Getting Started with Google Drive/Docs

What is Google Drive?

In the “official” training resources at, Google Drive (formally called Google Docs) is described as:

“Offering word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings, Google Drive provides an easy-to-use, integrated way for teachers and students to work together on projects, reports, and more, and to collect and share information in a secure online environment.”

Essentially, Google Drive offers similar tools to what you would find in Microsoft Office, but without the need for installing specific (and possibly expensive) software. Google Drive can be accessed from any computer that is connected to the internet using a modern web browser or from a mobile device using the free Google Drive App. All your Google Drive files are automatically saved in your Google account “in the cloud” making them available anywhere at any time.

The other unique capability that Google Drive offers is the ability for multiple people to share and actively collaborate on a document without having to attach and email the document back and forth. Each person works in the same online document, preventing work from getting lost or misplaced. In fact, people can work on a document at the same time while being in different locations and using different types of devices!

What do I need to get started?

Because Google Drive is web-based and free for all existing Google accounts, you need very little to get started creating your first online document. You will need:

  1. A Google account, either Gmail or Google Apps
  2. A computer with a modern web browser (Internet Explorer 10+, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari) OR a device (iOS or Android) with the Google Drive app

Creating a new document

Login to your Google account

  1. Open a web browser and go to
  2. Click on the “Sign In” button
  3. Enter your Google account email address and password and click “Login”

Create a new document

  1. Go to your Google Drive by clicking Click on the “Waffle” icon at the top of the page and clicking on Drive or by going directly to
  2. Click on “New” and choose “Google Docs”
  3. Click at the top of the page to name the document

Working with a Document (Word Processing)

Basic Formatting

You will notice a standard text formatting toolbar that will allow you to add basic formatting to your text. You can change the font, make text bigger or smaller, change the color, and add highlighting. Because the document is web-based and exists completely within a web browser, there is a limit to the number of fonts available to choose from.

Paragraph Formatting

There are also tools to justify and align paragraphs, adjust the line spacing within a paragraph, indent text, and create bulleted and numbered lists.

Inserting Images

  1. Click the “Insert” menu and choose “Image”
  2. Choose from where you would like to insert the image (e.g. a file on your computer, an image on a web page, an image from Google Image Search, or an image from your Google+ or Blogger account)
  1. If the image is on your computer, you will need to click “Browse” to locate the image
  2. If you are inserting an image from a webpage, you will need to know the URL of that specific image
  3. If you use Google Image Search, be careful that images you choose are not copyrighted
  1. When your image is selected, click “Upload” (for images on your computer) or “Select”

Add a link        

  1. Select the text you want to use to create the link
  2. Click the “Insert Link” button on the toolbar
  3. Enter the URL to link to and click “Apply”

Sharing a Document

One of the most powerful features of Google Docs is the ability to share a document with someone and allow them to collaboratively work on the same file without having to worry about who has the latest version. All the work is done within a web browser and revisions are tracked so that you can rollback to a previous version at any time. You can work together at different times or work in real-time and see each other’s changes and edits live. You can even chat while working on a document at the same time. Lastly, you can use the “Suggested Edits” feature to allow people to suggest changes to a document and then accept or reject those changes.

Sharing Privileges

When sharing a document, you can assign specific privileges to different people and manage what they have permission to do. There are four different levels of sharing privileges you can choose from:

Owner: The person who creates the document is automatically the owner. There can only be one owner per document. The owner has complete control over the document, including the ability to delete it.

Can Edit: A user that can edit a document can make changes to the document, accept “suggested edits” within a document, export the document, view the list of other collaborators, invite additional editors and viewers (if the owner has given them permission), and make a copy of the document. An editor cannot delete the document; they can only remove the document from their own Google Drive.

Can Comment: A user that can comment on a document is able to highlight a passage within the document and insert a comment. The comment will not change the actual content of the document. A user that can comment can also make a “suggested edit” to a document. Suggested edits can be accepted or declined by anyone who can edit a document. A commenter can see the latest version of the document, export the document, and make a copy of the document.

