all of your data like this (click here)!`

I published a post called “20 practical ways to use Google Forms in class, school”. My readers — by far! — clicked most often on the “lesson plans” option. This made me think, “Why not create specific instructions so everyone knows EXACTLY how to do this?”

Here it is … step-by-step instructions to add automation to your Googlized lesson plans:

1. Create a new Google Form (on a computer/Chromebook, go to Google Drive and use the “NEW” button … hover over “More” and choose Google Forms). Change the title/filename to whatever you’d like. (Something like “Lesson plan template”.)

add-questions2. Add questions using the circle “+” button to create places to add information to your form. This is how you’ll build your lesson planner. Some suggestions (and the type of question to use):

  • Date (date)
  • Class/period (dropdown)
  • Topic of lesson (short answer)
  • Lesson objectives (short answer or paragraph)
  • Standards addressed (checkboxes to select multiple, dropdown to select one) (You might include number and VERY short summaries of what each standard is for each one.)
  • Activities for the day (paragraph)
  • Assessment (short answer or paragraph)

3. Click the preview button (looks like an eye on computer/Chromebook) to make sure everything looks good. If so, fill your lesson plan template out once with some practice text (so you’ll have some data to work with) and submit it.

create-spreadsheet4. Go back to your Google Form. Click the “Responses” tab (it’s next to the “Questions” tab at the top). Click the green spreadsheet button to create a spreadsheet. In the window that pops up, choose to create a new spreadsheet. (If it doesn’t have a file name yet, you might want to create one so you can find it later!)

5. It will open the new spreadsheet for you, where you’ll see any lesson plan responses you’ve created. (Whenever you type up new lesson plans and click “submit,” they’ll come to this spreadsheet automatically too.)

6. Now that our lesson plan spreadsheet is set, let’s set up what the document will look like with all of your lesson plan information! Go back to Google Drive and create a new document. Design that document just like you’d like it to be. (Here’s an example … click here to see it … and don’t worry about all the <<>> stuff in the document yet.)

  • NOTE: If you’d like to be able to edit that document, please, please, PLEASE don’t click “Share” and ask for access to it. Instead, make your own copy of that document. Click File > Make a copy … and make changes to your own. To make life easier for everyone, I don’t grant access to these example files. (And you wouldn’t want to make changes to my copies of them anyway, right? 🙂 )

data-tags7. Now, let’s set the document up to have information inserted into it. In the example document above, you’ll see data tags that have << and >> around them. (If the term “data tags” scares you a little bit, don’t worry … be brave and keep going. They aren’t as scary as they sound. I promise! 🙂 )

For us to be able to bring in all of your lesson plan data, we have to know where to put all of that data. These data tags do it for us. The nice thing about them — you can make them whatever you want (I’d stick to regular alphabet letters to be safe, though). They just need to have << and >> around them.

8. Once your data tags are in place, it’s time to set this whole thing up so it will generate those awesome lesson plan documents for you! Go back to your results spreadsheet and click the “Add-ons” menu. Then click “Get add-ons …”. Search for “autoCrat” and click the blue “+ FREE” button next to it. You’ll need to grant it permissions to do its thing. (Don’t worry … it’s safe.)

9. When the autoCrat add-on is installed, do one of two things (they both do the same thing):

  • Click the red “New job” button on the window that pops up.
  • Click Add-ons > autoCrat > Open. Then click “New job”.

mapping-data-tagsGo through the step-by-step directions for autoCrat:

  • Step 1: Give it a name … something poetic like “lesson plan template”. Then click “Next.”
  • Step 2: Choose that document we created earlier as your template. Click the blue “From Drive” button and go find it. (Search for the file name if you have to.) Then click “Next.”
  • Step 3: autoCrat will identify all of your data tags from before. (Isn’t it smart???) Click all of the little drop-down menus next to “maps to column” to choose where it should get its data. (See image.) Then click “Next.”
  • Step 4: This is how autoCrat will name all of those lesson plan documents you want it to create. Two options here (see below). When done, click “Next”.
    • Make it the same every time (something like “My lesson plans”). BUT … you’ll have to go back and change them every time or you’ll end up with a million documents called “My lesson plans”. Not good.
    • Use your fancy data tags from your document to personalize each file name. My suggestion: use the data tags for the date and the class. Find the data tags by clicking the tall light-blue arrow bar on the left. It might look something like this: Lesson plans for <<Date>> for <<Class/period>> (Much better idea, right?)
  • Step 5: Choose a folder where your sparkly new lesson plan documents will go. Click “+ Choose Folder” and create a folder with a memorable name. “Lesson plans” will work! When you find it, just click it once and click the blue “Select” button. Then click “Next”.
  • Step 6 (OPTIONAL): This step is for dropping new lesson plan documents into different folders depending on the condition. If you really want to do this, check out this part of the autoCrat help document. Just click “Next.”
  • Step 7 (OPTIONAL): This step is also geekier than I’ll cover in this post. If you want to try it, check out this part of the autoCrat help document. Just click “Next.”
  • Step 8 (OPTIONAL): This step lets you share docs automatically as soon as they’re created. If you’d like to do that, click “Yes” and work through the next steps. You’ll determine who to share with by including their email addresses in the email template at the bottom. Whether you choose to do this or not, click “Next” at the bottom to move on.
  • Step 9: You’ll want to use this to create a new document every time you submit data through your lesson plan form. Click “Yes” for “Run on form trigger”. It will ask you to enable triggers … just say “Yes.” When you’re done, click “Save.”
  • Once you’re done, you can hover over your new job you just created and click the “play” button (triangle) to create documents for any data you’ve already submitted through the Google Form.

