Get the Most Out of Google Classroom: 13 Moves to Make

Here are the strategies I recommend to help you optimize your practice, preserve your sanity, and support your learners.

Welcome to Google Classroom. Whether you’re brand new to the platform or you’ve been here for a while, I’ve learned a few things that I think you’ll find helpful.

Let’s get into them.

1. Disable student posts, but allow comments.

You’ve just created a new Google Classroom. Easy.

From here, your first move is to disable student posts. You’ll be able to make this move in Settings.

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I teach in a middle school, and I’ll give you this word of warning: your Classroom feed can get away from you quickly if and when your middle or high school students discover the power to create their own posts.

Not today, students. Limit them to commenting.

Student comments can form an important part of a healthy learning community as they ask thoughtful questions, make suggestions, or encourage each other. And comments can be easily managed: it’s easy to mute a student who gets a little spammy or carried away.

But disable student posts.

2. Show attachments and details on the Stream.

I see ten different classes per week. That’s ten unique Google Classrooms.

I find it incredibly helpful to be able to quickly log into a Classroom and see at a glance what I last posted, when I posted it, the attachments and exemplars I provided for students, and how many students have submitted their work.

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When posts aren’t expanded on the Stream, it takes more brainpower and time to try to recall the nature of a learning activity by its title alone, and I have no idea what student progress is like without clicking into it. Ugh.

I know there are some who prefer no learning activities on the Stream page at all, but to me that just doesn’t make sense.

The Class Work page is not listed chronologically, which means that it does NOT tell me at a glance which learning activity I posted last. And just like the Stream when it’s set to condensed notifications, the Class Work page does not show details of learning activities or student progress without clicking into it. Ugh.

That’s too inefficient for my liking.

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Take my advice and make this move in your Classroom settings.

3. Limit notifications strategically.

Limit your Google Classroom email notifications before they limit you.

Seriously, if you leave this wide open and you teach a number of classes, your sanity will disappear quickly under an avalanche of emails.

To adjust your Classroom notifications, go to your General Classroom Settings. You’ll find the icon in the very top left of your screen from anywhere in Classroom.

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Next, scroll down to the very bottom of the menu to find Settings. From there, you’ll see the controls for Email Notifications.

The first button is the master switch. You do have the option to turn ALL notifications off. But I don’t recommend it.

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There are many kinds of notifications that are useful and will contribute to the learning life of your Classroom. For example, if a student posts a question, you want to be notified of it with a direct link to the learning activity in question — very helpful.

Instead, you want to think strategically about eliminating notifications that don’t help you serve students.

For example, I start by turning off notifications for student work that has been submitted late. If a learning activity was due on Monday, I’m not concerned if they submit it on Tuesday. Frankly, I’m happy they submitted it at all.

Late > never. If it’s been submitted by the time I review it and provide feedback, we’re good.

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There, I just reduced the emails hitting my inbox.

Next, I turn off notifications in any Classrooms where I am not actively teaching (but I am still a Teacher in the Classroom). Let me explain.

I teach 8B Math, and I have an 8B Classroom. I do not teach 8C or 8P Math, but I like to be a Teacher in those Classrooms so that I can pop in and see what my partner teacher is doing at any time.

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Turning off notifications for Classrooms where I want access but don’t actively teach is another way to reduce emailed notifications.

4. Invite students to create a Google Classroom header using Canva for Education.

We know that giving students voice and choice wherever we can in the learning community increases their sense of agency, ownership, identity, and belonging.

So why not give them a chance to put their fingerprints on your Google Classroom?

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This year, I started off the term by inviting my new students to do exactly that. Using their free Canva for Education accounts, students created their own Google Classroom header from a sea of templates.

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They submitted their entries, and then I get the fun of featuring a different student’s creative personality every week (or two). It keeps things interesting, it saves me the time of making creative headers myself, and students feel a little more connected and recognized. It’s win-win.

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You’ll get a mix that represents our students: balanced, creative, classy, serious — and the laughably bizarre. All are welcome.

5. Put emojis at the beginning of each topic and post title.

By putting emojis at the beginning of each Topic (section on the Class Work page) and post title, you’ll make your learning activities easily identifiable and build a clear sense of cohesiveness from activity to activity.

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Another important benefit of this practice is that when it comes to reposting learning activities from previous years, activities can be difficult to identify or locate in the Reuse Post menu (since the Reuse Post menu doesn’t reveal Topics).

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By including emojis at the beginning of each post title, I give myself a quick way of visually distinguishing between a unit on Surface Area (📦) versus the Pythagorean Theorem (📐).

6. Number your learning activities.

There is more power and convenience here than meets the eye. It is so helpful to be able to use numbers to give clarity to students regarding posted learning activities.

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“Please submit your PNG file in Activity 2, not Activity 1,” you’ll hear yourself saying. Numbers make it easier to refer to specific assignments, especially as the unit moves along.

