Google Docs – Sharing is Caring

Google Apps for Education. G-Suite. Google Docs. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard one or more of these names in your wanderings around the web or in conferences and classrooms around the world. This post is geared toward using Google Docs in the classroom. Another post will follow about how to use Google Docs as an administrator, technology specialist, or peer collaborator.

Google Docs is one of my favorite tools for providing students with information as well as giving them a place to show what they know. It allows students to work synchronously and collaboratively. It allows me as the teacher to view who is adding to the document, when students are working, and how they are progressing. Additionally, it gives me an excellent way to provide timely feedback to students through suggesting edits or writing comments. I can edit anywhere I have my laptop–even when I don’t have an active wifi connection.

There are so many ways to approach Google Docs, especially depending on content area, access to devices, and student age/maturity. In fact, the plethora of ways to use this tool is practically boundless, and I’m sure that you have many ways to use this that haven’t crossed my mind yet. I’ve started this post several times and always get bogged down in how to organize it because of the variety of uses. I finally settled on sorting uses by permissions.

When I talk about permissions, I mean who can access and change your document. Google provides three levels of permissions for users: view, comment, and edit.

Permission: To View

Anyone who can view your document can do just that: see it. They cannot put a virtual post-it on this document, nor can they edit the text, images, layout, etc. of the document itself.

So why would you share something if you don’t want people to do anything with it? There are lots of useful ways to use this type of sharing permission.

  1. Template
    This is my personal favorite and most used way to share something as view only. This way to share works because those who can view can also “Make a Copy” of this document and save it to their own Google Drive. This is a way to share cover pages for projects, like this one that I created for my freshman English students.

    One pitfall of using this is those people who don’t understand how it works. If users are not aware that they may make a copy of the document, they will request access to make changes directly in the document. This results in a flood of emails to you requesting access. Putting the directions to “Make a Copy” directly into your sharing message may reduce this possibility, but it is still a likely frustration you will have. Luckily, the more that your students use this type of feature, the less likely you are to have this issue.


  1. Sample Work
    Providing students with work samples that have already been completed is an excellent way to demonstrate quality work as well as show students what you expect in a way that is much more clear than simply giving written or oral verbal directions. I especially like to add comment notes on this type of document to remind students what it is that I really like. You can see a sample literary analysis paper here.
  2. Informational Flyers/Formula Sheets
    Upcoming fundraiser? Class party? Important school dates? Create a flyer and share it with parents or students. For more unorganized students who clearly have a black hole in their book bags where important papers get swallowed up, never to be heard from again, this is a way to send out information that they can’t lose. Even for students who are super organized, digital flyers can be much easier for parents who can simply add information straight into their digital calendars. This same idea can allow you to create formula sheets in mathematics classes that students will need throughout the year.

Remember once you give people permission to view your document, they may make a copy of it and then edit/modify it without your knowledge. You won’t get any notification if someone makes a copy of the document once you have shared it with him/her. Use caution when sharing this type of file with any information or work that you do not want to be duplicated.

Permission: To Comment

This type of access is one step of from simply viewing. The ability to comment allows users to put a digital sticky note anywhere on the document and to add an explanation of practically any length to said sticky note. Gone are the days of having to actually have sticky notes, trying to fit the note in the exact right place to reference whatever it is that you want to point out, and struggling to say everything on the limited space of a Post-It. (Don’t get me wrong—I love a good Post-It.)

  1. Group annotation
    Difficult text for students to review? Put the text into a GoogleDoc and have them annotate simultaneously. There is no limit to the number of comments that can fit in a GoogleDoc (at least not that I have found yet). Students can highlight parts of the document. If those are confusing spots, they can ask questions in the comments for the rest of the students to answer. If there are key quotes or points open to interpretation, students can mark those too. This is similar to Diigo, but it has the advantage of remaining all in one place and not requiring a second log-in for students to remember or for you to track. Reading a Shakespeare play, poetry, the Constitution, or something else with antiquated/difficult language? Students can highlight sentence-by-sentence and post their modern version of the word meaning.


  1. Assignment feedback
    Instead of typing a paragraph at the end of a document with feedback for students that requires them to scour the document for that point you mentioned, post a comment right where you want it. Give feedback section by section, or post corrections at the exact spot of an error. Be precise with your virtual sticky notes to cut down on confusion.


Permission: To Edit

This type of permission gives the recipient the same editing privileges that you as the owner have. The one exception is that the owner still has the ability to delete the original document. However, remember that anyone who has made a copy of your document still has it: deleting your original does nothing to the copies that have been made. This is something that personally have not tried in an elementary class, so I can’t say for sure how it would work. I think that with some heavy scaffolding it could be very beneficial, especially depending on the type of device at use as well as the specific assignment and group of students.

  1. Group Notes

Giving students access to basic notes in any content area is a widespread practice. Giving those notes with editing privileges allows students to contribute their own understandings to the notes and to build off the knowledge that others have. Collaborative note-taking is something in which all students can participate either by actively contributing notes, asking questions, or answering questions. Depending on the available devices, students could incorporate pictures rather than text. (Elementary students could track progress of plant growth, find shapes or colors, incorporate video interviews they’ve completed, etc. The document then becomes an archive of their learning.

  1. Group Work

Another way to harness the power of editing privileges is the allow students to contribute the knowledge that their group provides. In a sort of digital jigsaw, each group becomes an expert of part of the whole. However, rather than rotating into new groups where an expert from every topic is present, students can post their knowledge in a section of an editable document where everyone has the opportunity to reference the information, even when the experts from other original groups are gone.

These options all have to do with you as the instructor sharing documents with students in various ways, and this barely scratches the surface of what you can do with Docs in the classroom. You can also note that all of these sharing permissions are available in other apps on G-Suite, so you can do the same types of activities with Slides and Sheets.

Without going into the specifics of content area, student age/ability, or device presence, it’s hard to be  more specific about what will work. I know that the best resources are those that are content and age specific, but posting that way also means that I exclude individuals. I’m sorry for that. Rest assured that those posts are coming down the road.

In the mean time, please share your experiences. How do you harness the power of sharing documents to reach your students? Feel free to be age, device, and/or content specific!



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