Wednesday, July 12, 2017

You're So Random (with Google Tools)

As educators we like to be well planned, prepared, and organized. However, sometimes it can be good to be a little random.

Randomization can be useful in a classroom in many ways. These may include:

  • Choosing a student at random in a discussion to make sure no one dominates the conversation, and that a diversity of students can express their ideas.
  • Randomly selecting questions or vocab terms for review in class.
  • Randomly generating math problems with a variety of numbers.
  • Randomly generating data to be analyzed, graphed, and explored.
  • Creating random writing prompts for journal entries, stories, poems, and such.

Thankfully there are a wide range of technology tools that can be used to generate random numbers, data, and other information. In this blog post we will explore several Google tools you can use for this purpose.

Option #1 - Google Search Tools

Although we normally think of Google search as an easy and powerful way to find relevant websites, there are also lots of interactive tools you can access through a search. A while back I did a blog post on over 20 special search tools and how they can be used in school. Below are details on four of these searches that can allow you to generate random data.

Flip a Coin

If you run a Google search for "Flip a coin" you will get an interactive search card with a digital coin being tossed and coming up either heads or tails. You can click "Flip it" to repeat this as much as needed to do more tosses.

This can be a great way to help students explore probability. Students can predict what they think the outcome will be of a large number of flips, such as 32 or 64. Then they can use this search tool to test it out. Students are often surprised to compare what they thought would happen with what really turns out. For example, out of 64 coin tosses, mathematical probability would indicate you should get 6 heads or 6 tails in a row somewhere during the trials, although students rarely think that many would be realistic.

Roll a Die

Similarly to flipping a coin, you can run a Google search for "Roll a die". In this case you will get a 6-sided die that rolls to give you a result. This can be useful for probability, games, and more. Each time you click "Roll it" you will get a new random result.


Sometimes you need more that just heads and tails, or a 6-sided die. If you run a search for "Spinner" you will get an interactive tool with a wider range.

  • First, you will want to make sure you choose "Number" rather than "Fidget" to make sure you get the number version (although the fidget spinner can certainly be fun as well.)
  • Next choose the amount of numbers you want on the spinner from the "Wheel size" drop-down menu. The number options range from 2 to 20.
  • Finally, click "Spin" to set the wheel in motion.
  • The spinner will stop on a random number.
  • Repeat as needed for more random numbers.

Just like before this tool can lend itself well to games and probability, but could also be used for choosing numbered groups or students in the class.

Number Generator

If you need even more numbers and options, you can run a Google search for "Number generator". This will bring up an interactive tool where you can set the low and high boundaries, and then get a random number.

  • In the "Min" box type in the lowest number for your desired range.
  • In the "Max" box type in the highest number for your desired range.
  • Now click "Generate" to produce a random number in that range.
  • Repeat as needed for get more random numbers.

Much like the spinner, this tool can be used for games and probability, as well as choosing numbered groups or students in the class. For example if you have a number list of students in a Doc, or a list of names in a spreadsheet with one name per row, you could use this number generator to randomly select a person.

Option #2 - Flippity Add-on for Google Sheets

Flippity is an awesome add-on for Google Sheets which I explored in an earlier blog post and webinar - "Spreadsheet Activities for all Subjects". Flippity provides many templates including flashcards, a quiz show, bingo cards, and more. However, the one we will look at for this post is the "Flippity Random Name Picker". This tool allows you to enter a list of students in your Google Sheet and then randomly choose names, groups, lists, and more.

First, you will need to install the Flippity add-on if you do not already have it installed.

  • From a blank Google Sheet, click "Add-ons" then "Get Add-ons".
  • Scroll or search for "Flippity".
  • Click the "+ Free" button to install the add-on.
  • You will need to click "Allow" when the permissions screen comes up.
  • When done installing, Flippity will now be available in your Add-ons menu.

To use Flippity once it is installed:

  • Click "Add-ons" then "Flippity" then "Pick a Template".
  • Click through the available templates until your find the "Flippity Random Name Picker".
  • Click the "Use" link to copy the template into your Google Sheet.

  • You can now enter your list of names in the first column.
  • You will also want to name the Google Sheet by clicking on "Untitled Sheet" in the top left to make it easy to find in your Drive later.
  • You can also double-click on the tab at the bottom to change the title of the name picker that will show in Flippity.

