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101 Practical Ways to Ditch That Textbook: Get Matt’s free ebook with lots of great ideas (including two FULL pages of Google stuff!). Sign up for his e-mail updates in the right sidebar of this page.
About the presenter:
Matt Miller has taught for more than a decade, integrating technology to engage students and create unique learning experiences. He created the Ditch That Textbook blog, is a Google Certified Teacher and co-hosts a podcast on the BAM Radio Network.
Matt’s book, Ditch That Textbook, was recently published. It’s all about upgrading your classroom with powerful technology and innovative mindsets to meet students in the 21st-century world where they live.
Buy a copy of Ditch That Textbook on Amazon, or don’t wait — get a copy from Matt for $20, cheaper than the Amazon price. He’ll sign it and throw in a Ditch That Textbook laptop sticker for free!
Matt travels around Indiana and the United States to present at schools, workshops, conferences or any other professional development event. Ask him about it in person or email him at matt@DitchThatTextbook.com.
1. Custom maps. MyMaps lets students drop pins on their own maps and add all sorts of information to them, giving them data-rich, media-rich custom maps. Check out this post with lots of ways to use MyMaps in the classroom.
2. Panoramic virtual field trips. Visit practically anywhere in the world on demand with Google Maps Street View. Use Google Maps (or on iPad/iPhone/smartphone, add the “Street View” app) and drag the yellow “peg man” on the map to see that location in full 360-degree panorama. Or check out Street View Treks, where you can see the most spectacular places in the world immersively as well. Check out these resources for using Google Maps in the classroom.
*3. Shared presentations. Create a presentation with one slide per student and give students permission to edit it. Then assign an activity — some quick Internet research, a writing prompt, an image search to find an example, etc. When they’re done, show the presentation on a projector. It’s student work instantly on display. (Looking for images your students can use legally and ethically (i.e. Creative Commons or public domain)? Click here and scroll to the bottom for a big list of sites!)
- Let’s try it! Click a link below to access a shared presentation.
4. Create a PDF ebook: PDF files are about as universal as it gets. You can open them on almost any Internet-ready device. They’re read-only, so publishing a PDF is a good way to distribute information to be consumed by reading. Google Slides is a great, simple PDF ebook creation tool. Create a slide presentation, change it to the dimensions you prefer, add content and finalize by going to File > Download as … > PDF Document.
- I created a PDF ebook to help you create PDF ebooks. (I hope that’s not as ridiculous as it looked as I typed it.) Click here to check it out. Or, take a look at the original Google Slides file where I created it. (Feel free to make a copy by going to File > Make a copy … but please don’t click “Share” and ask for edit access.)
5. Create a “slide deck book”: This idea is inspired by Matt Macfarlane, a middle school history teacher from California. In true “Ditch That Textbook” fashion, he has turned from traditional textbooks to creating his own. He finds engaging content on the web and collects it in his “slide deck books.” His students access them online and can click links to get more information. He gives students a “everyone with the link can view” link so they’re read only. Some examples:
- Early Industry and Inventions (Chapter 11.1)
- Washington’s Presidency (Chapter 9.1)
- Challenges to the New Government (Chapter 9.2)
6. Play a “Jeopardy!” game: Jeopardy on a PowerPoint presentation has been a staple in many classes. It’s also possible to create via Google Slides.Eric Curts, a Google Certified Innovator, created this template that you can copy into your own Google Drive to customize with your own questions and answers. Keep track of score on a whiteboard/chalkboard, on paper or through some other means. (Note: When a question is answered, it doesn’t disappear from the board. You might want to display the game on a whiteboard instead of a projector screen. When a question is selected, draw an X through it with a dry erase marker.)
7. Choose Your Own Adventure story/activity: As a child, I loved these books, where your decisions affected the outcome for the character in the story. Google Slides lets you create similar experiences. They can be stories where the student can choose the path for the character. Students can create them, or teachers can create them for students. They can even be tied to any kind of class content. Tie the choices to answers for a question. (i.e. The character goes left if the student thinks the answer is 4.4 and goes right if the student thinks the answer is 7.2.)
I created a quick example of an impromptu, decide-on-a-whim vacation trip story where you decide for the main character. Click here to see that file (and feel free to make a copy and change the text for yourself!)
