Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Make Grading Easier with Preformatted Docs

I recently received this question from a teacher…

If I push out a Google Doc worksheet to my students, and they complete it with their own writing, is there an easy way for me to see what they wrote versus my original questions?

That is a reasonable question. As a teacher you want to assess student work thoroughly and accurately, but also quickly. Anything that helps speed up that process means more time to use for planning creative activities, working directly with students, getting professional development, and more.

If you provide students with a Google Doc that has a series of questions to answer and resources to explore, when they fill in their answers and writings, the Doc could easily become one big block of uniform text from beginning to end, with no easy way to pick out what the students wrote versus what you provided.

One option to consider for addressing this is preformatting your Google Docs templates so the student work looks clearly different from your text. See the rest of the blog post below to learn how to do this, and to see what the final result can look like.

Create your Google Doc Template

First, begin as normal and simply use Google Docs to create that worksheet, study guide, writing prompt, webquest, or such. Make sure all of your text has a consistent feel. That will most likely mean using the same font and the same color for all of your text.

Next, be sure to leave blank lines in your document for the areas where the students need to type in their answers, reflections, writing, and such. I would go with a minimum of three blank lines so there is one blank line after what you wrote, one blank line before you next question, and one blank line where the student has room to begin writing.

Preformat the Student Sections

Next you want to preformat the sections where the students will be writing so their work will look distinctively different than your portions of the Doc. Depending on your needs and preference you can do this a couple of ways.

1) Change the font and color

One option is just to highlight the blank lines where the students will be writing, and change the formatting on those lines.
  • Click and drag to select the three blank lines where the student will type.
  • Now use the formatting tools in the menu bar to make changes.
  • This could include changing the font. For example if your text is in a sans serif font such as Arial, you could set the student font to a serif font such as Times New Roman.
  • You could also change the font color for the student sections.
  • Repeat this process for each of the sections where the student will type.

2) Add a one cell table

Another option would be to go a step further and insert a one cell table in the spot where the student will be typing. This will further offset their work from the rest of the document.

  • Click on a blank line where the student will be typing.
  • Click the “Table” menu option in the top tool bar and choose “Insert table”.
  • Select the top left square to insert a one-by-one table.
  • You can now click and drag inside of the table to select it, and follow the directions above for changing the font and color.
  • Additionally you can change the background color of the table. Simply click “Table” in the top menu and choose “Table properties”.
  • You can now set the “Cell background color”. A good option would be to go with a light color so the student’s writing will be easy to read.

Push the Worksheet Out to Students

Now you are ready to push the document out to your students for them to complete. There are several options for this, but one of the most common would be to use Google Classroom.

  • Open your class in Google Classroom.
  • Create a new assignment.
  • Attach your Google Document worksheet to the assignment.
  • Choose “Make a copy for each student” from the drop down menu.
  • Click the “Assign” button to push out a copy to each student in your class.

Students Complete the Worksheet

Now when students open their copy of your Google Doc, they can type on the blank lines in between your sections of text, or in the one cell table you inserted. Because you preformatted those sections, your students’ writing will look different than your text and will be easy for you to pick out when you assess their work later.

Of course the students can change the formatting themselves, but if you explain to them why the document is preformatted, hopefully you can encourage them to leave the font and color as it is.


If you need to grade through a lot of student Docs, using preformatting and Google Classroom may be a good option to make your students’ writing stand out for easier assessment. If you have other time-saving tricks, please feel free to share them in the comments below.


  1. I would go one step further and instead of putting blank line spaces (students always botch them up by hitting backspace, delete, etc.), I would put one cell tables that students type their answers in and do the preformatting steps you outlined above.

    1. Jason, great suggestion!

    2. I've been doing it this way, too, and it's pretty smooth.

    3. I've been doing it this way, too, and it's pretty smooth.

  2. Agree with Jason, and changing the background color of the 1 cell table helps too.

  3. Agree with Jason, and changing the background color of the 1 cell table helps too.

  4. Using tables to set up the template also helps keep students replying in the right "zones," and assists the teacher in reviewing their responses.

  5. Great ideas!! Thank you for sharing

  6. I've been using Google slides to create worksheets for my students and pushing them out through Google Classroom. I had a problem with not being able to create protected documents through Docs, so I 'solved' it with Slides. I create slides with questions and make answers spaces with simple text boxes that I reformat with different coloured-font. I wanted a way for the students to not touch my questions, which they would inadvertently, or otherwise, mess with! I solved that too, from learning from one of Eric's interactive lessons for google slides....create another text box that goes over the entire slide, and only making the text boxes for answers clickable by changing the order of them to 'bring to the front'. Students can now only click on what I leave for them. Works far!
    Thanks, Eric, and the team, for all that you do, and provide!

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