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Google Drawings is a free, web-based diagramming software developed by Google. It allows users to collaborate and work together in real time. Anyone can draw models of the particulate view of matter, label pictures or diagrams, or create concept maps and Venn diagrams. Students can collaborate with classmates online, receive teacher feedback, and revise drawings without having to start all over as they would if they were on paper. Lessons made with Google Drawings can be differentiated or used as a quick formative assessment. This article will show you how to get started with Google Drawings and provide you with some ready-to-use templates.

Getting Started

To get started with Google Drawings, open Google Drive, and click on New. If Google Drawings does not appear in the file type menu, hover over More to find it (Figure 1). The center of the page is your drawing canvas. It defaults as transparent, so to change the background color, right-click and choose a background color (I usually choose white). To change the size of the drawing canvas, click and drag the tab in the bottom right corner or go to the View menu and select 200% to fill the entire screen (Figure 2).

The File, Edit, and View menus function as you would expect them to. Use the Insert menu or the toolbar to add a text box, image, link, word art, line, shape, table, comment, or special characters (such as arrows or subscripts when in a text box).

Google Drawings files can be saved as SVG, PNG, JPG, or PDF documents. Google Drawings can also be created and edited within a Google Doc by selecting “Drawing” from the Insert menu. When finished with the drawing, click on the blue “Save and Close” button. The drawing will appear within the Google Doc. Click on the image to resize it or choose “wrap text” to move the image within your document.

You can share a Google Drawings in the same way you would share a Google Doc. Click on the blue Share button in the upper-right corner. Be sure that the sharing setting is set to “Can view.” If it is set to “Can edit” your original file can be changed. Students can select “Make a copy” from the File menu to work with the file. If the student is collaborating with classmates, they can choose the “Can edit” in the sharing settings and type in the email of any students in their group.

Inserting images

The Tools menu contains a Research tool that allows you to search Google without leaving your document (Figure 3); an image found in a Google search can be dragged directly onto the drawing canvas. You can also copy and paste an image into Google Drawings, or you can insert one saved on your computer or in your Google Drive using the Insert menu.

Creating interactive exercises

To create exercises that involve matching, such as an activity to identify laboratory equipment, insert images and corresponding text boxes (Figure 4). You can insert instructions in a text box at the top of the page for students’ reference. They can click and drag the text boxes to the corresponding image. You can easily make an answer key by choosing “Make a Copy” under the File menu and renaming the file. Complete the activity correctly, save it, and click on Share to copy the link to the updated file. In the original student copy, you can insert a text box with text “Click here to check answers.” Highlight the text, and from the Insert menu select Link. Type “CTRL + V” to paste the link, and now students have access to the answer key.

Creating templates

Using Google Drawings, you can create templates that include images, and text for student use. Students can click and drag the text and images or insert additional items.

  1. Insert an image by using the Research tool or uploading an image from your computer or Google Drive.
  2. To drag images, shapes, or text boxes, be sure the cursor has changed to a crosshair to avoid resizing an object.
  3. Options in the Arrange menu allow you to align, distribute, rotate, and group shapes, text boxes, and images.
    1. Select an object or multiple objects.
    2. Open the Arrange menu.
    3. Choose from the following options:
      Order: Places the object behind or in front of text or other objects and images.
      Align horizontally (or vertically): Arranges the edges of selected multiple objects either horizontally or vertically.
      Center on slide: Center objects on a slide.
      Rotate: Choose how the object is flipped.
      Distribute: Evenly distribute the space between three or more objects
      Group: To make multiple objects easier to move around and format, group them.
  4. To copy a drawing into a Google Doc:
    1. Select all items by pressing shift, then click to select each item.
    2. Select Group from the Arrange menu.
    3. Select Copy from the Edit menu.
    4. In the Google Doc, under the Insert menu, choose Drawing.
    5. Select Paste under the Edit menu.
    6. The drawing is resizable by clicking and dragging the corner of the box.

Move the image within the Google Doc by selecting “Wrap text” after clicking on the image.
In the template below (Figure 5), students can click and drag electrons to the blank Bohr diagram. To use the template or make changes to the template, go to the File menu and select Make a Copy.

Particulate view of matter and submicroscopic representations

On April, 4, 2015, during my AACT webinar, The Connected Chemistry Curriculum in Action, I mentioned that an important use of Google Drawings in chemistry is the representation of the particulate or submicroscopic view of matter. The differences in states of matter can be shown by the distance between particles and their location in a container. Concepts such as limiting reactants and acid–base reactions can also be visualized with particle drawings of the reactants and products. The student example (Figure 6) shows examples of mixtures, pure substances, and chemical changes at the submicroscopic level using Google Drawings.

Below is an example of a particulate view limiting reactant problem (Figure 7). Tables can be inserted using the Insert or Table menus.

As an alternative to using colors to represent different elements, the symbols of atoms or ions can be shown inside the symbols by inserting a text box inside the shape. Remember to group the symbol and the shape before moving or copying. Take advantage of the copy and paste feature to generate multiple particles.

Additional applications

There are a number of other ways students can benefit from Google Drawings. Individual images, drawings, or shapes within a Google Drawing can be hyperlinked to a website, including a video. This is helpful to provide instructions or information about the image, or to provide instruction to students before they engage in an activity using Google Drawings. For example, the image (Figure 8) that shows the preparation of a solution is hyperlinked to a Flinn Scientific video that explains the technique. If you click on the image, the link to the video opens. This could be helpful to include as part of a prelab assignment for students.

To create a hyperlink in a Google Drawing:

  1. click on the image, drawing, or shape to select it.
  2. select Choose Link from the Insert menu
  3. paste the website or video URL in the box and click apply.

If the images with links are created in Google Drawings, the links are active only in Google Drawings and in PDF format (they won’t work in DOC or JPG files). If you are sharing a Google Drawings file directly with students, this is fine. However, if you are sharing a Google Doc with a student, create links to images in Google Docs, not in Google Drawings. Be sure the image is “In Line” with text in the Google Doc so you can use the Insert function to insert the link.

Another feature for students is the ability to upload photos taken during an experiment to Google Drawings and label them (Figure 9). This can be a beneficial way for students to show their results in a written report, as well as to make a connection between the content and the laboratory experiment.

Final thoughts

Google Drawings is a powerful tool that can be used to differentiate lessons. For example, when creating T-charts and concept maps, some students could have a list of draggable words available, while other students would have to provide the vocabulary on their own.

I hope that you find Google Drawings to be as useful and as fun as my students and I have! The opportunities for collaboration, revision, and immediate feedback, which are limited with paper or at a white board, are endless. Please leave comments or questions about your experiences with Google Drawings in the commenting tool below.