By Susan Gaer

One of my favorite mobile tools is Google Docs. With Google Docs, you can share and collaborate with colleagues and students, help students with their writing by adding comments and revising, and see the revision history – which is good for grading collaborative work and to revert back to a previous version. In addition, it is easy for students to set up electronic portfolios that can be easily shared from a mobile device or computer. Before you or your students can begin to use Google Docs via mobile, you will need to download Google Drive and Google Docs from either the Apple App Store or Google Play. Students can do this as well on their phones.

Note: Screenshots are taken from an Android phone. The iPhone version looks slightly different.

Have students create their own folder.

  1. Open the Google Drive app.
  2. Click on the “+” to add a folder
  3. Have students name the folder. I usually start off with one folder that is called “Journal”.
  4. Have students share the folder with you. To do this, tap the  “i” icon on an android phone or the three dots on an iphone. This will bring up a list of choices. Have students choose “Add People” And let them type in your email address. Make sure that “Can edit” is chosen so that they allow you to edit anything in their folder.

My Drive screenshot

Add People Screenshot

Commenting feature screenshot

Revision history screenshot

Set up a document for students to practice on.

  1. Open the Google Docs app.
  2. Click on the “+” to open a new file.
  3. I usually have the students write five sentences about themselves as a first practice. You can model on the board: My name is Susan Gaer. I am from New York. I am married and have one daughter. Her name is Sarah. My husband, Marc, is a retired engineer.
  4. When they are done, they save the file by clicking on the big checkmark on the top left corner.
  5. Rename the file “About Me.”
  6. Open Google Drive and have students move the file to the Journal folder.
  7. You can edit student work or add comments and questions, which is like having a virtual conference with the students.
  8. Finally, you can see when students have revised their document by looking at the revision history.

Assignment Examples

Once your students have a folder, they can develop their own portfolios with any writing assignment. I have my students use their Google Docs for their writing journals. They can also collaborate and share.I recently used a peer review sheet. Students shared writing and gave input to peers directly on their document. Finally we created a group story. Students were divided into small groups of two or three. Each group found 1-3 pictures and wrote a group story about it. One student in each group typed the story and shared it with all others in the group. They then went home and refined it and each posted a finished copy in their folder.

​It might seem like a lot of work to have your whole class start using Google Docs on their mobile devices, but it really isn’t. Just model it step-by-step having students follow you on their devices. If students don’t have access to Internet at school, take them on a field trip to the library or Starbucks. After they have set it up, it is easy for them to write, get corrections, peer edit, and share. In addition, you are teaching them how to set up an E-portfolio that will follow them throughout their academic or work careers.


Susan Gaer is a professor at Santa Ana College School of Continuing Education, one of the largest non-credit programs in the state of California. She has been there since 1994. In addition, she is one of the series consultants for Project Success published by Pearson. Currently, Susan is on the boards of both CATESOL and TESOL. She is also an Academic Senator and a member of the CAI (Common Assessment Initiative) for ESL. She is an avid user of technology and advocates for more use of technology by presenting at conferences both statewide and internationally.

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