Google Classroom is a free web service that makes it easy for learners and teachers to connect. It's used to communicate, share resources, distribute files, and collect assignments. Google Classroom may not have as many features as Edmodo or Schoology, but it does work incredibly well with the Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Drawings suite of free online software.
As I teach classes with Google Classroom, I’m discovering tricks and inventing workarounds to make it work better for my students and me. I’m sharing several tips below. I'll continue to add more as I create visuals for things that are handy to know about Google Classroom.
You don’t have to immediately publish a post. You can compose an assignment, question or announcement and click the arrow next to the Post button to schedule it for publication at a specific date and time. You can always view and edit a scheduled post under Saved Posts at the top of the class stream. You receive a notification when the post goes live. Scheduling a post is nice when you don’t want students to see something ahead of time. It’s also nice to be able to compose multiple posts at once and spread them out over time.
A new post is always added to the top of the class stream in Google Classroom. However, the newest post is not always the first post you want students to see. A teacher in Google Classroom can bump any assignment, announcement, or question post to the top of the class stream by clicking the post’s menu (three dots) and then choosing the Move to Top option. That post will become the second post after a new post is added (at which time you can move it back to the top again).
There are many reasons you may want to move a post to the top of the class stream. You might want the current assignment at the top so that students don’t miss it. Or, perhaps you want to be sure students see an important announcement. Or, maybe you want students to easily find your post with the resources they’ll use for a project.
Moving a post to the top permanently changes its order in the class stream—there’s not a way to move it back into its original order.
When creating or editing a post, the teacher has the option to tag it with a topic. The class stream can be filtered by topic, which is really helpful when a class has many posts.
If you have a link or information that students frequently access, consider putting it on the class's About page. You don't have to worry about it getting buried there.
The class stream can easily become cluttered with posts. New posts are added to the top, pushing older posts lower in the stream. When the class stream is flooded with posts, students might miss an important announcement or have trouble finding the link they need for class. To keep the class stream from becoming cluttered with posts by students, I suggest changing the "Students can post and comment” setting to “Students can only comment.”
What about when students have something to contribute to class that doesn't fit with a particular post by the teacher? You might consider adding an announcement post that is always open for students to ask off-topic questions and another open-ended post where they can add ideas through class comments.
Since you can enter emojis pretty much anywhere you can enter text, you can use them to add visual cues, illustrations, and emphasis in Google Classroom. I choose an emoji to represent each topic I add to a class. I also choose an emoji to represent each post. Not only do emojis help visually differentiate my posts, Google Classroom includes an assignment post’s emoji in notifications, emails, and the class calendar.
There are only about 3,000 emojis. That sounds like a lot, but that’s certainly not enough to illustrate every concept. You’ll have to get creative with symbolic representation.
When topics contain emojis as the first character, they do not alphabetize correctly. If you have only a few topics, this is not a big deal. If you have a long list of topics, you might want to put the emojis at the end of the names so the the list is properly alphabetized.
Google Classroom provides an image used for the background of the header when a class is created. That image determines the color scheme. You can’t select your own colors, but you can personalize the class by uploading your own background photo. Google Classroom will change the color scheme based on the colors in the uploaded photo.
If you want to design your own header background, I suggest using Google Drawings and setting the page size to 1600 by 400 pixels. Since the header image will be cropped in a variety of ways depending on a browser's window size or an app's orientation, it’s probably best to create an image that is a collage or has a pattern. Google Classroom will darken the header image, so I suggest using bright colors in your design.
Bitmojis can be a fun and easy way to personalize Google Classroom with a cartoon version of yourself.
You can change the header background photo anytime. Keep in mind that changes to the class’s color scheme may throw off students who are used to your Google Classroom being a certain color.
Bonus Tip: Try searching Pixabay.com for photos you might use for the header. Include the word “background” in your search along with a color, texture, or other keyword.
While an app is not required to use Google Classroom, the iOS and Android apps have an ability that the web version does not: markup tools. A teacher can use a finger or a stylus to add colorful annotations, handwriting, and highlighting to a student's assignment. These markup tools are helpful for providing feedback, especially when it comes to inserting suggestions, editing marks, and other annotations.
To access the markup tools, the teacher first opens an assignment to view Student Work. After select a document, a preview is shown. Tapping the pencil icon opens a copy of the students’ document and a set of tools are available at the bottom of the screen. When done, a copy is saved as a PDF or image file with “Edited” added to the file’s name. The student can view the annotated copy by opening the assignment in the Google Classroom app or on the web.
The student’s original document is untouched because annotations are added to a copy of the document. I like this because it gives students an opportunity to revise the original document after receiving suggestions from the teacher.
Eric Curts has written a detailed post about the amazing features of the Google Classroom app.
Most of the feedback on student work likely takes place outside of Google Classroom and inside G Suite documents. When you add a comment to a Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, or Drawings document, you don’t see any text formatting tools. Usually if someone wants to draw attention to words in a comment, they use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. All caps is a way to add emphasis, but it also looks like the message is being shouted. You do not have to use all caps to add emphasis. Google provides a way to bold, underline, and strikethrough text in a comment in a G Suite document. Type an asterisk before and after the word or phrase you want to make bold. Type an underscore before and after the text you want to italicize. Type a hyphen before and after anything you’d like to strike through. The formatting will be applied after you click the blue Comment button.
A great way to pick up tips is to experience Google classroom as a student. I just so happen to be teaching an online workshop through Google Classroom. It’s called Classy Videos and it’s for educators who want to make their videos more awesome. Read more and register.
If you can’t join me for Classy Videos Winter 2018, perhaps you can join me for another class in the future. Add your email to my list to get notifications about my online workshops.
Click the graphic below for a PDF cheat sheet about posting in Google Classroom.
You might be interested in my post Google Classroom for Professional Learning. I have learned a lot from teaching online classes for educators in Google Classroom. Now I’d like to share tips and advice for using Google Classroom for professional learning, including the fundamentals of Classroom and the workflow I used with the adults in my class.
Learn more about Google Classroom...