Have you ever found yourself in a classroom full of students, wondering if anyone is enjoying the content? Or at the very least, engaged and invested in what they’re learning? This can be a defeating feeling as a teacher, especially considering the hours we put into lesson planning. It doesn’t have to be this way! As teachers, one of our main goals in the classroom is to engage our students in meaningful activities. And it’s a huge bonus if we can plan these activities in a reasonable amount of time, with free and simple tools.
In this post, I’m going to show you four awesome tools that will help you engage your students in almost any lesson. Incorporating the right tools, along with a strategic approach, can help you engage students so they’re invested in what they’re learning. Every time. What’s even better, all of the tools in this post are 100% free! And what’s even better is I’m taking somewhat of a classic approach to this topic, bringing out some oldies but goodies. Which means you’re likely to have background knowledge in some, if not all of these tools, making it that much easier to dive right in.
Tool #1: Google Drawings
One of my absolute favorite and most underrated Google tools (in my opinion) is Google Drawings. Drawings can engage just about any level of student, from kindergarten right up to higher ed. Google Drawings allows users to create collaborative, custom images and diagrams quite easily. So, right away, you gain engagement with the collaborative nature and simplicity of this tool.
Have you ever found yourself at the end of a lesson where your students spent the entire time cutting out a bunch of manipulatives, only to run out of time and lose half of the pieces? This was me more times than I’d like to admit. Drawings can help solve this dilemma. One of my favorite uses of Google Drawings is to use them for manipulatives – and if you’re a middle or high school teacher and think manipulatives are mainly for elementary students, please hang with me.
Google Drawings is hands-down the reason I am able to successfully have my students complete our school-wide required word sorts. See this example to see how to set up a word sort using Google Drawings, and feel free to make a copy for yourself! Notice how the Drawing utilizes the space outside of the “canvas.” The directions and word cards are in this blank space for a reason. Only the student’s work will end up on the Drawing itself, and this means that if the student embeds or downloads this Drawing to use somewhere like an eportfolio, etc., the directions and unused word cards (if there are any) won’t distract away from the student’s work.
And just to clarify how I’d get this Drawing to my students, I would either have them make a copy from the link, like I did for you above (once the Drawing is open, just go to File, then Make a Copy, or, I could change the link to force the students to make a copy (learn more here), or the best way (in my opinion) would be to pass the file out through an assignment in Google Classroom.
Once you start manipulating in Google Drawings, you won’t be able to stop! You’ll find yourself using them to classify polygons, animals, sentences, and the list goes on (and on). And then you’ll find yourself in Drawings to create diagrams for the water cycle, human body systems, atoms…maybe you’ll create a Choice Board. Who knows?! The possibilities are endless!
Please do me a favor, think of one activity in your classroom, just one, that Google Drawings could enhance. Then brainstorm, create, and implement the lesson in your room. I have a feeling you’ll quickly be hooked on Drawings, along with your students.
Tool #2: Slides
Google Slides, Google’s presentation tool, is one of the most widely-used Google tools. Too much of the time, Slides is used to present to a passive audience, creating an atmosphere of low engagement. What so many people miss with Slides is that there are a few simple ways to make your presentations interactive for students.
Interactive Tip #1: Links
It’s really simple to insert links into Google Slides. All you need to do is highlight the words/objects you want to link, click “Insert” then “Link.” You can link students to other websites, continuing the learning beyond your content. It is also possible to insert links to other slides in your presentation. This allows for students to take a nonlinear path through your presentation. This choice and control gives students a sense of ownership over their learning, and in turn, creates an engaging experience. See how this lengthy slideshow is organized with a Table of Contents, giving the audience a chance to choose how they access the content. This is just one of many ways to increase engagement by linking to other slides in a slideshow.
Interactive Tip #2: Add-Ons
Not all that long ago, Google added Add-Ons to Google Slides. Add-Ons extend a user’s capability in Slides, making what was previously impossible, possible. One of my absolute favorite Google Slides Add-ons is Pear Deck. The Pear Deck Add-On allows you to instantly transform your previously passive Google Slides presentation into a valuable formative assessment or interactive presentation. Pear Deck does have a premium version, but there is a ton that you can do with the free version, so it’s definitely worth checking out! Click here to learn more.
