Deep learning with Google tools: 20 ideas

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Monday, September 26, 2016

Deep learning with Google tools: 20 ideas

Packaging the abilities of several Google tools together can lead to deep learning around a single topic. Here are some ideas. (Public domain image via

Packaging the abilities of several Google tools together can lead to deep learning around a single topic. Here are some ideas. (Public domain image via

It’s so easy (maybe too easy) to do shallow, superficial work with Google tools. One one day, we’ll do this activity. The next day, we’ll use a different tool to do a different one.

What if we want to investigate a topic thoroughly instead of going “a mile wide and an inch deep”?

Google’s got your back.

Instead of doing “one and done” activities, we can use several of Google’s offerings to do “deep dives” into big, important topics. We can investigate them at length, either in one intensive project or over the period of weeks, months or an entire year.

Here are some ideas for doing deep learning with Google tools:

Step 1: Create a home base

If we’re going to do a multi-faceted approach to learning (and displaying our learning), we’ll need someplace to put everything. Thankfully, Google has some great places to gather ideas that can be shared with others. (Because if we create something meaningful and great, what good is it to keep it to ourselves???)

  • A Google Sites website. If we want to stay in the Google universe, this is one way to go. Creating a free website lets us separate big subtopics with different pages. We can organize information easily, and we can embed and add media. However (as of publication of this post), we’re still using the clunky old Google Sites, and I’m definitely not a fan. Which leads me to the next suggestion …
  • A Weebly website. I know … in a post about Google tools, I’m suggesting a non-Google tools. (At the beginning no less!) I think creating a website for this type of project is often the best way to go, and Weebly’s free website creator is one of the best. It lets you add text, images, videos and more with an easy drag-and-drop interface. I created my own class website with it and had my own students create sites with it. Plus, a free Weebly education account lets a teacher monitor up to 40 student accounts.
  • A Google document. This is about as easy as it gets. Create a new document and start adding information to it. Break the document up with headers (use “Heading 1” under the style dropdown menu … it says “Normal text”) and subheaders (use “Heading 2”). Turn on the document outline (Tools > Document outline) to see those headers all the time to the left of the document.
  • A Google Slides presentation. Whether you’re presenting your ideas to a group or not, a Slides presentation is a great way to keep information organized. Sort information with each slide containing a new idea or new category of information. Plus, when finished, you can embed an interactive version of your slides on a website.

Step 2: Start researching and creating

By combining several of Google’s tools together in one website, document or slide presentation, students can create dynamic, visually appealing and in-depth studies of topics.

Here are some ideas:

1. Find great resources with Research / Scholar — If you’re gathering content in Docs or Slides, this tool is already built in (Tools > Research). It pulls together webpages, images, quotes, dictionary definitions and more. If you find something you want to add to a site, just copy it over to the site (with attribution, of course) or use the source web page to copy whatever you need. Google Scholar lets you search scholarly literature across a variety of publishing formats.

Students can use these tools to gather resources and information.

2. Track word usage over time with Ngram Viewer Google has a huge set of books that span from 1500 to 2008. Ngram Viewer lets users search for word or phrase usage over that time, displaying results in a line graph. When studying a topic, students might want to see how often certain terms have been used over time, when they peak and when they recede.

Students can grab a screenshot of an Ngram Viewer graph to include in a site, doc or presentation.

3. Investigate search patterns with Google Correlate — Finding which search terms are correlated with a topic you’re studying can open up new lines of thinking in a project. Google Correlate displays search terms that correlate with a word or phrase you enter. It also displays those search results over time, showing when they’re most and least searched for. (Notice how losing weight and workouts correlate here — and can you guess when those two search terms peak every year?)

Students can link to Google Correlate findings and even include screenshots of its graphs.

Students can view media coverage of historical events first-hand with Google News Archive. (Screenshot from Google News Archive)

Students can view media coverage of historical events first-hand with Google News Archive. (Screenshot from Google News Archive)

4. View and compare historical news coverage in the Google News Archive — Google has compiled archives of newspapers as far back as the 1700s. Users can browse newspapers by name or search the archives by keyword. Instead of seeing how textbooks and websites summarize history, students can see how it was treated in the media first-hand.

