Writing and Collaborating with Google Docs

Hi Everyone,

One of my favorite LINCS Resource Collection items is the TEAL Just Write! Guide.  This easy to read paper details the findings of two years’ study into the research and professional wisdom on evidence-based best practices for writing instruction.  One key finding was that peer collaboration improves both writing instruction and students’ writing quality.  Using writing technology like Google Docs is a research-based practice that makes writing collaboration easier while increasing student engagement. 

With this in mind, I had the pleasure of viewing LINCS community member Michael Matos’s recent webinar Get Your Students Writing and Collaborating with Google Docs.  One aspect of the pandemic that should be an ongoing part of our new normal is digital collaboration by work team members.  To that point, Michael quoted a recent New York Times article which said, “The very notion of what it means to write is shifting, and educators are faced with adapting their teaching practices to integrate new technologies while redefining writing and learning for the 21st century.”  The workplace of the present and future is one defined by the ability of team members to work together to produce written documents on digital platforms.      

If you are new to Google Drive and Docs, I would recommend an introductory webinar to these tools before diving in to Michael’s webinar.  Nell Eckersley recently conducted a COABE sponsored one found HERE and the slide deck HERE.  (Poor sound quality marred the first 12 minutes of this webinar so skip to that point before viewing.)  Google also has a quick start guide to Docs one can find HERE.       

Among the many gems in the Collaborating with Google Docs webinar was Michael’s contention that students are more likely to revisit their work if they know someone else will be commenting on it.  Teaching writing as a process (pre-writing, drafting, editing, and revising) is a hard sell for many adult educators.  Using the sharing and collaborating tools provided in Google Docs (explained beginning at the 14:07 mark of the recording), makes commenting on students’ work much easier by both the instructor and classmates, and this increased feedback may lead to greater student effort throughout the writing process. 

At the 21:10 mark, Michael discussed how Google Docs can be used both asynchronously (students working on a document at different times) or synchronously (students working at the same time).  For example, an instructor could post a shared document that students could contribute to before a scheduled class.  During class, students could work together on a shared task like writing a formal letter or editing each other’s work.  When face to face learning returns, an instructor might share a document with the class and show it on screen.  Students could collaborate by taking turns making additions and edits. 

The 23:00 minute mark brought some basic collaborative Google Docs activities that can be accessed by clicking on the documents in the slide deck.  Emerging writers could respond to the prompt such as, “I am unique because” or write sentences about visuals and put their writing in a shared Doc.  Since the best way to learn grammar is in context, students could edit Docs with grammar mistakes and do buddy edits with a partner.  Michael also mentioned a great technique to get students to write about reading known as reading response journals.  In the journals, students answer questions after completing a reading.  He found in his own teaching practice that students respond more to posted questions in shared Docs than they did on paper.  Reading response journals also get learners used to writing about reading which will help prepare them for high school equivalency tests and future job-related tasks. 

Space does not permit me to detail all of the other Google Docs resources covered in the webinar including templates (28:42), voice typing (31:48), explore (34:10), footnotes (36:10), reference tools (38:00), and the WriQ add on.  I will instead discuss one last collaboration tool, revision history (41:44).  As students work on a shared Google Doc, the software gives them a unique color so it is obvious who contributed what text.  Revision history allows an instructor to see a students’ writing process in action.  Since each revision is given a time stamp, an instructor can discover how students used their time while writing.  Revision history also makes it obvious when students cut and paste a large chunk of text into the document.  If done inappropriately, this could serve as a jumping off point for discussions of copyright, plagiarism, and cyberethics. 

A recording of the hour-long webinar can be found HERE, and the slide deck is available HERE.    

Are you using Google Docs or another tool for writing and/or collaboration?  Please reply in a few short sentences how you use them. 


Steve Schmidt

Moderator, LINCS Reading and Writing Community



Some great ideas to use the Explore function with writing topics and activities:

  • Based on what teacher and/or students have written on a topic, searches can be conducted on what is highlighted or the entire document to find more in-depth information online based on what has been written.
  • This is also a great tool to gather more research conducted on a particular topic, word, picture, idea, etc. Great way for an instructor to develop an assignment and a student to gather information for brainstorming, writing and editing a particular writing.
  • This is a great resource for finding images to use for your topic or add some more images. 

Try it out!

The instructions say that Doc to Form allows you to quickly and easily create a form from text within a Google Doc, yes and no. This add-on does save some time, but you still need to do some of your own copying and pasting as well as other adjustments on Forms.  Select text and click a button to add your questions. You can choose from a variety of question types - ideal for converting traditional documents to Google Forms. EXAMPLE: From Word Document- https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4LluphO6knAMC1zUjBLdUJNWm8/view?usp=sharing to  Google Doc- https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vnPgUVDEmcLVVA8RcuEHzbA7L5Wytx-ZHcvX0CI6UKM/edit?usp=sharing to Google Forms- https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1nyyB_dUv8gsTm8TCqBk2LuZeIzpe1ORHwxelcy6Vd0I/edit?usp=sharing   Please share, edit and/or use however you see fit. 

Thank you so much for sharing this information. I will check it out. I do not use Google Docs at this time and am very interested in using this with my students.This is very helpful!

Hi Cindy,

Thanks for making your first post!  We hope you will become a regular part of the community.  After experimenting with Google Docs, please let us know how your experience goes!



Steve Schmidt

Moderator, LINCS Reading and Writing CoP



Make your lines in your Doc where you can type on them without breaking them up.. A true fillable line.

A quick youtube video: https://youtu.be/reXdvtwFZFo

Example activity: Picture Writing - Writing with all your senses




Hello all,

I really appreciate this discussion thread. I've just started using Google Classroom about a month ago, and along with that I'm learning how to use Google Docs to make assignments.

I watched a few tutorials on YouTube for general info about google docs and I'm gradually learning how to improve my assignments. I've been having the same difficulty with fillable lines when I make worksheets. Thanks, Michael, for sharing that video about using a table. I didn't know that you could do that. I'll have to try it out.

It does seem like a longer process though when I am pressed for time in planning lessons already. Usually I just leave the space blank if I have an open ended writing question. So I don't even put a line because of the problem described in the video. Things still move around a little bit as students write their answers, and the rest of the document gets pushed down as you go, but it works pretty well overall.

I tried using Google Slides to add text boxes to make a worksheet fillable, but I find it doesn't work that well. Students find it difficult to use. They often have to resize the page, zoom in, and then adjust font sizing as well. It makes it too complicated and it's also time intensive for me to either snip a portion of a worksheet or screenshot it, then add it as background to a slide, and then finally add text boxes. A lot of teachers are doing this though as an alternative if you don't have software like Adobe with fillable options.

Thanks for sharing these ideas. It's always helpful to hear what other teachers are finding useful! 

Jennifer Kluempen





Check this out! I'm registered for it. Google for Education: Google Docs - Next Level Session May 21, 2020, 12pm-12:30pm CDT webinar registration: http://bit.ly/3fUUtqw Already using Docs? Level up your Classroom abilities in this 30-minute session. We’ll explore some hidden gems like interactive Docs, table of contents, powerful feedback tools for students, and ways to collaborate effectively.   

by Rich Kiker, Founder & CEO Kiker Learning