The Google Drawings Manifesto for Teachers

Google Drawings is a blank slate for your students' creativity. Find lots of tips, tricks and teaching ideas in this post.

Google Drawings is a blank slate for your students’ creativity. Find lots of tips, tricks and teaching ideas in this post.

Google Drawings is the hidden gem in the core G Suite tools for education.

Everyone is familiar with Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Sheets. They correlate nicely with the Microsoft Office products we used for years and years.

Google Drawings doesn’t fit into a nice, neat box like that.

Here it is in a nutshell:

Google Drawings is like a digital posterboard. (Or a big digital sheet of paper.) It has a few things you can add: text, images, shapes and lines. That’s it, which makes the Google Drawings learning curve pretty low for students.

When you’re done with Drawings, you can go to File > Download as … to save the file as an image file (JPEG or PNG) or a PDF file.

This powerful tool has lots of potential! In this post, I’ll show you:

  • Some of the sneaky features you might not know about
  • How students can create with it
  • How students can collaborate and think with it

What can you do with Drawings?

Plenty! Just by clicking and playing around with the main elements mentioned above gives you a pretty basic idea of what it can do. It’s pretty intuitive; you and your students will get a grasp of it pretty quickly.

There are a handful of features that take Google Drawings to the next level:

gdraw similar size

Equal size: When you create text, images or shapes, it’s easy to make sure they’re the same size. While resizing, these blue bracket lines show you which items are the same size horizontally or vertically.

gdraw equal space

Equal spacing: Distributing everything equally makes your creations look nice and neat. The blue bracket lines also show you when spacing between items is equal.

gdraw centered

Centering and lining up: That’s what the red lines are for. As you move something around on the page, they’ll show you what it’s centered with or what it’s lined up with on the edge.

Other sneaky features on Google Drawings:

  • The nudge. When you click on something and move it with your arrow keys, that moves it five pixels at a time. (Let’s call that “the scoot” — scooting it over five pixels is a bit of a jump.) If you want to move something more precisely, use “the nudge”. Hold in shift while you move with the arrow keys. That moves one pixel at a time. Very handy!
  • Resize everything. When you highlight multiple items on the screen, you can resize them all at once. Say you have nine rectangles and you want to resize all of them equally. Highlight them all and use the little squares on the corners or edges to resize them all.
    • If you want to resize everything proportionately, hold the shift key while you resize.
  • Line everything up equally. Highlight multiple items on your screen and use the following commands:
    • Arrange > Align vertically to line everything up top to bottom
    • Arrange > Align horizontally to line everything up side to side
    • Arrange > Center on page to bring your items to the midline of the drawing
    • Arrange > Distribute to make the spacing between items equal
  • Add images responsibly. When you add images with a laptop or Chromebook using Insert > Image > Search, you’ll find images that Google has identified that can generally be used publicly. They’re labeled “for commercial reuse with modification” and include Creative Commons images, images in the public domain and others. You still may want to verify you’re using the image, ethically, though. Here are some details on that in a Google support page.

How can students use it to create?

There’s so much potential here. Because Google Drawings is like a blank slate, the possibilities for classroom implementation are limitless!

sFr2OfKomv1rcEo5N-1flVgIdea 1: Interactive, multimedia posters.

Give the old poster project a new twist. Create them in Google Drawings instead. The benefits:

  • Trade in markers for cool fonts
  • Quit cutting pictures out of magazines and start adding digital images (see above)
  • No glue sticks to put things on your poster
  • No glitter mess all over your room!

The biggest benefit: You can add clickable links to these posters. Link to video, audio, images and interactive websites to make your poster an interactive, multimedia one.

Click here to see a post full of ideas about Google Drawings interactive posters.

Idea 2: Eye-catching infographics

Madeline Hunter Lesson Plan TemplateHave you seen those tall infographics on Pinterest or other social media? They seem to be everywhere!

They’re really easy to create with Google Drawings, and they can put a fun twist on gathering information and presenting it in your class.

Instead of doing a traditional essay or research report, consider creating an infographic instead!

Some hints for kicking them up to the next level:

  • Use icons. TheNounProject.com has tons of icons you can use to illustrate your ideas in an infographic. Download the icon, give appropriate attribution and place it in your graphic.
  • Add lines. I’ve started getting more and more creative with how I break up content with lines. In the button panel below (left to right), you can change the color of your line, change its size (width), change the type of line and change the start and end of the line. Sometimes, I’ll add a four-pixel line next to a two-pixel line. Other times, I’ll make a really big, bold, 24-pixel line. If you want to make lines bigger than that, create a rectangle shape and stretch it to the size of line you want.
    gdraw lines
  • Stick to a couple fonts. Many times, I’ll only use two or three fonts in an infographic: a big, bold one for headlines, a simple, easy-to-read one for text, and maybe a third to spice things up.

Click here to see a post full of ideas on creating infographics with Google Drawings.