Can View: A viewer can see the latest version of the document, export the document, and make a copy of the document. A viewer cannot make any changes and cannot see any comments made by other users.

Adding Collaborators

You can add collaborators to a document at any time.

  1. Click the “Share” button at the upper right corner of the document
  2. In the “Add people” field, enter the email address of the person you would like to add as a collaborator
  3. Choose whether they “Can edit”, “Can comment” or “Can view” the document
  4. Click “Share & save”
  5. Click “Done”

Removing a Collaborator

You can also remove a collaborator at any time.

  1. Click the “Share” button at the upper right corner of the document
  2. Click the “X” to the right of the person you would like to remove
  3. When prompted, click “Save Changes”
  4. Click “Close”

Visibility Settings

Visibility settings allow you to make it easier for collaborators to find your document. More liberal visibility settings can actually allow your document to be found by anyone in the world using Google search! The following list of visibility settings was taken directly from Google’s own training site:


When you create a private doc, you are the only person with access to it. And from there, you can grant access to other people. Anyone trying to access the document will have to sign in to their Google Account to verify that they have access to the doc. Private is the best setting for your own private documents, like a list of contacts or a resume. It's also good if you want to collaborate within a closed circle of people -- for example, if you and a friend or family member are working together on a private letter or working on taxes.

People at your organization with the link

Docs set to this option are accessible to anyone inside the domain who knows the URL of the file. If you also select the ‘Allow anyone to edit’ option, anyone with the URL will be able to view and edit your file. This option allows you to easily copy and paste the file’s link into chat, email and calendar invites for quick access and feedback.

People at your organization can find and access

Docs set to this option will be indexed by Google Docs search and may be opened by anyone in your organization.

If your Google Apps administrator allows sharing outside of your organization, you will also be able to make a file Public on the web or available to Anyone with the link (no sign in required). Administrators can also control the default visibility setting from the control panel.

Anyone with the link (must be enabled by Google Apps administrator)

A doc set to Anyone with the link is like an unlisted phone number. In the same way that anyone who knows an unlisted phone number can call it, anyone who knows the web address of a doc in this category can view it. If you also select the 'Allow anyone to edit' option, anyone with the URL will also be able to view and edit your document. Sign-in is not required, so viewers and editors may show up as anonymous.

Anyone with the link is a great setting if you want to give easy access to information to a bunch of people (as long as the contents of the doc aren't sensitive). For example, if  you want to share a syllabus and a book list, you could put that info into doc set to anyone with the link and send your students the link. Docs in this category are generally not indexed by search engines, but they may show up in search results if the doc URL appears on another webpage that is indexed.

Public on the web (must be enabled by Google Apps administrator)

Set a doc to public if you want to make it publicly available to anyone. Public docs may get indexed by search engines (like Google Web Search), can show up in search results, and anyone who finds the web address of the doc can access it. If you also select the 'Allow anyone to edit' option, anyone that finds the document will also be able to view and edit your document.

Public on the web is a great setting if you're trying to get the word out about something. For example, you could create a flyer for a school event, save it as a public doc, post a link to it on your blog, and maybe ask other teachers or students to do the same.

Setting the Visibility Options

You can change the visibility options of a document at any time

  1. Click the “Share” button at the upper right corner of the document
  2. Click the “Change” link at the top of the window
  3. Set the “Visibility Options” to the level you want. Pay close attention to any additional “Edit access” permissions. Click “Save”
  4. If you want to email someone the link to your document, you can copy the link displayed and then paste it into an email message. Click “Close”

Publishing a Document to the Web

Google Docs also provides you with the ability to publish a document to the web, just like any other web site. Publishing a document to the web creates a separate read-only web page out of a document that is independent of the original and it’s sharing settings. This would allow you to allow a small number of people to collaborate on a document, but publish to the web for viewing for a large number of people. You can also embed the document into an existing web page, Google Site, or blog. Lastly, you can choose to have the published web page be automatically updated everytime a change is made to the original document.

Remember: publishing a document to the web is independent of the sharing and visibility options that may have already been configured!

