Five Minute Google Sheets Tutorial: Learn five key skills with sheets fast

Google Sheets are an essential tool for educators, but some teachers may experience trepidation about using spreadsheets because they seem complicated. They are a sophisticated tool that can help you collect and understand data, and we need to base our instructional decisions on student data. I find Google Sheets are easier to use than other spreadsheet programs. My sheets knowledge is mostly self-taught, but I have picked up tricks from others along the way. I want you and your colleagues to feel more comfortable using sheets and I want to tell you why.

I used to cringe when I heard the words "data driven instruction." This phrase was an indication that my administrator was about to show our staff meeting some slides with graphs about our state testing scores. And then somehow, we were supposed to take these aggregate numbers and have table conversations with Science, PE, Math, and Music teachers about how the percentage of students reading proficiently would influence our instructional decisions. (Hello, kids should read more in all classes, but there wasn't much to say past that point.) It was ridiculous and a waste of time. It was also (I thought) the only time we looked at "data." At the time "student data," to me, meant big numbers, six months old, handed down from on high. It was a long time before I connected the classroom data I was collecting and using about my students with the "data driven instruction" buzz words. I just didn't associate real time, actionable data from my classroom with the graphs on power point slides in meetings.

Then I got over my fear of spreadsheets. When my classroom got 1:1 laptops in 2008 I began to use Google Docs and soon Google Forms. (The oldest forms in my Google Drive date from 2009.) To use a form, especially back then, one also had to be able to use a sheet to view the data, and ohh there was so much data. But, it was really useful data. It was data about what my students knew and could do. It was data I could use to drive instructional decisions, and the better I was at using a spreadsheet, the faster and more efficiently I could use the data.

Now, when I teach other teachers about Google Forms and Sheets, I tell them this is about data driven instruction. I see them tilt their heads, slightly confused. I know they still see data driven instruction as big state test scores, so I explain and reframe data driven instruction as the teaching moves we make based on the information we gather about our students in our classrooms. Google Sheets, especially when combined with Google Forms are an immensely helpful tool for that process. But data is still only helpful and actionable if you can access it and make sense of it. So, a solid working knowledge of spreadsheets is now essential for true data driven instruction. (Note, I don't equate data with just numbers. I'm an English teacher. I gather a lot of data from student's writing and other responses.)

While working with my graduate students (pre-service teachers mostly) I noticed that most did not have a working knowledge of spreadsheets. I developed this quick activity to help them practice some basic sheets skills and build their confidence. Later I began to share it with my colleagues, who also found it helpful. Now, I hope it will help you and your colleagues.

Five Minute Google Sheets Tutorial << Click link and then click "use template" to get started. You'll get your own copy that you can play with. The directions in the colored boxes on each tab will guide you. In 5-10 minutes you'll have more skills for managing data with sheets.

  • Splitting names
  • Freezing and adding rows
  • Conditional formatting
  • Wrap and resize
  • Hide and unhide

If you aren't familiar with Google Forms either, I recommend starting with this post

If you want to create differentiated groups for your students based on your data, you can check out the Group Creator Spreadsheet.

If you already love sheets, you might also be interested in the Curriculum Planner Spreadsheet.


  1. I am following your directions for splitting names. In your #5, you say to click on DATA.
    I do not see this. Please explain. Thank you.

    1. DATA is one of the headings in the tool bar.


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