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TWT post: Google docs + writing workshop = happy writing teacher (and happy writing students)


When I was asked to pilot Google docs in the last month of our school year, I was enthusiastic… but also a bit blasé. It seemed like a wonderful “new thing”, and although I am all for trying out new things in my classroom, I also knew that I had developed and fine tuned a system for writing workshop over the years, and I was pretty happy with our writing folders, our “in the works” writing crates, and our writing portfolio filing system.

That was then, and this is now – I love using Google docs in our writing workshop!  Here are five reasons why:

1.  The revision process is so much more efficient and there is clarity about what changes need to be made where.  

My students still use their writer’s notebooks to plan and sketch their piece, and their yellow legal pads to write their first drafts.  Once they have a completed first draft, they create a shared document (shared with me, that is) and type it up.  Now, I can begin the process of planning conferences, and figuring out how to best guide my students towards the writing piece they envision.  Instead of the old sticky notes (which tended to disappear quite mysteriously somewhere between conference table and student desk), I simply highlight a section and leave a comment.  If the student begins the revision process before we’ve had a chance to confer, he or she highlights changes and asks for a response/clarification through the same process.

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Each comment is time stamped, so that we can track revisions and gauge what has been tackled and what has not.  This is also wonderful for assessment, since there is clear evidence of how much effort the student put into addressing the comments and improving her writing once we had conferred and clarified the writing issues.  The comments don’t take the place  of a one-to-one conference, but sometimes (especially in the higher grades) they can be so efficient in targeting a specific issue for the student to handle on her own at first:

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Sometimes, a follow up conference is needed, and sometimes the student is able to revise independently.

2.  Free Add-ons allow my kids easy access to writing tools when they need them:

The bibliography creator and thesaurus are two such writing tools which my kids love having at hand.  We’ve also added one for drawing diagrams just to experiment and try it out:

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3.  The research tool allows my kids a more efficient access to information and graphics as they write – looking things up and adding them in is so easy!

Having easy access, I believe, allows my kids to become a bit more adventurous with what they can do to enrich their writing by:

  • adding statistics and facts to back up their thesis/main idea
  • using an appropriate quote to strengthen their point
  • finding the right image to insert

4. It makes the process of assessment paperless and much more streamlined and prompt.

I create my rubrics on Google docs, and then make a copy for each student using the tool bar, renaming it with the student’s name:

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Once I’ve filled out my comments and added the grade, I move a copy of the completed rubric into the student’s folder and move my copy to the appropriate class folder.  This way, the student has access to her rubric and so does her parent – no more lost rubrics, or making dozens of copies of rubrics.  Of course,  everything can be printed out, so there is always a hard copy for each student’s portfolio in addition to the electronic portfolio which can be shared with her teachers next year.

5.  I no longer need to carry heavy bags of writing folders back and forth from school to home to school.

At the end of every day, I would gather together my student’s writing folders to take home, read over, and make my conference plans for the next day.


Now…no more writing folder bags! I must confess that I really love this aspect of our “new” writing workshop.

So, there you have it.  Five reasons that prove the following equation true:

Google docs + writing workshop = happy writing teacher (and happy writing students).

PS: I’ve been reading and thinking about an issue raised in a couple of the comments left below.  What if your district does not have access to 1 to 1 computers? What if kids don’t have an email account in order to set up?  We are not a 1 to 1 district, either, although all my kids have access to computers at home.  Our computer labs are heavily used and difficult to book during the school day, so I have struggled with implementing this pilot program, as well.

My solution has been to have my kids do their Google docs work at home – typing and revising their work in a place where they have access to a computer and much faster internet connection than we have at school.  This can be (actually it has been) very frustrating, at least at first, when we were all excited about being able to work this way.  Until things change, our workshop routine looks this way:

1. All pre-writng, planning and first drafts are in the “old” way – writers notebooks and writing pads.

2. My kids type up at home and I begin the process of guiding them through comments. We confer at my computer in school  the only one in my classroom, and make notes on their Google docs, then I print out a copy and they get to work.  This is then added to their Google docs at home as their writing homework.

3. We go back and forth this way.  So it is by no means perfect – that would be having access to devices right in our classrooms, in real time.

Even so, it has been a positive experience for all the reasons I mentioned in the post above.  A good part of my summer will be spent taking what I’ve learned and figuring out how to improve things.  If and when we ever get to 1 to 1 status (oh, happy day!), we will be ready!



Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

37 thoughts on “TWT post: Google docs + writing workshop = happy writing teacher (and happy writing students) Leave a comment

  1. Thanks, Tara, for sharing your experiences!

    One issue always remains – access, whether to online computers at school or at home. That is a necessity for google docs. Typing up a document on a phone wih Internet access is liberating to some students and frustrating to others when it is hard to view the document.

    A second issue is gmail accounts. Google docs work best when every student has their own email. However, a teacher can create a class account ( and then have a generic password for all students to use. Multiple students can use the same log in and password simultaneously which is also helpful for folks working with iPads who would like a printing option. Work in google docs and then access from a computer hooked to a printer for a hard copy.

    Can’t wait to hear more about your learning and google docs!


  2. I have a document I made for teachers at our school that explains how to set up a Work Flow on Google Drive for teachers and students–how to easily share folders and documents with the right viewing/editing privileges. This way students don’t have to specifically share a document with you—anything created will be automatically shared. I can share it if anyone is interested.


  3. Great use of technology and it will save lots of paper and money for the paper supplies. You just have to have a school that has the computers available. I think in first grade moving to google doc after Christmas at the earliest would be good. Getting hand writing skills down is important, even today. Using docs in grades 2nd on up I think will work fine, it often free’s students up to focus on the content and style of their writing not the neatness, and focus on spelling. I think as with most things you know your students and know what would be best for them, and it will differ at the elementary age.


  4. I love this idea of using Google Docs during Writing Workshop. I was really worried about how to implement it with only one computer in my classroom, so I really appreciated your follow up comments for how to make it work. Now I can’t wait to try it with my third graders next year!

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    -Amanda at


  5. Tara, such a timely post. Thank you! I have been pondering about Google docs for a while. I think this summer I should figure things out for myself in order to teach them to my students next year. I am wondering how many use the easybib add on??? Teachers at my school are opposed to using any technology for works cited–I can’t figure out why.


    • Jaana,

      Perhaps the other teachers are wanting students to experience formatting the bibliography manually, so they gain a better understanding of how it is supposed to work.

      When I started learning how to build web pages, I chose to learn how to write HTML by hand, instead of using software like Dreamweaver. This enabled me to have an in-depth understanding of the language, and allowed me to troubleshoot not only my work, but the code generated by the software when I later decided to use it.

      Perhaps the other teachers are wanting their students to have similar experiences.


  6. We are “going Google” next fall. All students have accounts all set up to go. I just finished a writing camp last week where we tried out Google docs and they loved it. I loved it for all the reasons you listed! I went to an edcamp on Friday and one of the sessions showed the gClass folders, Doctopus, and Goobric that Emily mentioned. The Goobric was amazing! You will definitely need to try that out. My head was spinning when I left that session. Looking forward to exploring this further. Great post, Tara!


  7. Love this idea! However, how young do you think is appropriate to start writing on the computer? Do you think they should learn to write with paper and pencil first? I’m a first grade writing teacher so the thought of not having to haul 75 writing pieces back and forth between school and home is exciting. 🙂 But, I’m really torn because I love technology, but there’s something about watching the “magic” happen between the pencil and paper. 🙂
    I’d love to know your thoughts.


    • That’s a great question, Maria. I am not an elementary school teacher, but I would imagine that the act of putting paper to pencil in those early years is so important. I’ll have to do some research on this, but I found that my own kids were pretty adept with the keyboard by the second grade. Elementary school is a whole other world to me! And yes, not having to haul 50 writing folders back and forth has been lovely!


  8. I am OBSESSED with the Google Docs writing workshop. I love it allows the conversations about the ongoing writing process to flow naturally and at a student’s own pace. I also love the convenience of not lugging papers here and there. Be sure you check out gClass folders and Doctopus to help mainstream the management of files. I’ve also heard Goobric is a great add-on for writing teachers, but haven’t tried it yet. Preach, girl, preach!


    • Thanks for sharing these new-to-me Google tools. Learning more about Google docs is my #1 priority this summer. The sharing between students is amazing to see – group projects have become so much more meaningful. So, yeah, preaching it!


  9. I’ve just been learning Google Docs myself and I really like it! I love the availability, and I love that I don’t have to worry about memory sticks! I have a 1 computer classroom though, and my school isn’t one where most kids will be able to work at home. I’m going to keep thinking about how to make this work though, even if I am doing a lot of the typing myself using their drafts. I don’t think this is ideal, however, they are only 8 and type s l o w l y!