  1. Click on “File” and choose “Publish to the web”
  2. Choose whether or not you want to require viewers of the published page sign in with your organization’s Google Apps account to be able to view the page. Also, choose whether or not you want to the published page to automatically be update every time the document is changed. Click “Start publishing”
  3. Click “OK” in the “are you sure” dialog box
  4. Note the link of the newly published page. Also note the embed code you would need in order to embed the page in an existing web page, Google Site, or blog. Click “Close”

Suggested Edits

If you don’t necessarily want to allow collaborators to have “free reign” to make changes to a document, you can take advantage of the “Suggested Edits” feature of Google Drive to allow collaborators to make suggested changes to a document that you can ultimately accept or reject.

In order to enable Suggested Edits, you simply need to give people either “Can Comment” or “Can Edit” privileges to a document. Once you do, your collaborators will have access to a new “Editing “Mode” menu that appears underneath the blue “Share” button. Collaborators who have “Can Comment” access to a document will have two options under the Editing Mode menu; Suggesting and Viewing.


Collaborators who have “Can Edit” access have an additional Editing option.


When a collaborator makes a Suggested Edit, any other collaborator with “Can Edit” privileges will see the Suggested Edit in the right margin, very much like a comment. The Suggested Edit can be approved or rejected by hovering the mouse cursor over the box in the right-hand margin and then clicking the checkmark or X buttons.


Organizing your Drive

As you create more and more Documents, the long list of files within your Google Drive can become overwhelming. Here are some ways to organize your Drive.

Changing the View from List to Grid

Depending upon your preference, you can view the documents, files and folder in your Drive in either “List View” or “Grid View”. Grid View provides a preview of certain types of documents and files, so it can make it easier to locate what you’re looking for.

  1. To change the view of your Drive, click the “Grid View” or “List View” button that appear above the Documents and files list

Creating Folders

Folders can be a helpful way of organizing your files and Google Documents within Google Drive. You can assign folders specific colors and even create folders within other folders to design your own organizational system. You can even share entire folders with other people to make collaborating on a large number of Documents simple.

  1. Click on “New” and select “Folder”
  2. Enter a name for the new folder and click "Create"
  3. The new folder will appear under "My Drive" on the left and also in the list of Documents and files on the right
  4. You can open the folder either by clicking on its name under "My Drive" on the left or by DOUBLE-CLICKING on it in the list of Documents and files on the right

Moving Documents and Files to a Folder

Once you've created folders, you can add Documents and files to the folders to organize them. There are a number of different ways to move Documents and files into a folder, but here's one fairly straightforward method.

  1. In the Documents and files list, select the Documents or files to add to a folder. Click ONCE to select a file. Hold down the CTRL key (Command key on a Mac) to select multiple files
  2. Click the “More actions” button above the Documents and files list
  3. Select “Move to”
  4. Select the folder into which to move the files and click “Move”

Delete Files and Folders

  1. In the Documents and files list, select the Documents, files or folders. Click ONCE to select a file or a folder. Hold down the CTRL key (Command key on a Mac) to select multiple files and folders
  2. Click the “Remove” button above the Documents and files list
  3. All documents, files and folders that are removed from your Drive will remain in the Trash until you permanently Delete or Restore them
  4. To Restore or Delete a file or folder, select the file or folder and click “Restore” or “Delete forever”

Strategies and Suggestions for Using Google Drive/Docs with Students

If your students have school issued Google accounts, it opens up a wide variety of possible ways to use Google Drive and Docs within your classroom. Because Google Drive is “device agnostic”, you don’t need to worry about what kind of device students have at home. They will be able to access and use Google Drive, as long as they have internet access. Here are a few suggestions on how utilize the tools with your students.

Share a Document with Students as “Can View” and Show them How to Make a Copy

When you share a Document with students and give them “Can View” access, they will not be able to change the original Document. However, they can “Make a Copy” of the Document and create their own editable copy. Think of the original as a template that the students use as a starting point for their own assignment. Students can easily make their own editable copy of a Document by clicking on the File menu and selecting “Make a copy”.


Use Folders to Share Documents with an Entire Class

If you’re going to be frequently sharing Documents with your class, you may find it easier to create a shared folder.

