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!