When I first started using Google Docs and Google Slides, I mostly stuck to their basic capabilities. As I attended teaching and technology conferences, I sometimes heard about different browser extensions that sounded interesting, but I didn't know how to get started and move beyond basic features.
Chrome extensions are special tools that enhance how we use other products in the Google workspace. They can add special features to the files that we can create in Google Drive, and they can also enhance how we use websites that we access with the Google Chrome browser. The following seven helpful extensions for teachers and students will boost how you use technology in your classroom!
1. Grammar and Spelling Suggestions with Grammarly
When I grade student writing, Grammarly helps me catch student errors. This is also a useful tool during class. When I’m sharing my screen with my online classes, I need to type quickly, especially when my students are brainstorming ideas. Grammarly helps me avoid accidentally teaching my students misspellings.
Grammarly also helps my students recognize their errors; they may believe that their sentence is grammatically correct, but with Grammarly's blue underline hints, they can often correct themselves. Sometimes they aren’t sure what the error is, and then we can have a discussion and I can draw their attention to different linguistic features.
This is a favorite tool, and I’ve had students ask me how to get this browser extension so that they can use it for their schoolwork and professional and personal communications.
Learn more: grammarly.com
2. Accessibility Checking with Grackle
Are your materials accessible for your students? We don't always know which formatting options are best for our students or what accessibility features are necessary. Grackle is an accessibility checker that you can use on your Docs and Slides. After running it, you will get a list of checkmarks and red Xs so that you will know which elements meet accessibility standards and which may cause problems for students.
Grackle has helped me catch text styles that are not reader-friendly, and I now have a better sense of how to structure and title parts of my worksheets to allow a screen reader to function more efficiently.
Learn more: grackledocs.com
3. Creating Graphic Organizers with LucidChart
I learned about LucidChart at a conference when a speaker demonstrated how to create reading graphic organizers. LucidChart has an excellent variety of charts. If you need to make a Venn diagram, flow chart, brainstorming mind map, or family tree, you can use a ready-to-use template. If you want to draw a basic picture with grid lines to guide you, LucidChart also has a blank option. LucidChart is easier to use and has more advanced options than Google Docs' built-in tools.
Learn more: lucidchart.com
4. Flipping Your Classroom with Screencastify
When I ask my students to view slides for homework, I can ensure that they are noticing important points of my examples by including voice recordings. The fastest way to do this is by making a screencast. The Screencastify extension records what is on my screen and what I am saying. I also like to create screencasts when I am asking students to use a new technology tool or website. I introduce the tool during class, but I also include a screencast for students to view once they go back home.
When using Screencastify's basic version, you will need to limit your video to five minutes or break it into several parts. If your school offers online asynchronous courses, consider asking your school to pay for its more advanced features. Be aware that users access Screencastify from the Chrome browser rather than a file's Add-on tab (i.e. It won't show up as an option in your Doc or Slides extension library).
Learn more: screencastify.com
Screencastify has a clear and efficient video explaining how to get started that is very helpful.
5. Adding Audio with Mote
If you'd like to add audio to a document, slide, or the feedback section of a Google Form quiz, check out the Mote extension. I use Mote to add audio to individual slides on presentations and I plan to use it to make audio comments on my students' quiz feedback.
When students get email notifications with their quiz scores, they will see a link to personally recorded audio files. Written comments on students' assignments sometimes get ignored, but adding audio feedback to student documents can make your suggestions more accessible for some students and add a personal touch to your comments.
Students can also use Mote, but be sure to provide detailed steps before giving any assignments. Because Mote accesses a variety of file types and hardware, the setup takes a little bit more time than some of the simpler Chrome extensions. It is worth the time and effort, however, because it is an agile and effective tool. If you plan to use Mote frequently, you may need to upgrade to the paid version.
Learn more: mote.com
6. Block Ads with Mercury Reader
When I ask my students to read news articles on current events, I want them to be able to focus on the text and not get distracted by blurbs and pictures that do not relate to the article content. Additionally, I don’t especially want my students to be able to guess my browsing habits (as revealed by my suggested advertisements).
Although you may have become adept at using scissors to snip out advertisements and other distracting content before you make your photocopies, you probably would like to find a way to avoid this step. Mercury Reader is an extension that allows teachers to display and print articles without advertisements or other unrelated content.
Learn more: mercury.postlight.com
7. Annotating with Diigo
If your students write research papers, how do you help them keep their sources organized? Diigo is a cool extension with several helpful features: It allows students to bookmark, highlight, and annotate articles online. Diigo can facilitate learning to quote, paraphrase, and summarize findings.
With this preparation, they will feel less overwhelmed in future lessons when they start writing their research papers. There is a learning curve to using this tool, so consider booking your school’s computer lab or Chromebook cart and walking your class through the process of taking notes on academic digital texts.
Learn more: diigo.com
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I add a Chrome Extension?
In the Docs and Slides main menus, find the Add-ons tab. Select Get Add-ons to search for an extension, and once you have an extension, use the Add-ons tab to use it.
When using Forms, click on the vertical three-dot menu in the upper right-hand corner. After you click on this menu, you’ll see the Add-ons option. When you’re ready to use your extension, click on the puzzle piece graphic on the top-right horizontal menu.
Some browser extensions are added to the browser rather than a specific file type. Click on the puzzle piece in the top-right corner of your Chrome browser to use an extension that you've already added. Use Google's Chrome store to find a new one.
If I add a Chrome Extension, will my students have it or will they need to add it themselves?
They will need to add extensions themselves. Be sure to walk them through this process, especially if there are similar types of extensions. If you want your students to use a particular extension, be sure to clarify which one to choose or they may choose whatever the first suggestion is.
Are Chrome extensions free?
Some extensions are. Many educational extensions have a basic free version and a more advanced version that costs money. Screencastify, Mote, and LucidChart have both free and premium options for their fee-based versions. Watch out for extensions that are free for a limited number of uses, and be prepared to make the case to your school that an extension is worth the money.
Are Chrome extensions safe?
Chrome extensions do access many of your files. Most companies are trustworthy, but consider checking an extension's privacy rating on Common Sense's helpful articles and doing a search on the company to make sure the creator is legitimate. When you add an extension, you may get a warning message. This could just mean that a new company produced the extension, but it could also be a sign that it doesn't tick off all of Google's safety recommendations. Learn more at The Verge.
I heard about a great extension a few years ago, but now I can't find it. Where did it go?
Try searching for the extension on both the file type that you plan to use (Docs, Slides, or Forms) and the Chrome Web Store. If it isn't there, it may have been depreciated and is no longer available.
Williams, Greg. (2013, March 8th). Mind-mapping vector 1 [Image]. Greg Williams licensed under CC by 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/58766711@N02/8539124187
Ter Haar, Kate. (2013, Nov. 7th). the highlight of my day [Image]. Kate Ter Haar licensed under CC by 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/8489692@N03/10729196814
Porter, Jon. (2021, June 3rd). Chrome will soon warn you when you might not want to trust an extension. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2021/6/3/22466386/chrome-91-enhanced-safe-browsing-extensions-download-scanning
Sirkhotte, Widad. (2019, Sept. 7th). Screen Reader [Image]. Widad Sirkhotte licensed under CC by 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/154236228@N02/29592600237
Screencastify (2018, July 10th). 1.1 Installing Screencastify [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uVl27_WKBU