Interactive Tip #3: Google Slides Presenter View
If you find yourself presenting a good, old fashioned slideshow without much interaction, please know that Google has an option for you: Google Slides presenter view. In the Slides presenter view (find it under the magical sharktooth triangle next to “Present”), you have the ability to start an audience Q&A session that can run while you’re presenting. This feature allows your audience to ask questions without interrupting the flow of your presentation. Viewers can also like others’ questions and comments so that you can quickly prioritize which entries you address. It’s a wonderful built-in interactive feature in Google Slides!
For more information on the three interactive tips above, please visit a quick excerpt from one of our contractor’s Summit presentation on Google Slides by clicking here.
Tool #3: Forms
Google’s survey tool, Google Forms, is an incredibly powerful tool. From collecting data to charting results by student or group, the possibilities are endless. Once teachers start using Google Forms, oftentimes they can’t stop! They’re just that great.
Want to take the Forms student engagement to the next level in your classroom? Try student-created Google Forms. For better or worse, students are influenced and motivated by their peers. They love having the ability to easily collect peer responses using a familiar, free tool. And as a teacher, I loved having my students collect data in Forms for so many reasons. Forms are:
- Completely free
- Part of the core Google Suite and can be created and easily organized in Google Drive
- Easily emailed
- Easily passed out or submitted in Google Classroom
- Easily embedded into Google Sites
And the list goes on. What’s even better, the learning doesn’t stop there. Once students collect the data, then the real learning can begin. In just a few clicks, the data can be sent to a Google Sheet where students can analyze, chart, and manipulate the collected data. These charts can be easily pasted into related Docs, Slides, Sites, you name it. Now you’ve created multiple meaningful and engaging lessons all from one student-created Google Form. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Tool #4: Sites
Google Sites, or I should specify, the “New” Google Sites can be an extremely engaging tool. As Google’s website creation tool, Google Sites allows users to create a hub of information. Teachers love Google Sites for creating a classroom or unit website.
What takes the “new” Google Sites to the next level of engagement is to have the students create the sites. Google Sites is a super simple tool, so it lends itself to student use. When students are creating work for an audience outside of their teachers (and possibly parents), the level of motivation increases exponentially.
One way students can use Google Sites is to create ePortfolios, a collection of work that demonstrates their learning over a period of time. Think: a 3-ring binder portfolio, but online. And Google Drive files can be easily embedded into a Google Site with just a couple of clicks. And the file stays live so that when a change is made to the file, it automatically updates on the Google Site. So essentially it’s one and done as far as embedding the file onto the site.
What’s great about Google Sites is that you are in complete control of the audience. You can create a completely private site, you can share the site with specific individuals to view and/or edit, you can share the site within your organization, or you can make your site completely public. When having students create a site, I would have them work their way up to a more open audience. We always would start private, and then with safe online practice, the students could work their way to a more public audience (if that was appropriate for that situation). I am always extremely deliberate about safe online practice when helping students reach a larger audience.
Some critics might say that Google Sites aren’t super interactive for the audience. This couldn’t be further from the truth if you stretch your thinking outside the box. In order to make a Google Site more interactive, think about embedding a Google Form for viewers to fill out right there on the webpage. You can even embed the Spreadsheet of responses for viewers to see what others responded. Or link the users to an embedded, collaborative Doc, Sheet, or Slideshow. These are just a few options to get you started with making a new Google Site interactive for the audience.
Once you get students started with reaching a larger audience, you’ll immediately see a jump in engagement and care that goes into their work. You immediately realize you (and your students) wouldn’t want it any other way.
So there you have it: 4 classic tools to help you engage your students. My hope is to give you a new lens for a tool you might have already been using in the classroom. Which idea will you try first? And what engaging ideas do you have to share? Please share below!
As Director of Education Partnerships at EdTechTeam, Christina brings a passion for rethinking education to ensure experiences are learner-centered, with a focus on developing the capacity of others to lead and implement transformational work. Christina has worked in various roles in elementary, middle, and high school environments, as Associate Director of the Institute for Personalized Learning, and as a Manager of Partnerships at Discovery Education. She uses her experience as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, principal, and professional development specialist to understand the challenges districts face, and partners with them to create a design that works toward the district’s vision and goals. From Design Thinking to STEM to apprenticeship experiences, Christina is always looking for ways to further empower educators and engage learners in real-life experiences that impact their future.