Monday, July 1, 2013

Online Student Journals using Google Docs

I love student journals.  The practice in fluency, vocabulary and writing in the first person is great - and I get to learn a lot about my students in the process.  My problem was that I hated lugging them around.  I had to have a place in the classroom to store them and then I had to carry them back and forth to school to grade them.  So, last year, I started online journals with Google Docs since we were assigning all students and staff with a gmail e-mail address.  Now, students keep their journals online, share them with only me, and I can grade them from anywhere as long as I have an Internet connection.  Here's how I did it.


1)  I created a template in Google Docs with the bare bones structure of what I wanted their journals to be like.  And since my long-term expectation was for students to use the same online document for all of their years of Spanish, I included links that would help me and them find their current entries more quickly.  I then "shared" the document publicly with anyone who has the link.  Here's what my template looks like:

Template for Online Spanish Journals

2)  Then, in class, we learned to access and use our journals.  I provided a link to the template on my classroom website.  Once opened, the students can then "make a copy" of it, which makes it theirs and not mine.  They then edit little details like the name of the file and their name on the journal.  Finally, they share it with me so that I can access the journal at any time. 

Having online journals has been an amazing improvement to my journaling process, but it's not without its drawbacks.  Here's my list of pros and cons.


  • Students can work on their journals anywhere they have Internet access, such as studyhall or at home.  They don't have to remember a certain notebook.  
  • I can grade them quickly from school or home, from  my computer, my laptop, my iPad, or even my phone.
  • I can use tools built in to Google Docs to know EXACTLY when a journal was written and also see records of revisions.  For example, if a journal entry was copy and pasted from a translator, for example, it will all magically appear at the same instant in the log of revisions.  (Of course, the same would happen if it were written in Word and copy and pasted, so discretion is advised.)
  • It's an example of incorporating technology into the curriculum in a meaningful way:  using technology to meet a requirement of the curriculum instead of using technology for its own sake.  


  • Not all students have reliable Internet at home, so they must be guided to make good choices on the work they choose to do in study hall.  I tell them that since they have access to a computer with Internet during study hall, then that's when they should do homework that requires the Internet!
  • I often have to write myself a note to remind myself to grade them since there's not an obvious pile sitting around to remind me.
  • Since students are on the Internet, there is a stronger temptation to use online dictionaries or translator sites inappropriately.  
  • Since students need in the Internet, I can not always suggest writing a journal entry when they are finished with their work early in class like when they were using regular notebooks.  However, if they have a device with them (we are open device) then they are welcome to.    

Have you done anything similar in your classes?  Any wisdom to share?


  1. Can student entries be accessed by anyone or only the student and teacher?

    1. Student entries can be accessed by anyone that the student has "shared" the document with.

      The "share" settings are set to private and then my students type in my e-mail to allow me to be able to view, edit and leave comments on their document. If they wanted someone else to be able to do see it, they would have to add their e-mail address to the list, something that I would also be able to see on my end.

      I will add this information to the original post also: students and teachers need to have a gmail e-mail address or a school e-mail through gmail to take advantage of Google Docs.

  2. Really useful information. That helped me a lot. I would like to share with you a great service to merge some files online. I just merged 3 PDF files with an online software. I used also here it's very easy to use.

  3. That's really interesting!)) But tell me please what entries do you ask your students to write and how often?

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