How to Make Student-Friendly Digital Worksheets

As we continue to shift to blended/distance learning, many of us have discovered how easy it is to take the worksheets we created in Word (designed for the copy machine) and upload them into Google Docs to assign them digitally to our students.

That’s the easy part. What’s not so easy is the review/grading. Students often start typing their answers right after the question like this–

Not only is this almost impossible to grade, but the student himself is never going to review the work for future assignments/assessments. With just some simple copy & pasting and a few other minor tweaks, this assignment could become this:

With minimal effort, I’ve created a worksheet that is more engaging and clearly shows the student’s answers. Not only does this make the answers stand out from the questions for grading, it shows this honors student that his answers are obviously insufficient. Hopefully, had he completed the second version of this worksheet, we would have seen more thoughtful, thorough answers.

So, how do you do this? Here are a few super simple suggestions.

Change the background color of your page. In your blank Google Doc, go to File – Page setup and you’ll see an option to choose the Page Color. I tend to like darker colors in general, but often try to match the theme/subject of the worksheet. To reflect the somber, eerie mood of this poem and the black raven itself, I made the page black. In the samples in the picture below, you can see that my money journal was dark green, and my spring creative writing exercise has a light green background.

Use Tables. The example above includes two tables. The heading is a one-row, two column table. I inserted an image in the left column, and then dragged the dividing line between the columns over to the edge of the image. I typed the title in the right column, using a decorative font in white.

Note that at first, tables have no fill, so on this black background, my tables didn’t show at all. Highlight the table and use the paint bucket in the tool bar to fill the table.

Use multiple tables, too, if you have different style questions. Sometimes I put the questions above the answer space, sometimes beside. Take a look at the types of questions you have and map them out in table form. You may wish to make a three column table, too, so you can add art alongside the question. You can combine columns to provide more space for answers by merging cells (under Format–Table).

Cells in a table automatically expand as students type, so you don’t have to hit enter to make the cells large enough for the response you’re seeking. However, I have found that the amount of space available seems to translate to the length of most student responses. If you’re expecting a longer response, you may wish to adjust the cell size so that students see a larger space:

  • Highlight the cell you wish to expand
  • Choose Format–Table–Table Properties.
  • Check the box in front of Minimum Row Height and then set the number of inches you’d like in the box–start at .75 inches and experiment until you get a feel for how it will look on your worksheet.

As you become more comfortable with this, you’ll find new and creative ways to present your assignments using tables. (Here’s another helpful post, including how-to videos, I made about using tables to create worksheets. Check it out if you have questions, or post your questions in the comments here–I’ll be glad to help you troubleshoot your designs!)

Differentiate between Questions and Answers. I used the gray fill behind my questions and I always use white in the spaces where I want the student responses. This way students know that a white space requires a response–no matter what! I also change the color of the font in the student answer spaces to blue. (Just highlight the answer cells and then change the font color to blue–it works even in a blank cell.) I coach students not to change the fonts on this kind of work–choose whatever font/color makes it easy on your eyes!

Change the Margins and Paper Size. Remember, these Google Docs aren’t going to the copy machine–it doesn’t matter if we don’t have legal size paper! Rather than having to use a second page, I’ll change the paper size and fit my entire worksheet on one page. I also cut down the margins to one-half inch all the way around; again, we’re not printing, so why not maximize the space on the page for more content! (These settings are both found in Page Setup under the File menu.)

Get Creative! It seems silly, but it’s true–improving the look of our worksheets often improves the quality of the work we get from our students. Give these strategies a try and keep your eye out for other adjustments you can make. I’m often inspired by the format of lessons in textbooks and that I see on Pinterest and TpT. It just takes a little experimenting and Googling and you can do it too!

Have you found a trick to make your Google Docs more inviting? Please share it in the comments. Also, if you have questions or need further instruction on any of these tips, please comment.

This is another post in my Making Lemonade series. Please follow my blog to be notified when I post more ideas to help us prepare to be the best teachers we can be this year!

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