With my elementary education undergrad background, I learned the importance of centers in the classroom. The idea of students rotating between tasks, practicing their skills, and working independently to practice was common across the lower grades. After I started working at the middle school level, I read articles and blogs about how to run a similar system with secondary students. I wanted to take the concept of centers and combine it with my paperless classroom with minimal physical setup requirements. And the Google Docs Digital Centers were born.
What they look like
Google Docs Digital Centers provide one space for students to complete all of their center work. The first page is the table of contents, which includes the introduction with directions and a table that lists the centers. The centers are hyperlinked to different parts of the Doc so a student could click on the center number and immediately be transported down to that section. Each section contains the directions in a box and the activity, including space to write any answers, hyperlinks to outside sources, or Google Drawings for interactive components. The bottom of the center contains a stop sign or arrow, so students can click on the image to return to the top of the Doc.
The Google Drawings are my favorite part of the Docs (and it’s a seriously underrated tool in general). I love how easy it is to integrate them! I can create activities by selecting “Insert” and then “Drawing” from within a Doc. From there, I can make diagrams for students to label, graphic organizers to complete, or drag-and-drop activities. Once the student has their own copy of the Doc, they are free to manipulate the Drawing. Selecting “Save and Close” instantly saves the student’s edits to the Doc for me to view.
The ability for students to add their own photos through the Google Drawing option is also great. For our morpheme study, I’ll try to mix up assessments and have students brainstorm words that contain our studied morphemes and use them in a story. Students then add their own photos of them acting out scenes to accompany their writing. Using Drawings in Docs, students can easily take a snapshot and add it to the Drawing and then to the Google Doc.
Steps for adding:
How to Make It
The easiest place to start is by determining the content of each center. The creation process moves smoothly once you already have an idea of the different tasks your students will complete. Start off by writing the directions at the top section of the first page. Then, add a bookmark to it, so students can move back to it easily. Selecting “Insert” followed by “Bookmark” once your cursor is in the spot you would like to bookmark will add a blue ribbon to the side of the text.
To add the table with the centers, you have to go to the Insert section of the toolbar once again. This time, you are going to “Table” and selecting dimensions that have the correct number of boxes to match your number of centers. You can choose to label your centers with names or just use numbers. I’ve done combinations of both.
Use Ctrl + Enter to create a new page for each center you will create. Follow the same guidelines for bookmarking, except this time connect the bookmark to the title or center number. Once all the pages are complete, you can return to the first page and hyperlink all of the centers in the table to the correct pages for easy access. Highlight the center number, select Ctrl + k on the keyboard, and when the pop-up appears, open the Bookmarks tab and select the correct bookmark. It’s easy to determine which bookmark connects to which center when both have the same name.
I like to add one box with the directions underneath each center title. If it’s consistently in the same place, it’s easier for the students to follow. I also find that it’s beneficial to leave places for students to respond and making that consistent throughout. For example, if I have students read a question on the left column of a table and respond on the right, I will use that same structure for similar tasks throughout the centers. Add all of your interactive elements, like Google Drawings, videos, etc.
As you finish each section, add a stop sign or another symbol so the student knows they are finished with that task. In a Google Doc, I right-align the image so it stays in the same place. Then, if you click on the image you have added, a box with appear around it. Just like the text, select Ctrl + k on the keyboard and choose the bookmark that is at the top of your Doc, so students can return when they are finished.
How it works in the classroom
I push out all of my center work through Google Classroom. Make sure you make a copy for each student!
I hang number signs throughout the room so students can still have the sensation of moving from center to center. It’s easy to set up and once the students know the general locations of centers, they can set up the numbers themselves. Once my students have finished the center, they get up from their place and move to another one.
Sometimes, I will go into a student’s individual center Doc and highlight certain centers on their first page. In the case of students choosing their order or choosing what tasks they want to complete, this shows the students the skills that I think they need to practice the most or focus their attention. After you assign it to Classroom, just find the individual student, open their assignment, and highlight the box with the center where you want them to focus their attention.
Overall, centers have become an important part of my instruction and the Docs Digital Centers have allowed me to continue with my paperless classroom while still utilizing this instructional strategy.