Marking work in Google Docs

What is the best way to give feedback on a piece of work produced in Google Docs? What formatting tools are most appropriate to use when leaving comments? How do you organise 30 to 60 pieces of work handed in to you? How do children hand in work? What new possibilities does this process uncover?

These are some of the questions which will be driving my thinking in this post about assessing and giving written feedback on work that children have produced in Google Docs. It was at the beginning of May that we began using Google Apps, and in particular the Docs tools, with the Year 5 children. I am beginning to take some things for granted, it has become a part of what we do and another choice for them to use. Google Docs has become just another addition to their toolkit.

I am currently marking two classes worth of narrative writing and geography projects too, and these are my reflections on what it is like to mark work in Google Docs.

3 tools to add feedback to a piece of work.

First of all you need to make it explicit with the class what they must expect to see in their work in terms of marking and feedback. Just as I have encouraged the children to communicate what to expect from each other when collaborating on a document, I have made it clear to my class the types of marking I will be adding. I have shown examples and talked through what they mean from my point of view. I think that it is important to have a few methods that are simple and have a clarity in terms of their feedback function – here are my three.

1 – How do I highlight any spelling or grammatical errors?

I use the highlight tool and a light shade of red to pick out any mistakes that the children may need to revisit and change. The same could be done with an underline tool but I wanted a clear visual cue to problem spots. A method that I explored on Friday during a “live marking” (see below) session, is to change the highlight to a green when I see that the correction is made.

gdocs marking1

The children may revisit the piece of work and see the highlighted word, they correct the spelling and they also could change the highlight to a green – signalling to me that they have seen and acted upon the feedback. In this way the original position of the mistake is still clear – although this is, in some way, redundant with the document’s revision history.

2 – How do I add comments within a piece of work?

For those comments that you might add in the margin of a handwritten piece I use the Docs comment feature. Place the cursor after the sentence or word you want to comment on and hit CONTROL+M, this is the quickest method for me – you can also use INSERT>COMMENT from the menu bar. You will see a small coloured box appear where you placed the cursor and you can add a short comment about the work. Each comment is tagged by default with your full name, time and date. This can be a useful feature and I would leave it in at least once to show the children the full information, but if the children already understand that the comment boxes will be from you, then there is no need for this info and I often delete it out.

Another reason to delete the name and date information is that if you were to add some suggestions for alternative vocabulary in a comment, the children can right click the comments and insert them directly into the text – blending their work with your feedback and suggestions. But all of the comment text is inserted including name and date – best just to delete user info  out.


It would be a useful addition to the Docs settings to be able to switch between different info in the comment box as default – for example just the date would be useful to me – or none at all.

It is worth noting that wherever you place the comments they will inherit the formatting of the surrounding text – so if you add a comment immediately after a highlighted error the comment is highlighted too. This also applies for headings and other text formatting.

3 – How and where do I write overall comments for a piece of work?

For this type of feedback I use the document header function, that way I know it is distinct from the rest of the work (dotted border) and is clearly signalled to the user when they open it – always on top.

marking 3

For the first assignments I have added in the same reminder (see image) about the type of marking they will see in their work. If I need to provide a series of comments over time it is worth just dating them to begin with.

Handing work out, handing work in

One of the earliest procedures that I explored was to be able to quickly distribute a single document and the idea of children handing work in to me. Sharing is the most important part of all of this and I would say it is the key feature of Docs. Once I have created a document for the children to use as a starting point or a text for them to work on, I share it with all of my class. The way to create groups of users to share docs etc within Ed Apps is to do it in GMail.

1) Login as usual to your domain account you use and got to your GMail.
2) Open up your CONTACTS.
3) You should see a list of contacts you have, most likely to be all users on domain. Click on the ALL CONTACTS link to see everyone.
4) Go through your list and select the users you want in your group.
5) Click on the GROUPS button and ADD TO… NEW GROUP.

