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EmailShare6 Powerful Google Docs Features to Support the Collaborative Writing Process September 3, 2012 – by Susan Oxnevad 63EmailShareSharon J. Washington, executive director of the National Writing Project, said: ???Today???s young people are using…



6 Powerful Google Docs Features to Support the Collaborative Writing Process

September 3, 2012 – by Susan Oxnevad

  •  63EmailShare

Sharon J. Washington, executive director of the National Writing Project, said:

???Today???s young people are using a range of digital tools to compose and create in new and exciting ways. It is a game-changing moment for teachers of writing. The very notion of what it means to write is shifting, and educators are faced with adapting their teaching practices to integrate new technologies while redefining writing and learning for the 21st century.???

Google Docs is an online suite of digital tools that provides teachers with some powerful features to help students develop 21st century writing skills. Since Docs are collaborative and available 24/7, the tool is well-suited for facilitating digital writing workshops that combine peer editing with cooperative grouping and small group fine-tuned writing instruction.

Writing Workshop at a Glance

Teachers start by defining cooperative grouping jobs for peer editing that are appropriate for the the level and needs of the learners in the class. While students are writing drafts, teachers take advantage of opportunities to work with small instructional groups to focus on specific job-related writing tasks to prepare students to put their new skills to work and contribute to the peer editing process. Here is an overview of some of the integrated writing supports available in Google Docs to include in small group instruction to that will empower students and help redefine the writing process.

peer editing jobs

Design jobs to meet the needs of the learners in your class


Sharing and Commenting for Collaboration and Immediate Feedback

Document sharing and comments provide students with opportunities to receive immediate feedback in the 24/7 classroom. Since Docs are stored online, students can work at school and at home from any computer with an Internet connection and they are more likely to revisit their work if they know someone else will be commenting on it. To insert a comment, just highlight some text in the body of the document and the comment will appear on the right side of the page. Click on any comment and watch the highlighted text in the document change color to quickly pinpoint the suggested revision. Comments are smart and they disappear after the issue has been addressed by the author so students feel a sense of accomplishment as they work their way through the suggestions of their peers. In addition, Docs provide support for collaboration in real time so students and teachers can have a virtual mini-conference about the work in front of them from any location if the timing is right.

Google Docs Comment

To insert a comment, highlight the text, then choose Insert a Comment under the Insert Menu.

Research Tool

Perhaps the most impressive Google Docs writing support to date is an integrated research tool that???s available right on the page. A basic search yields results relevant to the document and displays a variety of types of information beyond text  Useful content-specific buttons allow users to insert links, images,  maps, and citations into a document with the click of a button. Users can narrow a search to find only images, scholarly information and quotations. This powerful research tool provides students with convenient access to information in manageable chunks that are ready for use.

Google Docs Research Pane

Find the Research Pane in the Tools Menu

Smart Spell Checker with Grammar Support

A built in smart spell-checking system that uses the Google Search helps students to easily identify spelling and simple grammar errors as they type. Google???s online spell-checking service is more comprehensive than a typical dictionary because the Googlebot constantly crawls the web for new and popular definitions. The spell-checker actually grows and adapts with the web and it gets smarter all the time.  A context-sensitive grammar checker can distinguish between words like ???too??? and ???to??? in a sentence and make appropriate suggestions for corrections. While Word uses color coding to make distinctions between spelling and grammar errors, Google sticks with one color, but the suggestion box offers smart and appropriate suggestions.

Spelling and Grammar Checker

Right click on the underlined words to check spelling and grammar.


Integrated Reference Tools

A built-in dictionary and thesaurus supports 12 languages and allows user to look up words without leaving the document. In addition to providing a thorough list of definitions and synonyms, web definitions provide users with examples of words in context with links to the full article.

dictionary and thesaurus

Find it in the Tools Menu


Revision History & Autosave

Continuous autosave to the ???Google Cloud??? virtually eliminates saving issues, while digital documentation keeps track of every addition and edit that is made. Use the revision history to review, compare, or revert to a prior version of the document at any time. Track contributions made by collaborators or identify the source of changes made to the content of a document. It???s easy to see what each individual student contributes to a document because Google Docs assigns every contributor a unique color. The revision history will keep student comments and revisions honest and focused on the task.

Google Docs Revision History

Find Revision History under the File Menu


Provide students with a starting point for digital writing and take advantage of a virtual copy
machine by creating templates. Save time and guide the learning by providing students with a consistent page format which can include links, images, directions and support by using and creating your own templates to jump start the learning. Just create a Google Doc then save it as a template. Students can pick up a copy of a template and instantly store it in their own list of Google Docs.

Google Docs Template

A template is like a virtual copy machine

Final Thoughts

Google Docs is a great tool for helping teachers thoughtfully incorporate digital writing into the curriculum. It can help connect the gap between writing in school and writing in the real world. Try it today!





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About The Author

Susan Oxnevad

Susan Oxnevad

Susan Oxnevad is an educator who is passionate about using technology as a tool for learning. Currently a data and tech coach  in Oak Park, IL, Susan has assumed a variety of teaching roles throughout her career, including classroom teacher, technology teacher, and teacher leader for instructional technology. Outside of the school day, Susan enjoys presenting at conferences, hosting webinars, facilitating hands-on training sessions and maintaining her own blog, Cool Tools for 21st Century Learners, which features ideas for efficient and effective tech integration. Follow her on Twitter @soxnevad


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  1. walden student 1, September 3, 2012:

    I could not agree more technology has a lot to offer many areas of education. I will be teaching writing this year to students with disabilites and some ca use the technology and some have significant disabilities and even this technology will not help them. As an assistive technology specialist I noticed that many students had trouble with handwriting even after 5th grade and occupational therapy was ineffective. At a presentation I attended one speaker stared taht writing will not longer be necessary. I agree that writing is a skill people will not need one day becuase of technology. I can speak into a program such as dragon dictation or I can take notes on my computer. I can cut and paste from one document and put it on another. Writing is about content where as handwriting is a learned skill or tool for learning.

  2. Susan Oxnevad, September 3, 2012:
    Susan Oxnevad

    Thank you, Walden Student 1, for sharing your experiences and thoughtful insight. Technology certainly reduces barriers for students with unique learning needs and you???ve provided some excellent examples of ways to provide students with flexible learning paths to help them learn and succeed. I???m very excited about the supports available in Google Docs and am hoping for the addition of a word prediction feature to truly make it a digital tool to support all learners.

  3. Tom Vander Ark, September 3, 2012:
    Tom Vander Ark

    I???m hoping that word processing will encourage 5x as much writing, I???d like to see student write/publish >400 words every day. I???m less jazzed about dictation than others but I???m sure it will be widely used in 36 months.

  4. Tom Vander Ark, September 3, 2012:
    Tom Vander Ark

    Thanks for a great guest post Susan!!

  5. Susan Oxnevad, September 4, 2012:
    Susan Oxnevad

    I expect students to write considerably more words using the Google Docs Writing Workshop than they have been with traditional paper and pencil methods. As an added bonus, the Word Count feature in Google Docs will help teachers and students monitor progress. Thanks Tom!

  6. Lisa Siese, September 6, 2012:

    Thank you for this interesting information. I am looking forward to trying out some of the google docs features with my grade five class this year.

  7. Susan Oxnevad, September 6, 2012:
    Susan Oxnevad

    Thank you Lisa. I think you will enjoy using Google Docs with grade 5 students. They are ready for this!

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