Easy Citations in Google Docs

Digital citizens are constantly sharing other people’s content.  We are all cultivators of stuff.  Images, quotes, GIFs, artwork, you name it – we share it.  It is very important that we teach kids to give credit where credit’s due.

Unfortunately, students are very resistant to citing their sources when they do schoolwork.  Why?  I believe it’s because it’s a pain to do so.  Who would want to cite their source if you have to do tons of sleuth work to figure out who the original source really was?  Who would want to cite their source if you have to enter a boatload of information into a separate site to prepare the citation to put in your document?

In my book, the goal for students, especially those in middle school, should simply be to get them to cite their sources.  I’m not going to stress out about if it really is the accurate original source.  I also wouldn’t stress about them correctly placing their periods and commas in their MLA citation.  I just want them to recognize that the content is not their own and that the originator deserves credit.  Google Docs makes that easy with two tools.  Let’s check them out . . .

Using the Explore Tool in Google Docs

This will only work for resources on the web (not books), but it’s super easy to use.  It creates footnotes, which I’ve heard aren’t commonly used in K-12 writing.  However, as you’ll see in this animation, you can easily copy those footnotes and turn them into a Works Cited.  Check out this GIF to see how:

Using the EasyBib Add-On

This tool is great for citing books, but not as good at citing websites.  It keeps track of your entire bibliography until you’re ready to add it to your doc.  If you are using the Explore tool for your websites, you can just combine them when you’re done, just like I do in the animation below.

Disclaimer: I’ve heard from a few sources that these two tools do not always produce 100% accurate citations.  In my opinion, as stated above, this is a risk that I’m willing to take, at least until students are in college prep high school courses.

Text on Both Sides of Images in Google Docs

When you look at newspapers, magazines or newsletters, you often see centered pictures with 2 separate sets of text on either side of the image.  However, when you center an image in Google Docs and set it as Wrap, the text continues horizontally around the image.  This may be useful sometimes, but in general, doesn’t look like what we’d see in a professional publication.

Now, Columns in Google Docs can help you with this, assuming that you want only 2 or 3 columns and that you want them to be equal widths.  But, what if you want more columns?  Or widths that aren’t equal?

Well, here’s the hack for you.  Create a table, put the picture into the table and use the remaining cells to type your text.  When you’re all done, set your table borders to 0 point (a.k.a. invisible!) and you’re good to go.  Check it out:

Docs Text on Both Sides of Image Animation

Suggested Edits in Google Docs

This post is about a useful feature that most people don’t notice in Google Docs: Suggesting Mode.  This is fantastic for students doing peer revisions or even teachers collaborating on projects.  It allows you to show people what you think should be changed, without actually changing it.  The choice is ultimately theirs.

I recommend this when students do any peer revisions in class: if you’re suggesting a specific grammatical, punctuation or word change, use Suggested Edits.  However, if you’re giving more general feedback or suggesting a change be made, but not identifying what to change to, use a Comment.

Anyhow, here’s how it works: Up in the top right corner you’ll see the word or icon for EditingCommenting or Viewing.  Click on that and switch to Suggesting.  Now, act as though you’re actually editing the document (type, backspace, etc.), but your “edits” will show as “suggested edits.”  Awesome!

Suggested Edits in Google Docs Animation

Differentiation in Google Forms

Google Forms are great for collecting information and delivering assessments, but did you know Forms had some differentiation swag?

Yup, it’s true. Use “Go to Section Based on Answer” with a Multiple Choice question to have right answers and wrong answers lead to different sections. A general mockup of what this could look like, and steps for creating it, are below the GIF.

Differentiated Google Forms Animation


  1. Add a question with a correct answer and (at least one) wrong answer.
  2. Add a section after that question.
  3. Put your remedial content in that section. YouTube videos work well.  You could even make your own video to put in there.  You could also include a follow-up question to give your students a chance to re-assess.
  4. Add a section after the remedial content.
  5. Put your next content here.  This is the section where students who got the correct answer will land.  It will probably also be where you have students who completed the remedial step will land.
  6. Go back to your initial question.
  7. Select “Go to Section Based on Answer.”
  8. Have the incorrect choice(s) go to the remedial section.
  9. Have the correct choice(s) skip to the section after the remedial one.
  10. Sit back and enjoy the differentiated learning experience!