If you clicked that “play” button in autoCrat … Quick! Run to Google Drive and check your lesson plan folder. There will be a new lesson plan document in it!

Pretty snazzy, huh?

Now, every time you enter lesson plan data into your Google Form, autoCrat will create a document with all that information, sorted and presented neatly in that document you created.

(Note: autoCrat will automatically create those documents about every three hours or so by itself. If you want them immediately, you can go click that “play” button at the end of the autoCrat instructions above.)

Want to share specific lesson plans with colleagues or supervisors? Use the blue “Share” button in the top right of the document and share it with them … or share the whole folder with them!

Want to find lesson plans for a specific date or with a specific activity in them? Just search Google Drive for the document!

All lesson plans in one document

Autocrat creates separate documents for each lesson plan you create with the Google Form. I’ve had questions about putting all of those lesson plans together in one document.

After doing some digging, here’s what I’ve got …

  • There’s no easy way to merge multiple Google Docs into one single Google Doc (as of publication of this post). I found this article that says it can do it through Google Apps Script, but I wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to make it work.
  • autoCrat has two choices for creating documents — multiple documents and single document. The single document option doesn’t do what we’re trying to do. (At least as far as I could tell.)
  • There’s a really good tool called PDF Mergy that could help. It will take your PDFs and other files from Google Drive (or your computer) and merge them all together in a PDF file. It’s really easy to use and quick. The downside — merged PDF files can’t be edited. This could be good if you needed to turn your lesson plans in or if you wanted a permanent, finished file. (But what lesson plan is ever really permanent and finished?!?)
  • Another option is to reconsider whether you really need them all in one document. If your lesson plans are all in one folder, they’re grouped together that way. If you want others to be able to view or edit them, share the folder with them. Finding them in the folder is easy with the search box … just search for the lesson plan you’re looking for. (Which is faster than waiting for a big document to load and then scrolling through it.)
  • If you have multiple classes and want to keep them separate, create a different Google Form/Sheet/Doc for each class and dump the docs into different folders, keeping them separated.


Question: Having trouble? I’ll do my best to help you troubleshoot in the comments below. Have suggestions or changes? Let us know below! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:

  Date Event / Event Details City / More Info
+ 02/08/2017—02/09/2017
TCEA Austin, TX
  Venue:Austin Convention Center
Austin, TX
Public Event
+ 02/21/2017
Magnet Programs Professional Development Conference Bel Aire, KS
   Private Event
+ 02/03/2017
GoogleFest Eureka, Montana
   Public Event
+ 03/13/2017
Bishop Dwenger High School Fort Wayne, IN
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+ 03/16/2017—03/17/2017
MACUL Detroit, Michigan
  Sponsor:MACULPublic Event
+ 04/03/2017—04/04/2017
TeachTechPlay Melbourne, Australia
   Public Event
+ 05/05/2017
Ecorse Public Schools Ecorse, MI
   Private Event
+ 05/06/2017—05/07/2016
CUEBOLD Lafayette, CA
  Venue:Burton Valley Elementary School
561 Merriewood Dr,
Lafayette, CA 94549
Public Event
+ 05/20/2017
TXGoo17 Klein, TX
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+ 05/31/2017
Summer Technology Institute Norfolk, NE
   Public Event
+ 06/07/2017
Innovation Institute Springdale, Arkansas
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+ 06/15/2017
Whatever It Takes Conference Galesburg, IL
+ 07/25/2017—07/26/2017
Roughrider Education Services Program Dickinson, ND
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+ 08/14/2017
8:00 am- 3:00pm
Center ISD Center ISD
   Private Event
+ 09/16/2017
Indiana State Reading Association Noblesville, IN
  Venue:Noblesville High School
18111 Cumberland Road
Noblesville, IN
Public Event

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23 thoughts on “The Magic Automatic Lesson Planner with Google Forms

    • I was wondering the same thing. I saw that there was the option to have them on multiple documents or a single document. However, I would love to have all my plans for my one class on one doc and my plans for my other class on another doc. Is there a way to do that?

