Using Google Slides to create digital assignments that students can write and draw on

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Sometimes creating a digital assignment can’t be done via a traditional form response or other text only format. You might need students to be able to label items, draw or even insert their own images or other content on top of the assignment.

There’s an interesting way to use Google Slides to create digital versions of assignments that students need to be able to write on to respond.

Here’s how.

Getting started

This tutorial assumes that you’ve already created a Google Drive account and are familiar with how to create Google Slides.

It also assumes that you have an image file (not a PDF or other document format) of your assignment.

You can do this a variety of ways:

  • Scan a printed sheet.
  • Use your smartphone to snap a photo of the sheet and transfer to your computer.
  • Use a smartphone app scanning app to create an image file and transfer it to your computer.
  • Use the screen capture shortcuts for Windows or Mac.
  • Use the built in Windows “Snipping Tool.”
  • Create your own assignments in Google Slides and using “File” then “Download” and select either PNG or JPG format. You can also create in Google Drawing and save as either format as well.

For best results, your file should end in PNG, JPEG or JPG. GIF files are not recommended. In general, the PNG format works better for assignments with text.

You should either save a copy of the file to your computer (and remember where) or upload to Google Drive.

Also keep in mind that not all content can be reproduced or copied, so check with the publisher.

Create an empty Google Slide file

Go to https://slides.google.com. At the top of the page, look for the multicolored plus sign labeled “blank” under the “Start a new presentation” header and click it. This will create a new, blank Google Slides file. Alternatively, you can create a new Google Slides file through your Google Drive dashboard or by entering “slides.new” in your browser’s address bar.

Delete the text boxes

On the first slide, select and delete the boxes that read “Click to add title” and “Click to add subtitle” boxes.

Access ‘page setup’

In your new Google Slides file, click the “File” menu and then “Page setup” near the bottom.

Change the page size

In the window that appears, click the dropdown showing the current size and select “Custom.” Enter the size, in inches, of the print version of the file you are making digital. In most cases in the U.S., this will be 8.5 inches wide by 11 inches high.

Import a background image

Now, select “Slide” from the top menu bar. In the dropdown that appears, select “Change background.”

In the box that appears, click “Choose image” and follow the steps to locate and upload the image of the assignment you’re using from your computer.

You can also use the tabs to use an image already on Google Drive.

Note that you can select a background color here as well but unless your assignment image is smaller than the size of the slide you set up in page size or is a transparent PNG, the color won’t show up much (or at all).

Advanced users can use the theme options here, but it’s not required or recommended if you follow the rest of these steps.

Optional: Add text fields

If students only need to type in “fill in the blank,” short answer or extended response fields, you can use the text box tool to create text boxes that students can click and type in.

Some teachers like to type “placeholder” text such as “Type here” in each box so it’s super clear. The one downside is that students will need to manually delete the text (it won’t disappear once they start typing) and you might end up getting assignments with “Type here” as “answers” or before or after the answer the student types.

A good alternative to this is to set the text box to a bright background color. This draws students’ attention to fields they need to complete. It’s typically a good idea to stick with one color on all your assignments so students get used to looking for it.

You can use the background color in conjunction with placeholder text as well. One potential downside, however, is that a student scanning all boxes of a certain color to make sure they’ve answered every question might mistake the placeholder “Type here” as an answer and turn in an incomplete assignment.

Optional: Add draggable images or shapes

You can also place images or shapes that students can drag and place. For example, it might be easier to pre-draw place value discs that are large enough to select with a mouse or touchscreen and have students drag them into the designated spot on the assignment.

You could also, for example, provide images of answers and let students drag the each image into the appropriate spot on the assignment as a visual way to provide an answer. This can also work well with emoji style illustrations.

If you’re doing a word bank, instead of having students use time to retype words, you could use Google Slides’ word art feature (Under “Insert” then “Word art”) to recreate the words in a way that’s easier to drag into the blanks.

Share with students

You’re now ready to share your Slides file with your students. You’ll want to give the file a name by clicking “Untitled presentation” in the upper left and typing your desired name.

If you use Google Classroom, you can create a new assignment and attach the file you’ve created from Google Drive. You’ll want to select the “make a copy for each student” option when creating the assignment.

If you do not use Google Classroom, you most likely will need to share the link to the file with your students in a way that “forces” them to make a copy.

To do this, follow these steps.

What students can do

Your students will be able to:

  • Scribble or draw (have them click the down arrow next to the line menu and select “Scribble” at the bottom.
  • Draw boxes, circles and other shapes using the appropriate tools.
  • Draw lines, connectors, curves, arrows and polylines.
  • Add text boxes and type in them.
  • Change colors and backgrounds of any of the elements above.
  • Insert images.
  • Move elements if needed using the select (“arrow”) tool.

The image below shows the tools available.

Essentially, students will be able to do anything that you can do when editing Google Slides files.

Because you used the “background” feature, the image of the assignment remains “fixed” in place.

It is important to note that students could “erase” the assignment by replacing or removing the background image. Also keep in mind that if you ask students to upload their own background images, it will remove yours.

Once completed, students can either share the link with you or use the “turn in” feature in Google Classroom and you’ll be able to see and review their work. You can add your own comments and shapes for feedback or use the “comment” feature to add comments tied to a specific element.

There is one annoying shortcoming of the “scribble” feature β€” once a student draws one shape, Google Slides reverts back to the line tool so the student has to re-select the scribble tool. This means it isn’t always the best way to gather “handwritten” responses that require multiple letters, numbers or shapes since the student will have to keep jumping back and clicking the tool again.

Google’s apparently been aware of this shortcoming for some time now but hasn’t fixed it.

Keep in mind, however, that students can still use the text box tool to type in their answers.

You can also create a multiple pages (or slides) in the same file and students can add annotations to every slide, mimicking the functionality of a packet or multiple page printed assignment.

Making a ‘template’

Once you’ve created a blank 8.5 by 11 inch document and cleared out all the text, you may want to save this as a “template” of sorts to avoid having to repeat all this work.

To do this, name it something like “Worksheet template” and keep it in Google Drive. When you need to create a new assignment, open the file and select “File,” then “Make a copy” and then “Entire presentation.”

You can then quickly switch to the master view, insert a new image, save and distribute.

In the event you accidentally overwrite the template, keep in mind you can use the “history” feature in Google Slides to reset it to the “template” form.

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