  10. What’s the reasoning for the yellow legal pad? I understand the notebook but not that part…I’m going into my second year of writers workshop and trying to determine a viable solution for my students. We are 1 to 1 iPads, but I like the organic nature of paper to pen(cil). Thanks.


    • The legal pad is used for that first draft. In the days before Google docs, each revision was also on these pads. I have a sentimental attachment to these, since this is how I have always written. The yellow pad sits in my students’ writing folders, along with copies of mentor texts and other reference tools.


  11. I had a number of students last year who always used google docs- many of them were more comfortable writing in front of a screen on a keyboard than on paper; it was a more familiar environment for them. I have six desktops in the classroom and about 10 working laptops at any point. I have 33 students. Students who are not writing on the computer can choose to work on their writing on paper or do Readers Workshop, and then we rotate after about 30 minutes. I usually have the kids who are furthest behind get first access.

    I also use a google form for their nightly reading logs which creates a spreadsheet that makes it easy to track 1) who is and who isn’t 2) what books they have read 3) new vocabulary to share with the whole class. I only had one student who did not have access to a computer at home last year and he did his work the old fashioned way.

    I am a new teacher, this is my second or third career, and I cannot imagine teaching WITHOUT technology in the classroom- there is SO much available to us and our kids are so savvy>


  12. I started using Google Docs this year with my special education 11th and 12th grade English classes for students at highest risk of dropping out. We are from a very impoverished area of rural Tennessee and most of my students didn’t have emails or computers at home and weren’t tech-savvy except for Facebook, which they all seem to know how to use even without computers. I am fortunate that our county provides a gmail account for every student (does anyone know if this is a free option that google provides for organizations?) and since I teach in small groups of 6 students or fewer, I have a 1 to 1 computers for my students in class. We have absolutely loved using google docs, and several of my students have even gone to the library in their free time to submit homework assignments or even just writing and research they have done on their own- something that no one would believe if they had taught these kids before. They are excited about how connected we are with each other and also about the possibilities they have for connecting with the world at large. It feels like when they discovered Facebook.


  13. I appreciate this post so much. I’m trying to learn it for myself this summer. I need positive reinforcement that this is the way to go! Thanks, Tara. The lack of writing folders bag would be heaven.


      • We just had a few weeks at the end of the year to work on google docs in my fourth grade class. My students do not have email accounts, so I created one account for everyone to use. I was not sure about student access to the account outside of class, so I maintained the password. The one account couldn’t support all 18 students working at once, but small groups of 4 or 5 could access the account simultaneously.
        Students created their own folder for their projects. They could still access other student documents, so we had the opportunity to practice good “digital citizenship.” The “comment” feature was great for providing feedback…teacher/student…student/student!

        Thank you so much for generating this conversation…I so appreciate all the input!


  14. I am with Roseanne. I love this idea, but we are not a 1 to 1 school. My students don’t all have email addresses/Google accounts. I’m curious to hear the logistics behind implementing this idea under these conditions.


  15. I love this idea, but my students do not have their own computers, and I can only check out our computer lab a few times a month. Does anyone else have this dilemma? How have you dealt with it?


  16. I piloted Google Docs at the end of the year in my fourth grade class, and I had a similar reaction. My students loved it! It made feedback so much easier for me, and it helped me track revisions in a more concrete way. I also liked that I could watch students write in real time, which was particularly helpful for some of my less productive writers. I also had students share with peers in small groups for additional feedback and peer editing, and it worked well.

    Great post for summarizing the benefits of Google Docs! Thanks for sharing.


    • Tracking revisions really helped me, too. I haven’t been able to “watch” my kids write in the classroom, but we are often on at the same time at night and on the weekends, which is (actually) kind of cool.


  17. Agreeing fully with your praise for Google Docs, and I know I haven’t even explored all the possibilities. My third graders loved google docs for writing, especially the opportunity to access their writing anywhere, to share it with me and friends, and to collaboratively write stories.


  18. I completely agree! I LOVE using google docs for writing. No more folders was a HUGE plus! They would share it with a writing partner too and be allowed to share with others. I found that they were revising much more than usual and giving amazing feedback! Also, I like how you can view revision history. This way you and the student can see the writing from drafting to final product. It’s an amazing tool! Thanks for sharing!


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