You can create fun Choose Your Own Adventure Story-type activities by using branching in Google Forms (the “go to section based on answer” choice for questions). Create them for your students or let students create their own! Here’s a math example from Mandi Tolen’s class.
8. Assess with self-grading quizzes. Self-grading quizzes give students immediate feedback. They also let students practice as much as they’d like without depending on the teacher. You can create self-paced assessments that provide answer feedback with Google Slides. For each standard four-question multiple choice question, you’ll need five slides:
- A question slide
- A feedback slide for answer A
- A feedback slide for answer B
- A feedback slide for answer C
- A feedback slide for answer D
On the question slide, for each possible answer, create a link to the feedback slide. Then, on each feedback slide, create a link to go on to the next question.
Want to see an example? Click here to see my quick one-question self-grading quiz.
*9. Animation: This is a great hack (i.e. non-traditional use) of Google Slides that could take some time to complete but yield amazing results. Check out this video, where the creators made an impressive animation with 450 slides in a Google Slides presentation just by clicking through the slides quickly.
- A student example of Google Slides animation: Click here!
- A simple example of animating the Battle of Little Big Horn: Click here!
*10. Story books: With Creative Commons photos at their disposal, students can create great story books using Google Slides. Find these images by inserting an image and clicking “Search,” or go directly to search.creativecommons.org to copy and paste images over. (Make sure they’re giving attribution and a link to the original image!) Images can drive the story or vice versa. Students write and create, and when finished, they can share their storybooks or embed them in a class website.
11. Video galleries: Sometimes, a quick video is all it takes to make an idea clear. Students can find useful videos on YouTube (or other video sites) and embed those videos in a presentation to create a collection of visual ideas. YouTube videos are pulled in simply by inserting a video. Other videos can’t be embedded like YouTube videos, but there are options. Make a quick screenshot from a video and link it to a video (on School Tube, Teacher Tube or another site) by clicking the link button in the toolbar.
12. Late work submission (with email notifications!). When students use this form, they can provide assignment details and a link to any digital work to turn in. You can receive an email when they submit the late work form. In Forms, use the “Responses” tab and click the three dots menu button. Select “Get email notifications for new responses”. It will automatically send an email to the account you used to create the form. Here’s an example of a late work submission form you can use.
13. Lesson plans. Want to quickly create detailed lesson plans with standards, learning objectives, activity descriptions and more? Add all the parts you want included in those lesson plans in a Google Form. (Add all of the individual standards as check boxes.) Then view your own form and start filling in information. Use the Autocrat add-on to turn your responses in the Google Form into custom-created documents. You’ll have a document with all of your lesson plan information for each day! These are great for turning in to administration, leaving for substitute teachers or filing away for next year. See the blog post I wrote with detailed step-by-step directions here!
14. Customized email newsletters for each kid. Classroom newsletters are kind of hit and miss. They end up in the bottom of backpacks or parent inboxes. If parents knew there would be comments unique to their children, they’d be more likely to read. Using a combination of Google Docs and Google Sheets (with an option to use Google Forms to input information), you can create personalized email newsletters with custom comments for every student. Here’s a blog post with all the details.
*15. Graphic organizers. Drawings gives users a blank canvas where they can add text, shapes, lines, etc. When done, they can save their work as image files or PDF files and can add those images to documents, slides and spreadsheets. It’s a perfect medium for creating graphic organizers. I’ve created 15 of them that can be copied, saved, changed, tweaked or completely redone to fit your needs and your students’ needs.
16. Interactive whiteboard. Create a Google Drawing and share it with students, giving them permission to edit. Display the drawing on a projector screen. Students can add text and shapes, draw arrows to important ideas and connect concepts with lines. Everyone can make changes, and anyone can watch — in class or away.
17. Timelines. Students can work together to add text and pictures to mark events on a timeline. When they’re finished, the image can be saved as an image file (JPEG or PNG) or a PDF file. It can also be embedded in a site to share with others.
18. “Add and pass” activity. To spark creativity for the day, have students create a new drawing and add a few elements to it (some shapes, lines, etc.) and pass it digitally to another student (through a shared folder or with a link). View the students’ work in class afterward. These drawings can be used as writing prompts or story starters too.
