20 collaborative Google Apps activities for schools

20 collaborative Google Apps activities for schools

Google Apps are collaborative, which makes them highly powerful. They offer opportunities for students to engage unlike ever before. Here are 20 ideas.

Google Apps is beginning to revolutionize education.

With its highly collaborative, online/offline format — and its attractive price tag (free!) — many schools, businesses and other organizations are ditching their expensive, clunky software for this powerful suite of tools.

The way that Google Apps is interactive and easy to share is powerful. My students can share ideas in real time with other students around the world, an option that never existed before.

There’s so much you can do with these apps in class to get students — AND teachers — working together. Here are 20 collaborative ideas, taken from a presentation I’ll do on Feb. 15 at the Google in Education Indiana Summit in Evansville, Ind.:


1. Shared notes. Students often have lots of information to share with each other when they work together as a group. By sharing a document with group members, they can all add ideas and resources — and see everyone’s changes in real time. Teachers can use this in committee work and at staff meetings.

2. Rethinking rough drafts. With the comments feature in Documents (and other Google Apps), rough drafts aren’t a paper students submit to a teacher. They’re a process. Teachers can guide students throughout the entire writing assignment so there are no surprises when it’s time to turn work in.


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.

4. Virtual art gallery. This goes for any creative student work — poetry, video, visual art, etc. Display the work in a presentation via text, image or video. Share the presentation with permission for anyone to add comments, or embed a live version of the presentation in a website for others to see.


5. Quick “do now” activities. Create a spreadsheet and assign each student a row on it. Ask a question to gauge comprehension of a new concept in class. Students type their answer in the shared spreadsheet but don’t hit “enter” until you tell them. When they do, it’s fast, instant feedback on what they know.

6. Weather/environment lab. Science classes (or any class, really!) can connect with one or more classes in another city, state, province or country and gather data about the weather or environment around them. Log it in a Google Spreadsheet with a page for each location. Compare and contrast the world around you.

7. Sign-up sheets. They’re a necessary evil for many activities in schools. By making and sharing a digital place to sign up, you eliminate paper and make your list accessible anywhere. Create a spreadsheet that can be edited by anyone with the link (using the blue “Share” button).


8. 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.

9. 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.

10. “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.


11. “Choose your own adventure” stories. This one can take some serious student planning, but the results are worth it. Using the “Go to page based on answer” feature in Forms, students can work together to create a story where the reader chooses how the story unfolds. Students write the story and give the reader options with multiple-choice questions. I created a Tech Tuesday Screencast on “choose your own adventure” stories to walk you through the process.

12. Exercise or reading logs. There are many things students can log using forms. Teachers gather information using forms. Student data is gathered in a spreadsheet, where it can be sorted and analyzed. Teachers can display any information they see as pertinent to classes for discussion or analysis.


13. Mystery Hangouts. Using Hangouts — Google’s video chat service — classes from different parts of the country or the world can play this “guess where we are” game. Find a class (using your own contacts or through this Mystery Hangouts Google Plus group) and video chat using Hangouts. Students ask each other yes/no questions until they guess where in the world the other class is. A Mystery Hangout is a great, fun, engaging activity that more classes should take advantage of.

14. Sharing learning. After you’ve had a Mystery Hangout, continue that connection between the two classes. Connect and share what each class has been learning — or share in the same lesson across many miles. Ask questions. Reflect. Add information. Use each other as a resource. It’s a great way to connect your classroom to the world.

15. Guest speakers. Can’t afford to fly in an author, researcher, professor, historian or scientist that’s an expert in what you’re studying? Try to arrange a Google Hangout. Even a short Hangout can make a long-lasting connection with students. All speakers need is a webcam, an Internet connection and some time. You never know if they’ll do it until you ask!


16. Share and discuss student work. By creating a site for student work — either individual student ePortfolios or a class site — you’re giving your students’ hard work a home online. You also give it a global audience. Anyone in the world can find and comment on their work. Sure beats writing for just the teacher — an audience of one.


17. Share (and vote for) project resources. Students can use Moderator — a place for posting ideas and conversation — to list sites, articles and ideas for a collaborative project. After gathering, they can use Moderator’s voting capabilities to identify the best resources that need to be used.

18. Take a quick poll. Students can add their ideas on any topic to a Moderator session. As ideas are displayed, they can also vote for which idea they like the best. In a matter of minutes, thoughts can be gathered and a decision can be made.


19. Kaizena. By adding Kaizena (click the red “Create” button and click “Connect more apps” to find Kaizena), teachers and students can add voice comments to documents in Google. Students could add their thoughts verbally on an article posted as a document, or anyone in your city, state, province or country — or around the world — could add his/her voice to classroom discussion.

20. Cacoo. Cacoo helps users create flow charts, mind maps and other graphic organizers. It’s easy to use and allows students to create visually appealing versions of the ideas in their heads. They can share their visual representations with others or work together to show their thoughts.

What are other ways to use Google Apps to help students, teachers and others at schools collaborate? Which of these are you most apt to use? Share your ideas in a comment below!

