dickens6I know many die-hard book fans will hate this entry. I, myself, feel a little sacrilegious writing it.  I am someone who loves the feeling of pages between my fingers, the look of book spines lined up in rows on a shelf, the pride of seeing a book flooded with post-it notes like little flags of knowledge.

And yet here I am, writing about using none other than the technology I whine about to annotate classic literature.

It started innocently enough.  Every year when I teach A Christmas Carol I try to encourage students to annotate (Click here for an easy annotation guide) by assigning them a few pages that they are in charge of.

Part One – My Example

This year I knew I wanted to show them an example of what annotations should look like, but I didn’t have my book with me at home when I was lesson planning.  So I improvised.  I searched up a PDF of A Christmas Carol (Gutenberg.org is dedicated to providing free copies of classic texts – check out their collection here) and copy/pasted a few pages on a Google Docs page.

Then, I went through and made comments just like I would have if I was annotating on post-it notes or right on the text.

I made sure to use a variety of annotation styles – defining words, asking questions, noting writing style – to provide my students with numerous examples.









Next, I uploaded it to my Google Classroom so my students could view it.

Helpful Hint:  When you upload it, allow students to “suggest,” because limiting their privileges to “view” will not allow them to see your comments

This worked out all well and good, and the students appreciated having a copy of my notes to look at – especially since they could read them and understand that the notes could be written informally.

Part Two – Group Work

However, this isn’t where I stopped.  My next step in teaching A Christmas Carol is to have my students meet with everyone who had pages in their Stave after they have become experts on their assigned pages.  As a group, they rehash their pages – building off of the knowledge and insight of their classmates.

I decided to have each group follow my lead and copy/paste their entire stave into a Google Doc that they would share among each other.  I encouraged them to make their annotations as comments, like I had done, and to review the document and respond to their group mates.

Helpful Hint:  Make sure the groups share their document with you so that you can view their comments!

Part Three – The Results

This was one of those ideas that I was thinking off the top of my head as I was assigning it, so I really wasn’t too sure how it was going to go.  The results honestly impressed me.

First, I found that they did a great job of interacting with not just the text, but with each other.  In the pictures below, you can see how the students would type back answers to questions or reinforce their own comments.

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Second, I found that I could easily help out students who were struggling – sometimes before they even realized it!  I could review their comments and spot if a student was way off-base and then easily redirect them with a comment of my own.


Lastly, I love the accountability each group member had.  Too often, when students are told to “discuss” they actually spend the time chatting about everything BUT the book.  (For tips on having meaningful literature circles, check out my entry here).  By using Google Docs, I could easily check the revision history to see not only who commented, but when.  It was incredibly easy for me to know if someone had done their comments during class, or for homework.


Part Four – My Reflection

Overall, I am impressed and surprised with how well this assignment turned out.  I plan on doing this again, though I will try to outline the plan a littler more definitively for the students.  Some tweaks I would make include:

  • Having students meet in their group to create one Google Doc page with their chapter first, then having them work on their specific pages individually.  This would help prevent copy/pasting and unnecessary re-writing
  • Make specific due dates – for example, when their individual annotations are due versus their group annotations
  • For some classes, I may require a specific number of annotations
  • Determining how to really apply these conversations to our class reading of the text

What do you think?  Will you try blending classic lit with Google Docs?