7. Treat posts as lesson plans: include as many of the main elements of the learning activity as possible.

Think of Google Classroom learning activities like lesson plans. Make them clear and dummy-proof, with numbered instructions, clear formatting, and all related attachments.

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When your posts are this detailed, you hardly need lesson plans. Even better, your posts become easy for colleagues, substitute teachers, or your future self to repost.

Even if you improve on your lesson next year, you’re giving yourself a strong starting point. Your future self will thank you.

8. Use the Reuse Post option whenever possible.

I (almost) always prefer to Reuse Post rather than create a post from scratch. 

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Reusing a previous post gives me lots of practical benefits:

  1. Emojis remain intact in the post title (I don’t have to look for them).
  2. The learning target and essential question are already present. Even if we’re moving on to a new learning target, it’s helpful to see our last one as I plan forward.
  3. Relevant attachments remain pre-loaded. Attachments might include a helpful PDF, a screenshot of randomized class groupings for our current project, a video resource that was helpful, or a Doc from a related class discussion.

9. Use the Question feature for frequent self-assessment by students.

How are my students doing with our latest learning target? How do they think their learning is going?

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Use Google Classroom’s Question feature to quickly collect self-assessment data from your learners. Once you’ve created one such question, you can use the Reuse Post feature to ask similar questions in the future while keeping your multiple choice options (proficiency levels) intact.

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In the Question settings, un-check ‘Students can see class summary’ to make sure results remain private. In my teacher view, I can click on any of the bars above to see exactly which students responded at each proficiency level.

Who are the two students who feel that their learning is still Developing and may require additional support? I can see in a click.

10. Use the app’s student selector to get to know your students.

I have the blessing of teaching 220 middle school students over the course of the school year. It’s an awesome opportunity for me to develop relationships with every learner in our community — a very helpful benefit when I throw on the hat of part-time vice-principal.

But how can I possibly learn and retain so many names? My most reliable hack so far has been the Google Classroom Student Selector (only available on the mobile app).

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Here’s how it works.

At the start of class, I log into the appropriate Classroom on my Google Classroom mobile app. I post one of these great check-in questions on the screen (hopefully with an answer frame as a Tier 1 support).

Then I put the Google Classroom student selector. It does its job of randomizing the student order, but the win for me is that I get to say each student name a couple of times and pair the name immediately with the face.

“Next up, we have Dan! How would you respond to this, Dan?”

Dan may give me a colorful response, which may give me something to associate with his name and face. In any case, I’m getting to know my students better.

11. Use ‘Each Student Will Get a Copy’ to track student progress in real time.

Your students’ work may be incomplete or unsubmitted, but it’s NEVER going to be missing when you select ‘Each Student Will Get a Copy’ beside a Google Doc, Slide, Sheet, Jamboard, or Drawing.

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Never. Missing. You can look at it any time you want.

Let that sink in.

By activating this option, you can go into your students’ Doc, Slide, Sheet, Jamboard, or Drawing and see exactly what their status looks like in real time. There’s no more mystery around their progress or where their work is — you can see it right there.

This also gives you the opportunity to offer real-time feedback, coaching, and suggestions on their work.

That is BIG.

Once you’re viewing a student’s work, it’s easy to navigate quickly to other students. Use the drop-down menu or the arrow controls.

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(I’m using my Teachers on Fire Google Classroom and a mock assignment to illustrate this point in order to protect the privacy of my actual students.)

12. If you’re in a standards-based grading environment, turn off rubric scoring.

For educators fighting the good fight against points and trying hard to put the focus of learning on proficiency, numbers in rubrics don’t help. To get rid of them, turn scoring off. Force students to think in terms of proficiency and consider the criteria you’ve provided at each proficiency level.

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13. Add your colleagues to your Classroom as Teachers.

Your school is a learning village, and you can treat it like one by inviting your teaching teammates (who share the same subject as you) to your Classroom as Teachers. As described earlier, even if they’re not posting or actively engaging, it just makes sense to increase visibility and collaboration by sharing access.

The same goes for your educational assistants and para-professionals. Help them support your IEP learners the best they can by giving them full access and visibility at your Classroom. They’ll be able to view activity details, support their designated learners, and possibly even support other learners in the class.

And don’t worry — these other Teachers can’t do too much damage. Only you can delete the Classroom as original creator.

Closing thoughts

I’ve been on Google Classroom since about 2016. I’ve seen it slowly evolve forward, and I know it will continue to do so in the years to come.

Classroom isn’t amazing. It’s not especially powerful —when you think about it, it’s basically just a shell over Google Drive.

Google Classroom’s strength is its simplicity. It just works for teachers and learners.

Follow these simple tips, and I know you’ll enjoy the experience.

Happy learning, fellow educator.

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