General Layout:

  • Section 1: includes the question the differentiation is based on
  • Section 2: the remedial section – whatever content you want the students who got the previous question incorrect to see (video, explanation, follow-up question)
  • Section 3: the “next step” – the slide that the students with the correct answer jump to, also where the students with the incorrect answers land after completing the remedial section.

Note: you can add multiple levels of this in one Form, but it can get hard to manage.  I once created a Form that went: Question 1, Remedial Video & Question 1a, Remedial Video & Question 1b, Question 2, Remedial Video & Question 2a, Remedial Video & Question 2b, etc.  As you may guess, I had to create a complex flowchart to make sure I had everything jumping to the correct places.

Practice Speeches in Screencastify

Giving speeches or presentations in front of their peers can be a really nerve-wrecking activity for students.  We often encourage them to practice, but . . . what’s practice without reflection and self-assessment?

Students can use the free Google Chrome extension Screencastify to record themselves giving their speech or presentation.  Then, they can view that recording and reflect on how they did.

Practice Speeches in Screencastify Animation

Screencastify automatically saves to their Google Drive and is not public, unless the student chooses to upload to YouTube or share the Google Drive file.

The steps:

  1. Install the Chrome Extension.
  2. Click on the extension and follow the prompts to set it up.
  3. When ready, click on the extension to record.
  4. Select Desktop (recording entire screen), Tab (recording just the current tab, even if you navigate away from it) or Cam (recording only the camera).  If doing Desktop or Tab, decide if you want the webcam on or not.
  5. Click Record and start talking!
  6. Click stop and then watch your masterpiece.  Remember that it’s also saved in your Google Drive in a “Screencastify” folder.

The Draftback Extension

One of the earliest edtech tools that I recommended to the teachers involved in the Writing Ourselves project, which I am the Technology Director for, was the DraftBack Extension.  Once enabled, the extension allows you to playback your writing process for any doc that you are an editor on.  Obviously, the best use case for this would be to have students do this.

What a powerful way for students to reflect on their writing process and for educators to assess (and offer feedback on) the way that they go about the writing craft.  Awesome sauce.

Draftback animation

Stop Motion Slides

There are multiple options for creating animations (GoAnimate, Scratch, etc.) but my favorite way to do it is creating Stop Motion Slides.  I like that I can make it exactly how I want it in this format.  I think this has tons of potential in all subject areas (Please comment or share on Twitter with the hashtag #StopMotionSlides if you come up with any cool uses for it).

There are two main steps:

  1. Create a Google Slideshow where each slide is an incremental change from the previous one (like a flipbook).
  2. Open the slideshow up in Presenter view and use a screencasting tool (i.e., Camtasia, Screencastify, Screencast-o-matic) to record it as a video.

Here are a few of my tips for making it quick:

  • Ctrl+D or ⌘+D to Duplicate Slides
  • Use Arrows to Move Smoothly & Incrementally
  • Move in groups when appropriate
  • Rotate things incrementally
  • Change Colors gradually
  • Use Transparency
  • Use Ordering

Add Customizable Columns to Google Docs

One of the complaints from Day 1 with Google Docs was the inability to add columns.  Not too long ago, Google added this functionality, but it’s still sorely lacking in customizability.  So, here’s a workaround:

  1. Insert a Table
  2. Enter your text and images
  3. Make the table’s border 0 point (a.k.a., invisible)
  4. Find a microphone
  5. Drop it

Adding Images with Captions in Google Docs

Years ago, I heard plenty of complaints about how Google Docs just didn’t measure up to Microsoft Word.  My response always centered around the ways that Google Docs could change the way we worked and students learned.  Most people have bought in, but I still occasionally hear complaints about missing features.  One of them is adding captions to pictures – a major informational text skill in the English Language Arts standards.

Check out the GIF below to see how to use the “Insert > Drawing” tool to perform this task.

I should note, as has been pointed out that me on Twitter, that this process will reduce the quality of the image. I think that, for a student’s project it’s still okay. Just, you know, maybe not for your doctoral research paper or school yearbook.