Now that you have created a group it will appear when you share any of your Docs if you click Contacts. When the children hand work in to you they have to simply share the document with you – they will appear in your docs home page and you will see their username next to the doc title. Naming the document with the children’s initials is important if their username does not already contain that information. For us I can see who owns different documents from their usernames, for other schools the naming of docs may be more of an issue.

A writing crumbtrail

crumbsA key feature that sets it apart from handwritten work is the document crumbtrail, or revision history. As a teacher I can see every little change and alteration that has gone on from the beginning of the document. You can access the revision history in two ways, from the File menu or from the Tools menu. You have the functionality of comparing older and newer versions.

I find this especially useful with written pieces that have been completed over a series of session or days as I can see, from the dated entries, what has been added and how much has been done. A good method to keep on top of how much work has been completed. The children also have found this useful, giving them the option to revert easily to older versions that they prefer. This tool offers me a window into the document’s past – I can retrace the crumbs and focus on the process as well and the product.

A pile of marking!


Google Docs marking means I do not need to be carrying around piles of work books – however I came across a simple, yet important, problem when I was working this week. If I have a pile of books or papers to give feedback on I activate the intricate system of piles, which I name “marked” and “unmarked” 😉 But when you are looking at a list of Docs that the children have shared with you there is no immediate way to label them or sort in the same way.

Here are a couple of my solutions: organise all of the Docs into a single folder that is named after the work that you are doing – this folder could be nested inside a subject folder too. In the same folder as all of the children’s work create two folders named MARKED (green) and UNMARKED (red). Now MOVE all of the Docs to the UNMARKED folder – get some marking done and move them when it is complete over to the MARKED folder.


I like this method but sometimes it can behave strangely because along with moving folders you can also add documents to multiple folders – it can get confusing if you have moved and also added, the document will show multiple labels.

A second method, which is much simpler, would be to use the STAR feature. Click on the star to the left of the document title. You will then be able to sort all of your documents from the STARRED view in the left bar.


I would use the star to show unmarked work, this way I would be able to see work that still needs feedback adding across lots of different projects from the STARRED view. Your STARRED view then becomes a simple marking to do list.

Live feedback

Perhaps the most exciting development this week is the idea of live marking. A time when both you and the student/s are viewing and working on the document. As much as I am looking for learning that is transformative I am also aware that this type of assessment activity is unprecedented and in its own way is transforming the way you provide feedback. It is not a new idea to sit with a child and go through what they have done – what is different is the fact that we can both work on the document at the same time – I can highlight and mark up the text and the student can make the changes that I suggest as we work. This works very well in practice as proved this week in my class, a pair of children were making the changes I had suggested to their first paragraph as I was looking at the second and so on.

One of the hardest challenges I face with a constricted timetable and expanding curriculum is finding time for the children to review marking I have given and responding to it in turn. It is a crucial step towards a more dialogue centred marking approach but is very difficult in practice with the fast pace of what we do and what is expected of us. I think that the live marking concept brings the marking you, as a teacher, provide and the response the children give together. You mark they respond – it works. The main issue is time and how long it takes to do. You have to both be working on the document, I got through about 4 of these live marking sessions in about 35 minutes and that’s my first shot at it. With 30 to get through it may be something that you have to build time in for but which is very powerful because of the immediate and fast paced response you get. It may belong to a longer unit of work which allows you time over a series of sessions/days to cover all of your students. A live marking model would also work very well for peer assessment purposes and would sidestep the issue of time.

Crucially this method of marking negates any dead time in between your feedback being given and the student making the improvements – that can only be to the benefit of the student and the standard of work they produce.

Ongoing reporting to parents

Another idea I have thought about this week involves the use of Google Docs in the process of reporting to parents. The parents at our school currently receive a paper report at the end of the year and I have just finished writing all 30 of them for my class. I have always considered the concept of contributing to the report as the year progresses – writing about the unit of work we have just finished at that moment, rather than waiting 5 months for report writing deadlines to come around. What if we shared a report document with the child’s parents at the beginning of the year and explained that the children’s reports will build throughout the year but they have complete access to them whenever they want. As the year wears on you add comments and remarks about the child which are immediately shared with the parent. Perhaps you communicate with the parents when these planned series of updates will take place or you simply inform them when changes do take place.

