6 Tips for Navigating Google Classroom while Distance Learning
If someone would have told me at the start of this school year that we would be finishing the last four months from home, I would have laughed. But, here we are. Times are crazy, friends. Distance learning is officially how we will finish out our year. I understand that expectations for distance learning are vastly different, depending on your state, district, and school. And let’s be honest, we’re all figuring it out as we go and doing the best we can – and that’s all that we can do! So, I’m not here to offer up expert advice about how to master distance learning. I am, however, going to show you 6 Google Classroom tips that have made my life easier. You may read this and think, “Heather, these are not groundbreaking. Everyone knows this.” Or, you may think I’m a tech wizard. Hopefully, you’ll land somewhere in between. Here we go:
Tip #1: Create Topics for Easy Organization
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but hear me out. Creating topics to organize assignments is one of the most essential things for Google Classroom. With so many things popping up on students’ streams throughout the week, topics are key to making it easy to navigate for you and for students. I personally have topics for all of my core subjects, as well as announcements (where Zoom meeting links go) and morning messages. That helps both myself and my students know where to look for specific things that they need. You can create topics to organize in any way that works for you! Under each topic, you can post all of your assignments, as well as materials (things that are not “due” but live on their Classroom page) and questions you may ask for check ins, morning message engagement, and more. Like I said, this one may seem simple, but it is really a lifesaver!
To create a topic, click on the “classwork” tab at the top of your screen, click “create,” then select “topic,” and give it a name. You can click and drag the topics on your Classwork page to order them in the way that makes the most sense for you. When you create an assignment, just make sure you designate the topic you’d like it to go under using the drop down menu on the right of the screen. Then, boom! Instantly organized!
Tip #2: Create an Assignment Title Format
This is another one that may seem simple, but offers is quite the organizational hack. When posting assignments, create a format that you will keep across the board. If you post assignments daily, it could be something as simple as “Day, Subject Assignment” (ex: Tuesday Math Assignment, Wednesday Math Assignment) or “Day, Date, Subject Assignment” (ex: Friday 4/10 Literacy Assignment, Friday 4/10 Writing Assignment). If you post more long term, you could name things by topic or unit (ex: Because of Winn Dixie Chapter 1-4, Because of Winn Dixie Chapter 5-8). Whatever format you choose, keep it consistent across all subjects. This will help students to easily find their particular assignments and help you to stay organized!
Tip #3: Differentiate Assignments with Symbols
This hint was one that I heard in a webinar and it is a game changer! You can use emojis to easily differentiate assignments or materials. In order to do this, you also need to know how to assign things to only certain students, so this is a two for one tip!
The first thing you need to do is create your assignment or material. If it is going to be very similar for each group of students, you may want to use the reuse post feature (read tip #4!) to keep the bones of the assignment the same and modify from there. Once your assignment is created, you can alter the directions as you please and add the links/docs you need for that particular group. To make sure the differentiation easy to keep track of, you are going to use an emoji in the title! To do this, go to emojipedia.org and find the symbols you would like to use. Click on the symbol, press copy, then go back to Google Classroom and paste it into your assignment title.
Once the assignment or material is created and your symbol is in the title, it is time to assign to your groups. To do this, on the right side of the assignment/material screen, click the “All Students” drop down, uncheck all students, and click those that you want the assignment to go to (alternatively, if you are only taking a few students off the assignment, you can just uncheck their names). Make sure that you assign the correct emoji to the corresponding group, and you are good to go! Students cannot see the other assignments you have created, so they will not know that there are other symbols/assignments going to their classmates.
Tip #4: Reuse Posts to Save Time and Energy
As I quickly mentioned in tip #3, you can reuse assignments that are similar to avoid having to recreate them repeatedly! This is great for assignments that have the same directions, but may need different materials, or for things like morning messages that have a similar format daily. This is also perfect for recurring meetings that you may want to remind students of each week and include the login information and password to. The only tricky thing here is that if you are only assigning the post to particular students, you do need to reselect them each time you reuse the post, as it defaults to “All Students.”
To reuse a post, go to the “classwork” page and click “create.” Then, scroll down to “reuse post.” Click that, then select the assignment you would like to reuse from the menu. This will open up a new assignment/material that is the same as the one you are reusing! If you need to modify it, add materials, or select only certain students to post to, you can do that all before you assign or schedule it!
Tip #5: Schedule Posts in Advance
Thank god for the “schedule” feature on Google, amirite? Honestly, I don’t know where I have been, but I didn’t start using the “schedule send” feature in my email until this year. Now that I discovered it on Google Classroom, my life has been forever changed. This feature is amazing for batch creating assignments, then having them post to students’ stream on a particular day/time. If you know what your upcoming week will look like in advance, you can create all of your assignments beforehand and rather than having to save them as a draft, log on at the time you want to post, and press assign, you can simply schedule them!
My team schedules all of our assignments for the upcoming week on Friday afternoon, so we do not have to worry about creating and posting them daily. We schedule send our assignments to post a minute or two apart on student streams every morning, based on the order we want them to appear in, starting with the assignment we want students to see last and ending with the assignment we want students to see first (ex: Science/Social Studies at 7:50, Writing at 7:55, Literacy at 8:00, Math at 8:05, Morning Message at 8:10). We also schedule send announcements for later on in the day so that students see them on their stream as they do work. This is great for Zoom meeting information that students may need throughout the day!
To schedule send assignments, create them as you normally would first. Then, click the small arrow next to “assign” on the top right of the screen. Click “schedule,” then choose the date and time you would like the assignment to post to students’ stream! LIFE. IS. GOOD.
Tip #6: Save Extensions for Early Finishers
Whether we are in the classroom or virtual learning, there are always going to be students who finish early or are looking for extensions to their activities. A great way to save time and energy, as well as make resources easily available for these students, is to create a material under a specific topic that houses all of your extensions and early finisher activities. It’s important that this is a material, rather than an assignment, because it is likely not required, so it will not have a due date. It is simply always there for students to access, should they choose to. For me and my team, this is as simple as a material that links to a Google Doc containing links to games, programs, challenges, and more. All of the extensions are in one place as a menu for students to choose from. When students finish early and leave the inevitable, “I’m done what should I do now?” comment, you can simply direct them to that material. A Google doc with links or a direct link to an extensions folder is great for this because you can constantly add to it without having to create a new material on Google Classroom each time you find something new!
There you have it- my hacks for Google Classroom! Hopefully you learned a thing or two that can save you a bit of time and keep you organized as we navigate learning from home. Best of luck, friends, and let me know if there are any ways that I can help from afar!