Students can grab screenshots of historical newspapers for their projects, summarize them or link to them to compare/contrast or add additional details to what they’ve found in other sources.

5. Create Google Alerts for updates on new content published to the web — Google Alerts sends you emails when new content is published to the web about certain topics or keywords you’ve chosen. This lets students keep on top of the latest developments on subjects they’re studying, especially over the course of an entire year.

Students can add timely new information to their projects with sources found with Google Alerts.

6. Add images ethically and responsibly with Google Images — Not all Google Images searches are equal. A standard image search returns mostly copyright-protected images. However, by selecting Google Images from a Creative Commons search, users can find images tagged with Creative Commons licenses that grant usage rights to anyone (as long as they follow the license’s instructions).

Students can illustrate their topics with the huge variety of images in these Creative Commons Google Images searches.

Google Drawings let students annotate images (above) and create graphics and charts. (Annotation by Matt Miller / "El Tres de Mayo" is in the public domain)

Google Drawings let students annotate images (above) and create graphics and charts. (Annotation by Matt Miller / “El Tres de Mayo” is in the public domain)

7. Annotate images with Google Drawings — Not all of the pertinent details are often perfectly clear when students see a photograph, illustration or other image. They can insert the image in a Google Drawing and use text, shapes and lines to point out and highlight important parts of the image. That image can be saved as an image file to be added to a website, document or slide presentation.

Students can point out and emphasize important parts of an image by annotating it in Google Drawings.

8. Create flow charts and informational graphics in Google Drawings — Google Drawings lets students add to existing images, as we saw in number 7. They can also create new images and graphics from scratch. This helps students organize and present ideas and information more clearly and attractively.

Students can add text, images, lines and shapes to a Google Drawing to create a flowchart or informational graphic to illustrate new ideas.

9. Include images from the Google Cultural Institute — The Google Cultural Institute makes treasures from hundreds of the world’s museums available online. This site gives students first-hand access to documents, images and other objects on exhibit, often giving them a new perspective on the topic they’re investigating. It focuses on art, history and world wonders.

Students can link to images of items in the Google Cultural Institute that relate to their topic of study.

10. Work through thought processes with Google Drawings graphic organizers — Graphic organizers help students reach conclusions or ideas they might not have without some guidance. Teachers can create graphic organizers for students with Google Drawings — or you can copy and use one of the 16 Google Drawings graphic organizers available in this blog post. Assign it to students through Google Classroom (use the “Make a copy for each student” dropdown option when you attach it). If you don’t have Classroom, give students a link to the graphic organizer and prompt them to make a copy of it.

Students can display an image of a graphic organizer they’ve completed or link to the Google Drawings file of it to show their thinking about a topic.

11. Create a custom, info-packed map with Google MyMaps — MyMaps lets students create custom maps where they can pin any number of locations. On each pin, they can add a title, some text, clickable links and images. Pins can be grouped in layers and tagged with custom icons. MyMaps are great for identifying multiple locations across the world or even in an individual neighborhood.

Students can add a MyMap to a website, document or slide presentation by embedding it (website only), linking to it or creating an image of it.

12. Show a location in 3D with Street View — Street View uses Google Maps to let users see what life’s like from the streets of tons of locations around the world. It’s a quick, easy way to take students to a location and give them a first-person view of it. Simply bring up Google Maps and grab the yellow “peg man”. Drop him in the location to see it from the street. (For iPad users, use the Street View app.)

Students can grab a screenshot of a Street View image or provide a link to it to show what life looks like from the street.

Tour Builder lets users see -- and tour! -- multiple locations all over the world. (Screen shot from Tour Builder)

Tour Builder lets users see — and tour! — multiple locations all over the world. (Screen shot from Tour Builder)

13. Aggregate multiple street views with a Tour Builder tour — Tour Builder brings together the best of MyMaps and Street View. With Tour Builder, you can take viewers from location to location in first-person 3D glory. Choose the locations, choose how you want them to be seen and add any additional information.

Students can link to a Tour Builder tour to show multiple locations in first-person view.