(For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links, “like” Ditch That Textbook on Facebook and follow @jmattmiller on Twitter!)

Matt is scheduled to present at the following conferences this school year:

Interested in having Matt present at your event or school? Contact him by e-mail!

  • Ken Keene says:

    Went to Google Apps through search engine. Appears to be available only for android based equipment. Can I replace Microsoft with Google Apps on my PC and laptop?

    • Matt Miller says:

      Hey Ken!

      I use Google Apps through my browser on my computer and through the iOS app (although you’re kind of limited on what you can do with that app). Google obviously likes Android better because it’s Google’s own.

      I have practically replaced all of my Microsoft Office suite with Google Apps. I have Office installed on my computer because the tech staff at my school did it, but I rarely use it. Plus, you can open all of your Office files through Google Apps and Google will convert them to Apps files for you (although sometimes — very rarely — the formatting is a bit wonky).

      Hope that helps! Let me know if you have other questions!

  • Nishadha says:

    Creately is another great diagramming app for students. You can use it to draw flowcharts, mind maps, UML, Venn diagrams, graphic organizers and so much more. It’s real-time collaboration features enables you to use it as a shared drawing space to do cool projects. Hope you and your fellow teachers like it.
    Disclosure: I work for Cinergix, makers of Creately

  • Mark says:

    Just encountered this blog and enjoy the content. Just one question – what do most of the posts have to do with finding an alternative to traditional textbooks?

    • Matt Miller says:

      Hi Mark — Glad you asked!

      The official focus of the Ditch That Textbook blog is: teaching with less reliance on the textbook with an emphasis on educational technology and creative teaching.

      I write about the tools and techniques I use to teach without a textbook in my classroom. I also extend it to “ditching the textbook mentality” to teaching from time to time, where I’ll write about education in general or ideas worth discussing (like standards-based grading and 20 percent time).

      Hope that clears it up! Glad you found the site and hope you continue to enjoy it!

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  • Mark Callagher says:

    My students are using Lucidchart. Best diagram tool I have come across and finding it easy to use and has great templates and icons for cross-curricular subject range. Google Apps plugin and full features free for education accounts.

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  • Rae Fearing says:

    You ca also use Google drawing for a variety of tasks, here is one I made to annotate a sentence. Part of my ideas for ways for teachers to ditch worksheets. https://docs.google.com/a/delnorte.k12.ca.us/drawings/d/1_Y5sQqIQR5isj1B0fWjfGad12bm90mIuH6tqaSIzR0o/edit?usp=docslist_api

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  • Dan Diercks says:

    I’m looking for a way to transfer my bell ringer activity, Daily Oral Language (DOL), from a notebook and pencil activity to a Chromebook activity. I have about 130 students, and I need to be able to check their work every few weeks. I’m looking for either a separate app to do this or a way to do it using Google Docs. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Matt Miller says:

      Hi Dan —

      I think that bell ringer activity would be a perfect fit for Google Docs or Google Slides. If you use Google Classroom, students could turn Docs with their bell ringers in to Classroom. You could look at them, add comments to the document itself or to the assignment in Classroom, put a grade on it and return it. This way, the work is sorted by student.

      If you wanted the bell ringers sorted by day, you could create a Google presentation and create a slide for each student. When I do this, I assign each student a number so he/she knows which slide to use. Each student writes his/her name as the title and then does the bell ringer activity. I used to use a TodaysMeet chat room to distribute the link to the shared presentation, but now I often include a link to it on my class website and just send students there.

      Hopefully one of those sounds like it will work. If not, feel free to ask for more ideas and I’ll bet I can come up with some others!

  • Ann Campbell Andrews says:

    great site…

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  • Max says:

    We use Chrome in Primary to manage year group bookmarks and resources for learning so all young students have good links renewed for each topic/enquiry/project when they open the browser.

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  • Laura Litton says:

    In addition to using Google Docs as shared notes and rough drafts for students, the concept of lesson planning in Google Docs is amazing. Grade levels or departments organize documents by topic or part of year and collaborate to create and share amazing lesson plans between a group of teachers. After teaching the lesson plan, teachers can add comments on things to change for the next time it is presented and watch as the lesson grows over time!

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  • Thanks!
    Didn’t know what “Moderator” was. Tried and it said, “Moderator has gone away”.
    Bought your book…hope to go paperless.
    In the process of getting my certification…Level 1.

  • austin says:

    Matt I just love your stuff and can’t help keep drinking from your great wealth of knowledge.

  • Prasanta Shee says:

    Yeah, Google Hangouts has gotten a lot of buzz, but I’ve been a big fan of R-HUB’s web video conferencing service b/c it’s easy to use (like Google), but it’s also much more secured.

  • At our school library, students make “Book Hooks” in Google Slides. Students write a mini book review on one Google Slide and make it fancy and pretty. Then we use Aurasma app to make the Book Hooks pop up in augmented reality when students scan the covers of the books they reviewed. Here’s a few examples from one of my websites: https://sites.google.com/site/jbssio2017/home/student-work

  • Mary Miklavcich says:

    Sounds like some great creative ideas.