  • Finally, to make the Sheet data available to Flippity, click "File" then "Publish to the Web".
  • You will now need to click "Publish" and "OK" to confirm.
  • To run the random name picker, click "Add-ons" then "Flippity" then " URL".
  • You will now get a link to click and access the name picker.

Now that the Flippity Random Name Picker is open and running, you can use it in many ways:

  • Spinner - Click the wheel to spin it and get a random name.
  • Single Name - Click the arrows to choose one name at a time from your list.
  • Line Up - Get a list of all names in a random order.
  • Groups of 2 (3, 4, or 5) - Have the names randomly put into groups of specific sizes.
  • 2 (3, 4, or 5) Teams - Have the names randomly divided between a specific number of teams.

Option #3 - Google Sheets RANDBETWEEN function

Another way to generate random information is with Google Sheets. On the simplest level you can generate random numbers using the RANDBETWEEN function in Sheets. The function uses the following syntax:

=RANDBETWEEN(low, high)

This will generate a random number between the "low" value and the "high" value inclusive. For example, if you used "=RANDBETWEEN(1,100)" you would get a random number from 1 to 100.

This can be an easy way to make lots of random numbers for students to analyze. For example you could use this to investigate how the sample size of data affects the average.

  • Use the RANDBETWEEN function to generate 10,000 random numbers from 0 to 100.
  • Statistically the average of the numbers should be 50.
  • Use the AVERAGE function to find the average of different amounts of the random numbers.
  • First get the average of 10 of the numbers and see how close that is to the expected average of 50.
  • Next, get the average of 100 of the numbers and see how close that is to the expected average of 50.
  • Repeat this for 1,000 numbers.
  • And then conclude by finding the average with all 10,000 numbers.
  • This can be a great way to show how larger data sets give experimental averages that are closer to theoretical averages.

If you want to use the RANDBETWEEN function in a more sophisticated way, you can use the random generated numbers inside of other formulas and functions. For example, I have previously used this to create random writing prompt generators with both words and emojis. I used the random numbers to select words or images from corresponding rows in the spreadsheet. See below for two such examples.

Random Writing Prompt Generator - Click for your copy of the spreadsheet template

The Google Sheet has three tabs:

  • The Prompts tab - Here you will find 20 randomly generated writing prompts in the form of an adjective followed by a noun. These can be used for the title of a poem or the topic of a story. 
  • The Adjectives tab - Here you will find a list of about 2,000 adjectives.
  • The Nouns tab - Here you will find a list of about 1,000 nouns.

For more details on this template, see the original blog post here: Random Writing Prompt Generator with Google Sheets

Emoji Writing Prompt Generator - Click for your copy of the spreadsheet template

The Google Sheets has six tabs along the bottom:

  • "Directions" tab - Here you will find the directions for using the spreadsheet.
  • "2 Emojis" tab - This tab randomly generates 2 emojis as a writing prompt.
  • "3 Emojis" tab - This tab randomly generates 3 emojis as a writing prompt.
  • "4 Emojis" tab - This tab randomly generates 4 emojis as a writing prompt.
  • "5 Emojis" tab - This tab randomly generates 5 emojis as a writing prompt.
  • "Data" tab - This tab has over 800 emojis, from which the other tabs randomly pull.

For more details on this template, see the original blog post here: Emoji Writing Prompt Generator with Google Sheets


Random data can be a great way to help students investigate probability and statistics, get inspired to write creatively, be involved in class discussions, and more. Use the comments section below to share your favorite random generator tools, as well as how you use random data for activities and learning in your classroom.

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at and on Google+ at


  1. Thanks Eric! I didn't know about the Google 'Spinner' search!

  2. What a great comprehensive list of tools! I really appreciate all those ideas. I knew some of the Google ones, but it was a good reminder, and I'll definitely share that with teachers.

    I used to do Promethean board training for my district and one of the most popular flipcharts we'd direct people to were the random name pickers, because they were always really cute. (Like the one that looked like different characters from Toy Story, or the pitcher of lemonade and ice cubes. You "stirred" the ice cubes with students' names and then pulled out a random one :-))