  1. In the Documents and files list, select the folder to share. Click ONCE to select the folder.
  2. Click the “Share” button
  3. Invite the people with whom you want to share the folder, set the level of access, and click “Send”
  4. Click “Done”
  5. Folders that have been shared display a person on their icon

Show Students How to Create Shared Folders to Hand-in their Assignments

While you can certainly ask your students to share their assignments with you, it may be easier to show students how to create shared folders to use to hand-in their assignments. Once they have created a folder and shared it with you, they will simply need to move their documents and files into the folder to hand them in. Students will want to make sure to give you “Can Comment” or “Can Edit” privileges on the shared folder.

Decide on Logical Naming Convention for Folders and Documents

Because you could potentially have an extremely large number of shared folders and documents to keep track of, it’s a good idea to come up with a naming convention for your various classes and students. Once you decide on a naming convention, you will need to teach your students to use that convention.

For example, you may want to create a folder for each class, and then ask students to create a “Hand-in” folder for themselves that is shared with you. You may want to ask students to name the folders in a specific pattern, for example by class/period and then LastnameFirstName (e.g. ELA213-SmithJohn). When you create and share assignments, you may want to ask students to name them by class/period, then LastnameFirstname, and then name of the assignment (e.g. ELA213-SmithJohn-BookReview).

Take Advantage of Tools (Free and Paid) to Help Automate Organization

If the amount of files and folders gets to be too overwhelming to try and organize yourself, there are a number of different tools, both free and paid, that can help with the process. Here are a few to check out:

gClass Folders

gClassFolders is a very useful Google script that helps create folder structures for classes and students based on a Google spreadsheet that you would create. Lots of teachers across the country have been using this free tool to help structure and organize their Google Drive for use with their students.


Doctopus is a free Google script that teachers have been using to automate the process of creating folder structures for their classes. There are a bunch of tutorials that you can find online about Doctopus. Here's one to get you started,

Google Classroom

Google Classroom is a free tool available to schools using Google Apps for Education that, at its simplest, is “designed to help teachers create and collect assignments paperlessly.” Beyond just helping teachers and students work paperlessly, Google Classroom serve to facilitate online discussions and provide a simple blended learning environment. It can even be used by schools to provide online training and PD to staff members who have Google Apps for Education accounts. Because Classroom can be used on a traditional PC or Mac, Chromebook, iPad, iPhone, or Android device, it allows teachers and students to work with whatever device they may be most comfortable.

You can check it out at


gScholar is a paid service that helps teachers and students to automatically organize their work and offers a number of tools to make using Google Drive with students much easier.

You can find out more about gScholar on the Promevo website at

Hapara Teacher Dashboard

Hapara Teacher Dashboard is another paid service that helps teachers and students automatically organize their work and offers a number of tools to make using Google Drive with students much easier. Hapara Teacher Dashboard is also offers a read-only “parent portal” to allow parents to have visibility into their children’s school Google Apps account.

You can find out more about Hapara Teacher Dashboard on their website at

Additional Resources and Training Materials

Google Help Center

One of the things that makes Google Apps easy to learn is that the built-in “Help” functionality is actually helpful! A good place to get started is to view the tips and tricks about Drive in the Google Help Center.

Google Drive and Docs Training Courses

The “official” Google for Education site has extensive training materials and self-paced courses on many of the Google tools, including Drive.

Google Drive Lesson Plans, Learning Guides, and How to Videos

The “official” Google for Education site has an entire “Resources” section with a searchable archive of Lesson Plans, Learning Guides, How to Videos, and Webinars.

Google Tips, Tricks, and Tools

While not an “official” site, “Ask the Gooru” has a ton of short tips, tricks, and videos on a variety of the Google tools, including Drive. This site is updated frequently, sometimes daily, so following them on Twitter or Google+ will help keep you up to date on the latest tips.

Google Docs and Drive 21 Day Challenge

Here is a blog with 21 small, easily “digestible” Docs and Drive tips that was used with Smithfield Public Schools staff members to introduce and familiarize them with Google Docs and Drive.