Google for Educators: The Best Features for Busy Teachers

These user-friendly tools will keep you and your class inspired, inventive, and organized.

These user-friendly tools will keep you and your class inspired, inventive, and organized.

Eye in the Sky: Melissa Browning's students saw their school's Brooklyn neighborhood through Google Maps's street view.

Credit: Google Maps

Among all the links and downloads out there, it can be hard for teachers to know which ones work best. Google has made it easier by creating Google for Educators, which compiles some of the search engine's most useful features in one place. Whether you're teaching Spanish or social studies, mathematics or music, there's a free Google feature that will make your lessons more dynamic and your projects more organized. The lively, informative Web site offers step-by-step visual tours and even videos to help you get set up. Below are some of the most useful features the site has to offer:

Google Maps

Many of us have used Google Maps to find driving directions, but its usefulness goes way beyond getting from point A to point B. Before a field trip, your students can study the area they will visit through a variety of maps, including street, terrain, and satellite views. Then document your trip by creating personalized maps that include your route, as well as fact balloons, photos, and even videos.

Melissa Browning, a third-grade teacher at Brooklyn's PS 8, had her students use Google Maps for their unit on mapping. "We used Google to locate our own street addresses and find different locations in the United States and in the world," Browning explains. "My students love using the computers; it makes learning a lot more interactive." She also used Google Earth in this unit, and she had students search on Google Image Search for photos of the animals they were studying. "I love using this technology in the classroom," Browning says. "It makes it easier for teachers to have this information at their fingertips. It's all there for us."

Google Docs

Google Docs is particularly handy for teachers when revising students' work. It allows you and your class to track what changes have been made, save each revision, and collaborate in real time. And it's a great organizing tool: You can easily upload old documents in other applications to Google Docs so all your files are accessible in one place. Not only can your students create electronic documents and spreadsheets, they can also instantly access and edit each other's essays, post their work to a blog, publish it as a Web page, and create eye-catching presentations -- all within the same program.


Blogger allows you to create your own blog that contains important information about your class, assignments, and upcoming tests. It requires no HTML, and you can easily update and edit it from anywhere. Your students can create their own blogs to display writing and photos and to share information with each other. And you can set all blogs to "private" so only those users you approve may access them.

Google Book Search

Google Book Search, the electronic equivalent of browsing through a library, is a great way to find new books for your class to read or for your students to use as research tools. You can browse through specific categories, type in keywords, or search for particular titles. Each result includes the information you'd find about that book in a card catalog, plus a table of contents, links to book reviews and related works, and other resources. For instance, in the results for Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, you'll find links to scholarly works about the novel.

For copyrighted books, the results may provide a few sample pages, but for books in the public domain, you may be able to read the entire work online. If you want to keep track of your searches, you can create an online library of books by clicking "Add to my library" for any book you'd like to include. You can review, rate, and do a full-text search on the books in your library, and you can share the link with others.

Google Book Search also lets you buy any book online or search for it at the nearest library.

That's only a sampling of the features Google for Educators offers. So, try out a feature that's new to you or use a familiar tool in a new way to see how Google can make your lessons more effective and more convenient.

Sara Ring is a contributing writer for Edutopia. She lives in Los Angeles.
This article was updated in July 2011, by former Edutopia staff writer Sara Bernard.

This article originally published on 1/14/2008

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Comments (12)

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S K Plair (not verified)

Google for Educators

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I teach preservice teachers in a course that requires some commitments outside of our face to face time. Scheduling for these students can be a nightmare with their very busy schedules. Google Spreadsheets allows us to coordinate times, arrange to share rides, and handle other logistics. When we are done with scheduling, for other portions of the course we use Google Docs for more collaboration. These soon-to-be teachers learn how Google products can be used in their future classrooms. I commend the folks at Google for developing a great set of online tools for students at all levels.

I would be curious to learn how others are using the various tools in higher education as well as the K-12 environment.

A. Gordon (not verified)

Google Educator feature

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Google certainly offers many tools of interest to educators. Google Earth is one of the most fabulous teacher tools out there, while Google Docs may end up freeing us from our reliance on expensive licensed software. However, the article doesn't mention the problems with these tools.

The first is simply a matter of access. Many school districts block any and all blogs simply as a matter of course. Most visual search engines, like Google images, are blocked by our district's filter.

The second concerns Google Images. While an enormously useful tool, students who are taught to search here for images may think that ANY image returned by a search is okay to use in whatever way they wish. Kids should be taught to use images that are public domain, or that are posted under a Creative commons or other "copyleft" license. (Some of the best sites for image searches are Wikimedia Commons, MorgueFile, YotoPhoto, and the NBII Digital Image Library.) Most image use may be considered "fair use" for students who are writing reports or making posters, but use is much more problematical when kids are creating online content or multimedia.

Finally, I must protest the comment about "Google Books" being "the electronic equivalent of browsing through a library." You won't find "new books for your class" because most of the content on Google Books is older, and little of the recent material features the complete text. If you want to see the new Caldecott winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, you'll have to go to the library and check it out.

These days the "electronic equivalent of browsing through a library" is...electronically browsing through a library! Many school and public libraries allow users to access content online. Students and staff at my school can find books using the online portal, look at the covers, read the reviews, rate the ones they've read, and then come right down to the library and check out the books. They can access full-text periodical databases and encyclopedias from school or from home, too.

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