Technology Integration

6 Tips for Using Google Tools to Teach Writing

These strategies for organizing writing assignments increase students’ independence and confidence and reduce teachers’ grading time.

January 23, 2024
Eduard Figueres / iStock

Although I have always approached writing in a scaffolded “I do, we do, you do” model, I have never before asked students to collaborate with their peers to make their thinking visible. Google Slides enables students to practice writing interactively with writing models, sentence starters, and drag-and-drop review of major vocabulary terms, and above all it encourages organization by curating their ongoing work in one space.

The following six tips have helped increase the confidence that my students have in their writing ability and in turn significantly elevated participation and work completion.

How I Use Google tools to Structure Writing

1. Number the step in each assignment: In one assignment, I ask students to compare theme across two texts. It sounds simple enough, but when I number each step of the scaffolded writing process in Google Classroom, communication with my students becomes so much clearer. As we approach the final draft of our essay, for example, I say to students, “OK, open numbers 9, 13, and 14 and begin editing!” Long gone are the days when students riffle through crumpled papers to find a graphic organizer. Instead, their writing is organized in small mini-assignments in Google Classroom. Students understand what I am asking and get to work immediately.

Numbering assignments also makes it much easier for students who are absent to communicate clearly what work they need to make up. Here’s an example:

  1. Practice: Writing a Thesis Statement
  2. Main Idea Versus Theme
  3. Practice Comparing Two Texts
  4. Partner Practice: How to Write an Introduction
  5. Outline for Introduction Paragraph
  6. Quotation Integration Practice
  7. Partner Practice: Writing Your Body Paragraphs
  8. Summary Versus Analysis 
  9. Outline for Your Body Paragraphs
  10. Partner Practice: Writing a Conclusion
  11. Final Draft

2. Create notes that allow students to practice skills interactively: Group work doesn’t always come to mind when teachers think of writing, but I use Google Slides to create model paragraphs that students can edit and complete together.

Here’s an example: 

  • First, we examine the basic body paragraph that I have written myself to walk students through. We use two brief texts from CommonLit as the model throughout each part of the writing process, beginning with a model thesis statement that we create together. For their own essay, students select from a myriad of short stories we have read together to devise their own thesis statement.
  • Color is key. We color-code each part of the body paragraph to be intentional in ensuring that students will incorporate all parts of the body paragraph in their own writing.
  • When students practice with a partner, they complete a second body paragraph together. We leave sentence frames similar to the model paragraph to provide support and boost confidence. Students keep the model paragraph in view as they create their own second paragraph.
  • When students move on to comparing their own two texts, we ask them to keep this activity tab open to use as a guide. This significantly boosts independence in their writing and removes the common “I don’t know where to start” response. 

3. Make it public: After we practice creating thesis statements and writing their introduction paragraphs, students post them to Google Stream. If students feel insecure about posting, they send their final introduction paragraphs to me, and then I post them anonymously. We talk through each student example as a class, providing constructive feedback. Students get ideas from their peers on how they might structure their writing, word choice, transitions, and other changes they might make.

4. Use short texts to stand as class models throughout the writing process: I use CommonLit to find comparison texts to stand as the class model as we move through each scaffolded step of the writing process. After we read two short stories as a class, we use these texts to write class thesis statements together, to review the difference between analysis and summary, to select intentional quotes that will best support our argument, and so forth.

This allows for repetition and familiarity as we move through each chunked assignment using the same model texts. We try to use different genres of writing samples. For instance, our model focused on the poems “What My Father Said,” by Alan King, and “Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push,” by Walter Dean Myers.

5. Copy, paste, revise, submit: Everything we do in writing a four-paragraph comparison essay is done in chunks. When students arrive at the end of the writing process, they are shocked, stunned, and wowed that their paper is actually completed. We copy and paste from their introduction, body paragraph, and conclusion outlines that they have already revised.

6. Quick feedback in real time and fast grading: I can’t tell you how many more completed essays I receive at the end of this process—a nearly 100 percent submission rate. And this method has significantly, if not completely, eradicated cheating. 

By the time we reach the end of the writing process, I have read each student essay on five different occasions. This is all during class time—I have spent zero time at home grading essays. Students receive feedback on each assignment using the comment section in Google Docs. We often read through their feedback together during our conference time. Because each piece of the essay is submitted in small chunks, students receive feedback almost every day on their writing.

When students submit their final essay, I use a rubric on Google Sheets, and I can assess 18 essays in under an hour. The rubric allows for a click-of-a-button response as opposed to leaving detailed notes that students might become overwhelmed by or not read at all. The system of giving students feedback while they are writing is so much more useful than students’ receiving feedback that they do nothing with after the grade.

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  • Technology Integration
  • Teaching Strategies
  • English Language Arts
  • 9-12 High School

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