Google Classroom Basics for Teachers: Post #1

How to Organize Google Classroom for Success

Google Classroom can be an amazing tool for virtual learning, especially with all the on-the-fly adjustments teachers have had to make due to COVID-19. 

One complaint I hear about GC is that it isn’t the most intuitive system. I definitely agree — but I think with just a little bit of practice, it can be a fantastic way to communicate with students and organize a class. 

So let’s dive into tips that actually help you with virtual teaching — without wasting hours and hours of your time scrolling Youtube. 

Tip #1: Start with Organization

With Google Classroom, organization is everything! If you can build your GC space in a clean, logical manner, your students (and parents!) will thank you, and you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches. 

So what makes for an organized Google Classroom setup? 

  1. Understand the layout. First and foremost, you need an understanding of the default layout. GC has 3 basic tabs: 
  • Stream – kind of like your newsfeed on Facebook, the stream starts at the top of the page and includes announcements and posts beginning with the most recent. It includes everything from “Ms. Rivers posted new material” to student comments or questions. 
  • Classwork – this is where your units and assignments will live. Train your students to go here for their work! You’ll spend most of your time customizing this part. 
  • People – this is your list of students and any co-teachers you’ve added to the class. You can message individuals or groups from here. 

When a student or parent logs into your class, they’ll see the Stream feed first. They don’t always know that they have to select Classwork to see your units and assignments. In my opinion, the Stream is what confuses most users. It can look cluttered, and there’s no linear organization to the announcements or posts. There are ways to customize the Stream, but the default is to show everything. For more info on customizing, check out my course Google Classroom Made Easy

Pro Tip: Since you can upload your own Classroom photo header, consider making one with explicit directions. 

Example: Welcome to Ms. Rivers’ Classroom! Click Classwork to get started ⤴

  1. Decide on an organizational structure for your classwork, and stick with it! As you add materials, you’ll be asked to assign each one a topic. Topics will be how your materials are grouped. Some options to organize your topics: 
  • By Date: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, etc. 
  • By Subject/Unit: ELA Unit 1, Science Unit 2
  • By Objective/Concept: Order of Operations, Measurement and Estimation, etc. 

Whatever you decide, stick with it and be consistent! 

Tip #2: Label, Label, Label! 

As you add materials to GC, be sure to choose the right labels and topics. And if something winds up in the wrong place, you can usually drag and drop it to the proper spot. 

Here are your options for labeling items you add:

Topic – the name of your unit, objective, or week. Whatever you decided on as your organizational structure. 

Assignment – Any item you’d like students to submit for feedback and/or grading. You can attach a file, a link to an external website or a Google Drive item, or a Youtube video (depending on your district filters). Add instructions, then assign a topic, due date, and point value if you choose. 

Quiz Assignment – Add a premade Google Form quiz or other document. Also includes a place to add a rubric. 

Question – Use this function for discussion. Add a question you’d like students to type a response to. You can allow them to reply to each other or remove that function depending on your goals. 

Material – Materials can be notes, reference sheets, instructional videos, fact sheets, links to online resources, etc. Labeling these clearly will help students know what each item is for. 

For example:

Reuse Post – This is my favorite one because it saves tons of time! Let’s say you’ll have a weekly discussion question. Your instructions and settings for each week will be the same, you’ll just change the question wording each week. Instead of creating a new item for each unit, you can simply “Reuse Post” and make the individual changes you need. Just be sure to put it under the correct topic, and you’re good to go! 

Beyond that, look for ways to make items stand out to your students. Headings in all caps or emojis can work really well! (PS – you can download an emoji keyboard extension or copy/paste from online). Some people also like to differentiate assignments using emojis!

Tip #3: Drag and Drop To Stay Organized

As you create new assignments or add new materials, the default is that the most recent item lands at the top. Reorder your items under each topic for consistency. 

For example, you may want to start each unit with a welcome video, followed by notes, then online practice, then a written assignment. 

Unless you upload them in reverse order (who has time to think about that?!), you’ll need to drag and drop them into place. 

Before you walk away from GC for the moment, check that all your items are where you want them. It can be easy for things to wind up in the wrong spot by accident. A simple drag-and-drop can usually fix it. 

More Google Classroom Help

For more Google Classroom basics, stay tuned to the blog, and be sure to check out my comprehensive course Google Classroom Made Simple. I’ve partnered with Brittany Cufaude of Joyful Classrooms to bring you a comprehensive course on how to use Google Classroom for your students.  And be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more tips!

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