According to this report 82% of GB parents with children 17 or under said that an online reporting service would be helpful. The UK Minister of State for Schools and Learners Jim Knight has announced plans to have ‘real-time’ electronic school reporting systems up and running in all secondary schools by 2010, and in all primary schools by 2012. That is 4 years away for us! It is not a dedicated report writing tool, true, but it is a simple and easy way to share a document. With careful planning, the support of next years parents and my school we could have this running from next September.

Image1: ‘crumbs‘
Image2: ‘11/15/07‘

34 thoughts on “Marking work in Google Docs

  1. These are incredibly useful, well thought out strategies for using the interactive and time stamp properties of Google Docs for marking. I never thought of adding overall comments in the headers. Thanks for sharing your strategies. I’ll be sharing this with teachers in my school.

    The parent component is interesting. You could provide different levels of access, perhaps just read-only for some purposes. Great ideas!

  2. Great post as always Tom! The use of the comment tool isn’t something that I’d thought about before.

    You mentioned that this took quite some time to do with each student, but it would also be great for peer to peer marking. As long as the students also invited the teacher you’d kill two birds with one stone. You’d be able to see any mistakes made and also if the other marker had managed to pick them up!

    I’ve also had some thoughts on marking using Google docs, however I went from the angle of filling in a form eg for a written comprehension and then marking the whole lot on a subsequent spreadsheet. The link is

    I hope you don’t mind me posting it here. Keep up the good work.


  3. Good stuff, Tom. I like this practical approach to using Web 2.0 tools in ways that tie in with what teachers actually want to do with their classes anyway.

    In terms of keeping track of marked work, personally I would use a Google spreadsheet. At the very simplest level, you could get it to count the number of unmarked items of work (countif), and highlight unmarked work (conditional formatting). I’m in the process of writing an article about this for the next issue of Computers in Classrooms.

  4. Tom,

    Thanks for this great post. I wish more people posted work flow posts like this because they are so useful and act as a kick start to get me thinking of ways to use it.

    For years I taught 9 – 11 year olds. I struggled to find an effective way to conference with them regarding their writing. I could spend hours marking up their writing and conferencing with them, but I didn’t feel I was getting back much for my time. Then, I created my own Moodle and had them post their draft in there. I was able to comment inline or separately. I was amazed at the power of this. For some reason, this method was a powerful tool for reaching my students. I was suddenly in a lab with children reading comments and making revisions. It was exciting, especially because many of those students were struggling writers. I hope you will keep us posted on how successful you find this method over time.

    I went overseas after that, and Blackboard does not natively have have the same features, so I wasn’t able to build on that success, but I’ve thought of it often. Google Docs makes that option available to far more teachers, and it provides more features.

    Thanks again.

  5. I agree with others on the usefulness of your post here. It gives a great overview and tips on using GoogleDocs with kids, but it can also be translated to using it with groups of teachers, too.
    Thanks for sharing and reflecting.

  6. Tom.
    What a fansinating post. This is a really excellent piece of action research. I have followed your posts about google docs and the power they seem to have is eye opening. Hopefully i can start to include more of your ideas and suggestions into my own teaching.

  7. A very well thought-out system that will be of great help to teachers thinking of using a similar system. Thanks for sharing this, Tom! 🙂

  8. Tom, I am thrilled to find this post of yours. I have beeen using a much simpler method of marking my students work on Google Docs. With your permission, I will use the procees you have described so thoroughly. Fabulous stuff

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  11. this is wonderful! I am doing some staff development classes on using google docs and with your permission will be sharing this with my teachers – thanks so much for this resource!

  12. Interesting ideas, although I have to say I think wikis are much better for marking and monitoring work in a “crumbtrail” format than Google Docs.