    • Hi Colleen (and Melissa and Lisa) — I’m updating the post above with a couple of options. Let me know if this helps, and if it doesn’t … leave another comment! We’ll get it figured out! 🙂

  1. In general, I consider myself fairly tech savvy, but I had trouble with this. I have a google doc called lesson plan data tags, a google form called lesson plan template and a google sheet called lesson plans. Not sure what to do with the data tags. Having trouble editing the form. and I haven’t even tried to update the template yet….

  2. A principal wants to use a Google Form for collecting data at his Walk Through. He wants to email the teacher his/her individual results from the Form. Will autoCrat send the document automatically to each email address or will he have to go back and share the document with the teacher?

    • Hi Amanda —

      Yes, this should work. I just created a form that did it. In his form for collecting walk-through data, he would need to include a question with the teacher’s email address. (Could do it as a drop-down so he would select the email, or it could be a short answer field where he’s just type that email address in.) When setting up autoCrat, when it comes to sharing the doc, you’d select “yes” … then use the light blue arrow bar on the left to select the data tag with the email address in it. You’d scroll down to the email setup below and paste that email data tag into the “To” field. The principal could write the email as he wants, and autoCrat automatically adds a link to the document at the end of the email. When autoCrat runs (either when you click the play button or when it runs automatically with a trigger), it will create the new document and automatically send an email to the teacher. Hoping that all makes sense! 🙂

      • That is awesome!!! Thank you. I see where I messed up. I did not click the blue arrow bar. I’m totally geeking out. This is too cool!

  3. My teachers are trying to add previously created lesson plans from Word into Google docs so they can share and edit them, can you help?

    • Sure. You an always copy/paste, or you can click “New” > “Upload a file” and upload those Word docs to Drive as Google Docs … then when you go to open them, Google Drive can convert them to Google Docs so they can edit them.

  4. Ok, I must say first I’m not tech savvy at all! Followed all directions (so well written) and I have a spread sheet, doc with data tags and a form with lesson plan info. on it.
    How do I pull up the lesson plan form and write on it, when I pull up the one I created it does not allow me to write on it. Do I make a copy each time I write a new lesson?

    A bit confused!
    Thanks for any help, Lisa

    • Hi Lisa! Sounds like you’ve made great progress!

      If you have worked through all of the Autocrat steps in the post, here’s what you do next …

      1. Open the Google Form with the lesson plan stuff (date, class, activities, standards, etc.)
      2. Click the “preview” button (looks like an eye)
      3. Fill out the form and click “Submit” at the bottom

      After that, Autocrat will eventually (within a few hours) automatically turn it into a document, using that document you created as a template (i.e. it will create a new one just like that one … only it will have that lesson plan info you just typed into the form). If you don’t want to wait, you can always open the sheet, go to add-ons and run Autocrat, clicking the triangle “Play” button to run Autocrat and have it generate that new lesson plan document.

      I hope that made sense! Feel free to reply back if you have further questions.

    • Hi Amanda — It depends. As far as I know, you can add others as collaborators with the share button. That gives them permission to jump into the editing side of the form and make changes. They can also make a copy from there. However, if you want people to be able to see and copy it without making changes, there’s no easy way to do that. (I would have loved to do that with this post, but the only way would have been to give anyone editing rights … and when you do that, well-meaning people change your forms all around.) Hope that helps.

  5. I must have missed a step somewhere. On Step four of the AutoCrat I have added the <> tag in hopes the new file will contain the Lesson Title. However when the new Doc is created it has the carrots <> in the file name. Any idea what I might have missed?
    Otherwise, this is great. I used the old Intel Teach to the Future lesson plan for my guide.

    • Hi Andrew —

      I think I know what happened. When you’re adding tags to the title of a document, be sure to use the tags from the little vertical teal arrow bar on the left and not from the document. I had that same trouble when I created my first documents. Those tags are often a bit different from the ones in your document. Be careful … they’re caps sensitive too! Easiest to just copy them over instead of retyping them.