Idea 3: Timeline projects

Timeline projects can be one-dimensional with shallow thinking. Here are some ideas to kick up the Depth of Knowledge level. (Graphic by Matt Miller)Timelines give students a great visual understanding of how events happened over time. There’s a reason they’ve been a staple in the classroom for a while.

But timelines can be a drag. They can lead to very one-dimensional, shallow thinking.

Unless we kick the learning up a notch!

Google Drawings can be a great medium for creating timelines. We can even increase the depth of knowledge and level of thinking in these activities.

Start with a big, long horizontal line. That’s your timeline. Use lines and text to connect new ideas, and even add images, icons and other illustrations.

Click here for more ideas for creating great timeline activities that promote deeper thinking.

How can students use it to collaborate and think?

The great thing about Google Drawings — and most Google products — is the ability to share. Use the blue “Share” button in the top right corner to give other people access to your drawings. Then they can jump in and view it, comment on it and/or edit it (depending on the sharing settings you create).

Idea 4: Do brain-friendly visual notetaking

Berlin wall visual notesOur classes are often filled with words, but our brains do their thinking in pictures. They just have to convert words over to images before their work can begin.

Our brains also tend to remember more when we connect different types of input — and a powerful combination is verbal and visual input. That means combining words and images. It’s sticky learning at its best!

Google Drawings are made for visual notetaking:

  • Pull in images with an image search inside Google Drawings.
  • Draw things out with your mouse, touchpad or a touchscreen laptop/Chromebook with the scribble tool (found in the dropdown menu for the line tool)
  • Bring in icons from TheNounProject.com (like we did in infographics)
  • Draw something on paper and take a picture of it with your webcam using Insert > Image > Take a snapshot

Students can collaborate on their visual notes as well. (Two brains are better than one!) Just have students share a Google Drawing with their classmates and they can both work in the same digital space.

Click here to see a post full of ideas on creating infographics with Google Drawings.

Idea 5: Encourage deep thinking with graphic organizers

Many times, students need a little guidance in walking through a deep thought process. They’re capable of doing deep thinking if we provide some concrete steps.

That’s what makes graphic organizers great.

Google Drawings is a natural spot for creating and using graphic organizers. Use shapes, text boxes and lines to draw out your own graphic organizers.

When you’re done, share them with your students! There are a couple ways:

  • Share them via Google Classroom. Attach them to an assignment and choose the “Make a copy for each student” option in the dropdown menu to the right of the attachment. That way, each student will have his/her own copy of the graphic organizer to write on.
  • Use the /copy trick. When you get a link to a Google document, slide presentation or something else, often the URL has “/edit” at the end. Try this: delete the word edit (and anything else after it) and type the word “copy” instead. It’ll change from this:
    https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/169dDturzudjUhhGfQZc8SuazlhPTJYhq6r7qs8D_vIo/edit
    … to this:
    https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/169dDturzudjUhhGfQZc8SuazlhPTJYhq6r7qs8D_vIo/copy
    When students call up the second link with the word copy in it, it’ll prompt them to make a copy of the file.
  • Share a “view” link with them. Click the “Share” button and click “Get shareable link”. Choose “Anyone with the link can view.” Give students that link and ask them to go to File > Make a copy. That will make a copy into their own Google Drives.

Don’t want to make your own graphic organizers? I have you covered. I’ve created more than 15 graphic organizers in Google Drawings that you can copy and use. That way, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!

Click here to see all of those Google Drawings graphic organizers and how to make your own.

Lots more ideas!

Looking for more ways to use Google Drawings? Click here for a post called “10 engaging Google Drawings activities for classes.” It includes:

  • Photo comic strips
  • Interactive white board
  • Digital manipulatives
  • Annotating images
  • Add and pass activity

Question: How do you use Google Drawings in your classroom? Which of these ideas are you most excited about using? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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7 thoughts on “The Google Drawings Manifesto for Teachers

  1. I had my students use google drawings with their iPads and it didn’t work very well! Have you noticed there is better luck with a laptop?

    • Google Drawings is the one Google App that does not work well with iPads. It is much better suited for Chromebooks/laptops. Hopefully Google will do some work on the back end to make it more user-friendly on the iPads.

  2. I had to chuckle when you mentioned it as the “black sheep” of Google Apps … I routinely call Google Drawings the “red headed stepchild” of Google b/c the icon is red!

    Another great analogy for my students is that if they know Google Slides, they know Drawings. I say Drawings is just one single slide.

  3. Love your idea about using images and icons from The Noun Project! I always forget about it. I’m surprised you didn’t mention using AutoDraw to insert images as well. 🙂 It’s such a fun new feature!

  4. Hey brother. I just found your site and love it! It’s a Google geeks best friend. I’m finally moving through my certification and am applying g suite to my work as a choir director. Ok…enough of that for now. My question for now has to do with slides vs drawings for infographics. Is there a big difference in functionality between the two? And if not, why wouldn’t you just use slides particularly if you are building one of those tall infographics? Then when you are done, you’re ready to present.

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