How do I organize my Google Classroom?

The question I get the most about Google Classroom is, "How do you organize it?" When I am helping teachers in my district, I often ask them to add me as a co-teacher to their Google Classroom. Then I poke around, and make them a screencast with my feedback. Much of that feedback is about organization. 

I know every teacher out there is doing the absolute best they can in a very new situation. Most of them have no experience with GC and they are making normal, rookie, mistakes. I want to help. 

I'd love to just write one post about this, but I have a feeling it's going to be an ongoing series. So, today I'll just focus on one thing, assignment efficiency. 

Assignment efficiency means giving assignments in a way that makes the most sense to students, and also creates the most practical work flow for teacher evaluation. I think when teachers ask me about organization they are really asking how to assign things efficiently. I'll show you a wrong way to give assignments and then three better ways you can use to improve work flow for you and your kids. For demonstration purposes I designed a mock project where students will read an article, summarize it, find a similar article, and then compare them. During distance learning, I see many teachers giving multi-step projects like this. 

Not so good: 
Not so good: All spread out. No clear steps.
In this example, each assignment has it's own topic in Google Classroom. I've found several teachers giving assignments this way. It is not efficient. It creates a really long chain in the classwork page. It is hard to tell what belongs together. I think teachers doing this don't know that you can have more than one assignment in a topic. Each time they create a new assignment they give it its own topic, instead of grouping multiple assignments together. 

The other issue with this situation, is that the sequence is unclear for students. It's actually in reverse order of what students should be doing. Students tend to work their way down a list of tasks, not up. If you only have one assignment per topic you should probably go do some reorganization in your Google Classrooms. You can edit an assignment and change the topic using the drop down on the assignment edit page. You can also drag and drop topics and assignments within a topic to help you reorganize.

Better: All together in one topic. Clear top to bottom sequence.
A better option is to take those four separate assignments and group them under one topic with the project name. I also reordered them so students might do them in the correct sequence. 

But, each one is still an assignment, and that means four things the student will "turn in," four items teachers will have to review and grade. (When one of them is really a material to read, and the other is an article to find that could be a link they put on their reflection document.) Grouping assignments in one topic is better, but students can still easily do them out of order, and/or not see the connections between them. 

Even better: All attachments in one assignment
Even Better: 
Create ONE assignment in a topic labeled by the week you want it to be done. Give clear, numbered, assignment steps, and link all the parts the student will need to do the assignment. (I think some teachers don't know they can attach more than one thing to an assignment.) 

This way, the student will have just two docs to turn in as part of the same assignment. The teacher will have just one assignment to review and be able to see both pieces of the student work at the same time. Grouping materials this way will help students stay focused, and not waste time looking for things they need to do their work.

Labeling the topic by week will keep everything students are currently working on at the top of their classwork page. Grouping everything students need into one assignment will allow you to give multiple assignments per week and still keep things organized under the same topic. 

Best: All attachments and work spaces in ONE document. 
Merge all the parts of the assignment into ONE Google Doc. In one document the student can get the link to the first article, summarize it, paste the link to their found article, and then compare them. Students have only ONE doc to worry about. Teachers have only ONE document to look at for evaluation. Everything is in one place, and directions and expectations are clear. 

You can have a copy of the doc template for the full project here. Click, "use template" to get your own copy.

All in one documents like this are frequently called hyperdocs. If you like this style, I highly recommend you get a copy of The Hyperdoc Handbook by Highfill, Hilton, and Landis. (It is required reading for my graduate students as they craft their digital lessons in my Technology and Learning class.) 

I know it frustrates teachers that they can't see the "student view" of Google Classroom without logging in as one of their students. Let me tell you, for the classwork page, the student view and the teacher view are nearly identical. All of these screenshots are from the teacher side, but if I login as a student, they look almost the same, minus the numbers assigned and turned in.

I hope this will help you or one of your colleagues give assignments more efficiently. If you have other questions about using Google Classroom for distance learning, or things you'd like me to write about in future posts, please leave a comment below or ask me on Twitter, @JenRoberts1

If you found this post helpful you might be interested in the Suspenseful Moments Project and/or the Famous Person Project that my students have been working on.

During our distance learning experience I have also blogged about Zooming With A Virtual Classroom Background and Real Time and Flex Time: The terminology matters.


  1. Thank you, Jen! I love this post and have made several changes to my Google Classroom!

    I just copied your template and am making a biography project template. Question: What do you recommend to prevent my students (3rd graders) from deleting important directions or deleting everything once they open the doc? That has been a problem for a few of the google docs I've shared in GClassroom.

    Once again, you've inspired me!

    ~Linda Yollis

    1. Hi Linda! I know what you mean. Even when I put "WRITE YOUR ESSAY HERE" in all caps I've had students delete the prompt and write their essay where the prompt used to be, so I feel your pain. It doesn't happen often though, and I usually just move their writing, re-paste the prompt where it should be, and leave them a comment about not doing that.

      With younger students I would give them the doc with directions where they can do their work. (The color coding of the spaces help. Students seem to naturally assume that the white spaces are for their work.) And I would also attach to the assignment, (or link out from their working doc) a separate, view only, directions doc. That way, even if they delete the directions on their working doc, they can still reference the directions doc without being able to edit it.

      I hope that helps.

  2. Thanks. How do you create a template that won't be altered by students, yet they can still type answers in, along with the ability to click on active links? I know about using the background feature in Slides, but your template is a doc. format.

    1. Once students have edit access to a doc there is no fool proof way to keep them from changing things that they shouldn't. I don't have major issues with students messing up their own documents, but if it is a serious problem for you I would suggest attaching the doc to the assignment twice, once as "make a copy for each student," and the second time as "view only." That way, even if a student deletes things from their working doc they can still view the other attachment.

  3. I will use this for 2nd grade! I have been using slides (copy for each student) and have been successful with that (although they delete that too). Which is easier or more efficient in your opinion? Is there a better time to use slide vs. document? Are there directions for creating these documents? Thank you- you have solved my main problem!

    1. The resource you are looking for is called Hyperdocs, specifically I recommend The Hyperdoc Handbook by Highfill, Hilton, and Landis. There are times when it is better to use slides than docs, but it is a decision each teacher must make based on their students and the content. I tend to use slides when I want students to focus very discreetly on each part of the process, without being distracted by other parts. (Might work well with younger students) I also use slides when I am asking them to analyze images or graphs because I can place the image on the slide and a space to write on the same slide. Docs are good when I want my students to see the big picture of the project, or when I have a lot of written directions to give.


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