This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.
Increasingly, Google is becoming the go-to Web tool for all kinds of functions that in the past you could do only on your own computer. Here are a few uses for Google applications you can use to enhance your classroom. Some of these you may be familiar with, but others are “hidden” Google tools that I stumbled upon and thought, “Cool!”
Many teachers are already using Google Docs to create shareable, multi-user documents with most of the basic features you would find in a word-processing program, including comments, image insertion, and other tools useful for collaborative writing and editing, as well as teacher or peer feedback through revision tracking.
Google Sites is a great free option for creating a teacher Web site. With easy ways to post calendars, links, documents, and blogs with comments, and even hundreds of prepared templates to choose from, it’s very user-friendly for both teacher and student. Check out this teacher’s site for his English classes, where he has examples of all of the above tools and more—for example, he has embedded a YouTube video on how to cite MLA sources in Google Docs on his Poetry Analysis page. You can use a Google Site as a base for posting and collaboratively creating and editing documents that you post there, wiki-fashion.
I mentioned Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) in an earlier post, but let me elaborate briefly. This feature allows you to create a list of Web pages or sites and then limit your students’ searches to the pages on that list—great for an activity about research skills or Web site evaluation, or a small-scale Web quest. Create one on a specific topic for your class or have students create their own to challenge one another. The search engine’s home page can be embedded in another site (e.g., your teacher Web site). You can even use it to create a search engine for your teacher Web site, so that students can easily find content! The CSE starting page walks you through the very simple creation process. Here is a small one that I created a couple of years ago for my Grade 12 students to find poems on a series of themes we were discussing in class.
Finally, I discovered this last feature while using Google to look up a word. You may already know that if you type define: <word> into the Google search window, you will get a wide range of definitions from the Web’s many dictionaries. But Google also has its own dictionary feature, with some nice added bonuses. Look up a word, and next to it in the results page you will see a small star. Click the star to highlight it and add the word to a list. Access the list by clicking “Starred words” on the right and voilà—a personalized word list that automatically hyperlinks to pages for each word containing definitions, usage examples (with dates and hyperlinks to sources for the sake of reference and context), suggested related words, audio pronunciation, and even cognates in other languages. Some words even have images attached. Students can create their own study lists using their own Google accounts; sadly, it doesn’t appear as though there is a feature that would allow a teacher to embed class word lists in a Web site.
What other neat Google-driven tricks have you used in your classrooms?