    With wikis you can compare different versions of a developing essay / project much more easily using a “history” tab and use the “discussion” tab to develop a dialogue with the student about the progress of their work.

    Is one page from the more comprehensive that shows what I mean.

    Google forms are absolutely fantastic though for gathering a lot of feedback from students in terms of peer assessment.

  13. Hi Russel thanks for your comment – I think that the features I explore in Google Docs provide similar tools to a wiki, the discussions that can occur about a single wiki page are useful and structured. I prefer comments to be on the piece of work as if it were in there books or written down.

    I think the crumbtrail is similar to wikis as you can compare and contrast two different versions with the changes highlighted.

    The major plus is the synchronous editing that can take place with GDocs which is not possible with wikis.

    When students work on a wiki it is often run and setup by a teacher, who invites the children in to edit a page which is their work space. With GDocs it is the other way round, the children own and author there own work which they then share with the teacher.

    Thanks for your comment and taking the time to read the post – your history wikispace looks great.

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  16. The Google Docs is such a great way to keep up with the students’ work. It seems very useful not to have to carry around all of the paperwork. I also like how the parents have access and can keep up with their child’s work. Communicating with the parents is a great way to help the students’ get their work turned in on time and it be accurate

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  19. Some interesting points here Tom. I’ve been using Google docs for my students A Level essays for a while. The beauty of Google docs is that I can share students’ work with one another. So, if student A hasn’t covered all the points he should have, or hasn’t elaborated well enough, or hasn’t used specific IT examples, he can simply look at his classmates’ essays for examples of good or better work.

    I like the idea of highlighting errors – I use pretty much all the usual ‘marks’ for marking the docs: ‘check’ mark, cross, ^ sign if something is missing (these I copy and paste in the doc and end up marking just as quickly as if I were doing it by hand). I also underline and comment if a point needs elaboration.

    For me, the biggest plus of using Google docs, is when I ask students to look back over their past work. I used to get students saying, ‘I haven’t brought my folder, its at home.’ etc. but woth Gdocs, its instantly available. Big plus.

    The only comments I get about what I do are: ‘But you could just photocopy all the essays and hand them out for all students to see.’ I suspect that regular reporting with Gdocs would get a similar response,. i.e if I simply write regular progress records/comments in a students book – and the student took that home for a parent to read, would there be any advantage to more frequent reporting via Gdocs?

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan – just playing devil’s advocate.

  20. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for the link to this earlier in Twitter without which I may not have come across this gem of information. The marking ideas you suggest are practical and easy to follow. The idea of using Google Docs for this type of work has only started to become a reality for me so I hope to continue using it over the next year. This information, the guides and further suggestions are excellent and I will definitely make use of them.
    Thanks for sharing.

  21. Great article, I want to put this into practice Tom – now the challenge is to jump in!

  22. The good thing about your information is that it is explicit enough for students to grasp. Thanks for your efforts in spreading academic knowledge.
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  23. Wonderful article,thanks for putting this together! “This is obviously one great post. Thanks for the valuable information and insights you have so provided here. Keep it up!”
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  24. Wow Impressive!
    Your blog is very informative. However, it is pretty hard task but your post and experience serve and teach me how to handle and make it more simple and manageable.
    Thanks for the tips… Best regards.
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  25. Thanks for sharing all your experience on Google Docs Tom. I have started using it with my Year 4 class and your blog has been incredibly useful in helping me think through how best to use it. Thanks!

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  27. I have just introduced Docs to my class of 9-10 year olds, and they have taken to it very well. I found that using the ‘hide’ option to hide the marked work, I can clearly see the documents left to check. Thanks for a great website, and ideas.

  28. Hi Tom
    I am keen to get started in one way or another on students submitting work via google docs. Can you help me to get started? With very best wishes David

  29. Hi,
    This problem should be stated at other platforms too because it is a serious problem which is needed to be tackled carefully.

  30. Hi,
    I liked your idea and courage to write on such an issue honestly. I really liked your writing simple but effective writing style. I hope you will add value to this site again by posting in future too.