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3 tips to organize your students’ Google Docs

Google Docs Imagefavicon Google Docs (now Google Drive) is great. But if you’re a teacher, you might feel overwhelmed by the number of documents you receive from students. So much clutter!

Here are three tips to help you.

1. Do not have students share individual documents with you.
They will forget. Even if they remember, it’s not an elegant solution. See Tip #2.

2. Instead, set up shared folders.
When students drag their document into a shared folder that you have set up, two things happen at once: (1) You get the document, (2) The document is automatically organized.

There are three logical ways to create shared folders. They are (1) by student, (2) by assignment, (3) by class. Each option has its pluses and minuses.

If you choose to create folders by student (which I did last year and which was very successful), you’ll have many folders, but you’ll be able to see your student’s entire portfolio at a glance. This also keeps things private.

On the other hand, if you create folders by assignment, it’ll be easier to grade your essays, but you’ll have to create new folders all the time.

Most teachers create a folder for each class. This keeps everything tidy but allows students to view (and modify!) their peers’ work. Some teachers find the openness helpful because students can assist each other.

3. Insist on a common way for students to title their documents.
If you don’t tell students to title their documents, you’ll receive tons of documents titled “Untitled.” Best practice is to find an easy way for students to identify their name, class, and assignment.

Some teachers have crazy naming conventions, which usually involve underscores, first initials, and confusing spacing. Here’s mine:

Period Number Last Name, First Name: Assignment
2 Isero, Mark: Persuasive Essay

The period number comes in handy because Google Docs will group all documents with the same number up front. Then, having a student’s last name come first keeps documents alphabetized and easy for grading purposes. Finally, I prefer a generic assignment name (rather than the student’s original title) so I can search for essays later in case they get lost.

So there you have it — three tips  to organize your students’ Google Docs. Please let me know if you have a better system or if you have questions. favicon


  1. Laura Hawkins

    I long for the Google Docs sidebar, that doesn’t differentiate between items I have created and items shared with me by others. I know I don’t totally understand the differences between Drive and Docs, but I don’t like that (as far as I’ve figured out so far) I have to do extra clicks to find documents and collections shared with me. And it makes it less convenient to track student work, I think.

    • Mark Isero

      Laura, I agree with you about the Drive sidebar. My approach is to view by “all items,” which I think approximates the old Docs experience.

      Several of the teachers I’m working with say they don’t quite get the new Drive. Isn’t it just a different sidebar and the ability to save directly from the desktop? I think I’m going to do some investigation and maybe write a post or two.

    • Laura Hawkins

      I suppose that’s all it is, although I haven’t investigated the ability to save to desktop/work offline part. I use “all items” view as well, but even then you have to click on the “shared with me” if you want to go straight to a collection created by someone else (say, a student). I’m also nervous that they’ll make me switch back, since they’re constantly offering to.

  2. Meg Griswold

    Love these tips! Thanks! I am going to start having students submit on Google docs and then doing all of my commenting there. My handwriting is scratchy and I am allowing resubmissions, so that is the easiest way. Do you share the folder with students? Is that how they are able to drag their docs in?

    • Mark Isero

      I’m happy that you’re excited about using Google Docs/Drive! I start the progress by sharing the folder(s) with my students, not the other way around. Even though it’s more work at the beginning for me, I find that it’s worth it.

      If you choose to make a shared folder per student, you can make that student the “owner” of the folder. This makes the folder “theirs.” If you choose to create shared folders by class, then you should be the owner.

      Let me know how it goes and if you have more questions. I think you’ll really enjoy your journey with Google Docs/Drive!

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