7 Tips for Teachers Using Google Docs

7 Google Docs Tips

Google Docs is the most popular EdTeach app in education. Years ago, I chose it over Word for its simplicity and collaboration features. Hyperdocs are popular with teachers.

Over the past two years, updates to Docs have made it a better tool for engaging students.

Here are seven tips to make multi-modal Google Docs that prevent new tabs and engage students.

Tip 1: Use Lexend Fonts

Try using Lexend fonts in Google Docs. Lexend is a family of fonts researched and designed to improve reading speed. Lexend fonts vary in spacing between characters and letter flattening. Unlike most print fonts, the letter “a” in Lexend fonts is like the handwritten letter “a.” Additionally, Lexend fonts are elegant and professional. Lexend Deca is a personal favorite. Please watch this video to learn how to use Lexend fonts in Google Docs:

For more information about Lexend fonts, please read this blog post:

While it may save time, please do not copy and paste URLs into Google Docs. URLs are a nightmare for anyone with a screen reader. Additionally, a long URL does nothing to engage readers or keep their attention.

Instead, use hyperlinked text that describes the linked website.

The good news is that Google Docs now suggests replacing URLs with titles. Try it by pasting a URL into a Google Doc. Hyperlink the URL. Docs will suggest replacing the URL with the title of the linked website.

Google Docs suggests replacing a URL with its title. The dialogue box reads, "Replace URL with its title?"
Google Docs suggests replacing a URL with its title.

Tip 3: Hyperlinked Checklists

Use Google Docs headings to organize and chunk documents. Then create a checklist at the top of a Google Doc so students can check off what they have completed.

Have each checklist item link to a heading. Click on a checklist item. Link each checklist item to a heading by clicking the link icon. If a heading matches the text, it will appear as a suggestion. There is a “Headings and bookmarks” option that allows for linking to any heading or bookmark.

Right click any text in a Google Doc and click Insert link. At the bottom of the dropdown, click "Headings and bookmarks."
Linking text in Google Docs allows users to link to headings and bookmarks inside the Doc.

Note: Title text does not appear in the Headings and bookmarks option when linking text. A workaround is to insert a bookmark in front of a title and link to that. At the bottom of each section, type the words, “Back to top.” Hyperlink “Back to top” to the bookmark at the front of the title.

For more information about checklists in Google Docs, please watch this video:

Tip 4: Google Docs and Slides Preview Panels

Preview panels have improved linking to other Google Docs and Google Slides files. Docs and Slides in a preview panel which opens in the lower-right corner of the Docs screen. No need to open another tab.

A preview panel of a Google Slides file in a Google Doc.
Google Slides preview panel.
A preview panel of a Google Docs file in a Google Doc.
Google Docs preview panel.

Show students preview panels to help avoid distractions and many cluttering tabs.

To learn more about Google Docs and Slides preview panels in Docs, please watch this video:

Tip 5: Add Audio to Docs with Mote

Teachers can use the Mote Google Chrome extension to embed audio in Google Docs.

Hyperlinked text plays audio in Google Docs because of the Mote Google Chrome extension.
Use Mote to embed sound in Google Docs.

Teachers can use Mote to hyperlink audio to both words and images in Docs.

There is a big caveat: Students need the Mote Chrome extension installed to play the audio in the Google Doc. If students do not have the extension, the Mote link will open in a new tab. It is much more efficient to listen to the sound in the Doc than it is to listen to it in a new tab.

To learn how to add audio to Google Docs with Mote, please watch this video:

Tip 6: Add Video to Google Docs with YouTube Preview Panels

Students can watch YouTube videos in Google Docs preview panels as they can with Docs and Slides. Link a YouTube video and open the preview to watch the video.

A preview panel of a Google Docs file in a Google Doc.
A YouTube preview panel.

Bonus tip: Link 360° YouTube videos in Google Docs. Students can click around the 360° video in the Google Doc preview panel. This is an immersive learning experience inside a Google Doc!

For more information on adding YouTube videos to Google Docs, please watch this video:

Tip 7: Connect Files and Collaborators with Smart Chips

Smart Chips are interactive links to Google Workspace, files, Calendar events, and collaborators. They display an icon for certain types of files which is more engaging than linked text.

To add a Smart Chip to a Google Doc, type the @ symbol. Then type the name of the file, collaborator, or event to bring up the specific item.

Additionally, pasting the Google Drive sharing URL of a Google Doc, spreadsheet, or Slides will bring up the option to change it to a Smart Chip.

This is what Smart Chips look like in a Google Doc:

How smart chips appear in Google Docs. For example, a Google Sheets Smart Chip has the Google Sheets icon.
Smart Chips in a Google Doc.

Typing “@” does not work for making YouTube Smart Chips. To make a YouTube video a Smart Chip, paste the YouTube URL in the Doc. Google Docs will then prompt you to replace the URL with a Smart Chip.

Google Docs gives the editor the option to replace a YouTube URL with a Smart Chip.
Replace a YouTube URL with a Smart Chip in Google Docs.

Collaborator Smart Chips display their email address and links shared in their Google profile. This is what happens when I tag myself with a Smart Chip:

Clicking a collaborator Smart Chip shows their email address and other relevant links.
Collaborator details are displayed when clicking a collaborator Smart Chip.

Please note the following files do not work with Smart Chips:

  • Jamboard Jams
  • Google Forms
  • Google My Maps
  • Google Earth Projects

Hopefully, these files are part of a future Smart Chip update. Imagine a Google Form Smart Chip with preview panels. Students could answer Google Forms questions in a Google Doc!

For more information on Smart Chips in Google Docs, please watch this video:

Here is an example of a Google Doc that incorporates these seven tips:

Watch as I demonstrate these tips during the Google for Education Certified Innovator program’s 2021 Sparkcamp Saturday event:

What do you think? What do you include in Google Docs created for students? Please comment below or tweet me, @TomEMullaney.

Does your school need professional development that supports Google Docs and educational technology? Have a look at some of my offerings and connect with me on Twitter.

Photo by Katerina Holmes from Pexels.



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