14. Build and distribute a survey — Students have great data-gathering tools at their disposal, and Google Forms is at the top of that list. If they need data from local people — or if the data they need isn’t available — distributing a survey might help.

Students can craft a survey and distribute it, gathering the data they need and crunching the numbers to include in their project.

15. Crunch data in a Google Sheet — Students can gather the data from their survey (above) and view it in a spreadsheet. Or, they can find the data somewhere else and input it in a spreadsheet. Once they do that, Google Sheets lets them manipulate that data, creating averages and summaries and displaying it in graphs.

Students can generate graphs and do calculations to data by plugging it in a Google Sheet. They can even link to the sheet or embed it in a website.

16. Find, display and compare videos in YouTube — With an estimated 300 hours of new video uploaded to YouTube every minute, there’s a good chance students can find relevant video there. YouTube videos can be shared easily, which makes finding, curating and displaying them useful for student projects. They can analyze those videos, gather data from them or compare/contrast them to gather insights (assuming that they have access to YouTube through the school’s Internet filter).

Students can link to YouTube videos that relate to their topics or embed them in slides or a website.

17. Create videos on YouTube — YouTube isn’t just for finding videos. So many students carry video cameras in their pockets now in their smart phones. They can record video and use the YouTube app to upload it to a channel. YouTube’s editor and Creator Studio let students edit video the way they want before sharing it with a global audience.

Students can create YouTube videos that summarize, analyze and provide insights on information they’ve gathered.

18. Link to or embed a Slides presentation — The big advantage Slides has over Docs is design. Users can position images, text and other elements wherever they want on slides. Plus, when they’re done, they can embed an interactive version of those slides in a website for viewers to flip through (or even download).

Students can embed slides on a website to provide an attractive way to interact with content.

19. Record video interviews — Students can be like investigative reporters, tracking down interviews with pertinent sources and recording them for others to see. In-person interviews can be recorded on videos (see number 17). Video calls can be recorded by setting up a Hangout on Air through YouTube. (Note: You can change the audience to private if you don’t want anyone to see it.)

Students can record video interviews with their smartphones or a Hangout on Air to gather information like a reporter or historian.

Students can have characters engage in dialogue in a video with Gone Google Story Builder (or create a monologue). (Screen shot from Gone Google Story Builder)

Students can have characters engage in dialogue in a video with Gone Google Story Builder (or create a monologue). (Screen shot from Gone Google Story Builder)

20. Make a creative dialogue-based video with Gone Google Story Builder — Students can make videos that look like a Google Doc that multiple people are typing in. These videos are great for showing dialogue between characters.

Students can display information or create dialogues in videos with Gone Google Story Builder.

[reminder]What are other ways that students can dive deep into learning with Google tools?[/reminder]

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  • Lance Yoder says:

    This is great info, Matt. The new Google Sites is pretty amazing though. I’m sure that you will enjoy it when it is fully launched.

  • Steve Levine says:

    Sounds like a great approach to keep students focused and motivated.

  • […] Deep learning with Google tools: 20 ideas | Ditch That Textbook […]

  • shannon says:

    I would love for my kids to blog. We use Google tools and Google Classroom a lot. What do you suggest for a blog platform?

    • Matt Miller says:

      Hi Shannon —

      There are a few options:

      — I used KidBlog for a few years and really loved it. However, it’s a paid service now (something like $44/year). I think it’s one of the best out there if you can justify the cost. (But it’s hard to justify if you’re just dabbling and aren’t sure yet …)
      — Many teachers use Blogger and Edublogs. Some are dabbling in Weebly as well.
      — A quick, free option with Google is to use Google Slides. This is a quick way to try blogging as an activity without committing. Create a Google Slides presentation with a slide for every students. Share it with students (with “everyone with the link can edit” permissions in the Share button). Give each student a slide and let them write on their slides. Then, when finished, they can leave comments on each other’s slides. It simulates the blogging experience but in a way that takes very little setup.

      Hope that helps. Best of luck in your blogging! 🙂


  • Kendra Tyler says:

    Do you have any recommendations using Google for interviews now that Hangouts on Air is gone?

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