*19. Annotate images. A picture is, of course, worth a thousand words, but it can also teach important lessons. Let students manipulate that picture, and they can create meaning and own those lessons. Add an image to a Google Drawing and let students add text boxes and arrows, pointing out various parts of the photo that are of interest to the class.
*20. Interactive posters. Google Drawings are great for bringing images, text and shapes together. Those elements combine for a great digital poster. But these digital posters are way better than a regular one made of poster board. Various elements in the poster can be clicked, delivering webpages and other online content to viewers.
*21. Photo comic strips. Take photos of students using a webcam and add them to a Google Drawing. Add speech bubbles to the photos. Then save those images and add each one to a different slide in a Google Slides presentation. Here’s a Google Site about Comics with Google Tools and Creativity Games for examples and more details.
22. Mind maps. Need a clear digital space to gather your thoughts? The shapes and in Google Drawings are perfect for connecting ideas in a mind map (and they snap together to connect easily). Add text boxes and color code if you’d like. The result can be saved as a JPEG image, added to another Google Apps file and more.
23. Table of contents. Use a table of contents to make it easier to find what you need in a long document. OR, use a table of contents to break a document up into smaller segments for students to use.
24. Organize a research paper or essay with notes. When students gather information for a big project, it can be hard for them to picture everything and put it in order mentally. Instead, they can put important ideas — or even individual facts — in separate Keep notes. In a new Google Doc, they click Tools > Keep notepad and drag their ideas and facts from Keep into the doc.
You can see how this might look in the image below from The Keyword blog from Google:
25. Save time by adding common comments from Keep. I learned this one from Eric Curts on his always fantastic Control Alt Achieve blog. When grading assignments in Docs, if you type comments, you probably find yourself typing the same comments over and over. Instead, create a checklist in Keep and type those commonly typed comments there. Go to Tools > Keep notepad to open Google Keep in a sidebar. When you need one of those comments, highlight and copy it from your Keep notepad and paste it into the comments. Why retype the same stuff over and over if you can copy/paste it?
GOOGLE APPS FOR LITTLES
(Matt found these in Google’s Education on Air conference, a free online conference put on by Google for Education. All of the online session videos are still available.)
26. Writer’s conference schedule (Marek Beck) — If your students need to schedule a time to meet with you to discuss their writing, the Form Limiter add-on can help. Create a form in Google Forms and it will gather the data you’ll need (name, class, time, etc.) in a Google Sheet. Form Limiter will stop accepting responses when specific Google Sheet spots are filled. No double-booking!
27. Personalized guidance via e-mail (Natalie O’Neil) — Do your students (or teacher participants in professional development) need answers fine-tuned to their unique needs? Create a Google Form to let them choose the type of feedback they need, collecting their answers in a Google Sheet. Then, the Form Mule add-on can customize the e-mail response they get based on their answers.
28. Collaborative YouTube video project (Lucie deLaBruere) — Bring lots of people, ideas and viewpoints together in one video. Have students create a short video clip to answer a specific question (i.e. what’s the future of textbooks?) or perform a specific task (i.e. give birthday wishes). Those clips can be emailed to the teacher (keep them short so they don’t bog email down!). The teacher can download them all and add them to a YouTube video to share. See more about this idea in Lucie’s blog post.
29. Themes, storylines and mystery (James Sanders) — What can add some pizzazz to some bland content? Zombies, of course! James encourages teachers to do what television and the movies do — put some storytelling and suspense into instruction. For his session, called “How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse with Google Apps for EDU,” he suggests a few Google tools-related activities:
- In a Google Sheet: list 15 things you should carry in a zombie apocalypse
- In MyMaps: pin locations for shelter and supplies
- In a Google Drawing: design the layout of shelter
- In YouTube: find videos that inspire you as you lose hope in humanity
30. Learning menus/choice boards (Fanny Passeport) — These menus and boards aren’t a new concept. Fanny proposed two ideas that caught my interest. One was to put learning menus/choice boards in a Google Document with hyperlinks to content, making them more dynamic than their paper counterparts. The second was to leave a space open for students to choose their own ideas, and give them more and more free choice as they progress.
- Create a PDF ebook
- Create a “slide deck book”
- Play a “Jeopardy!” game
- Create another game-show-style review game
- Animate a concept
- Create an “online course”
- Assess with self-grading quizzes
- Choose Your Own Adventure story/activity