How to use comments and suggestions to give instant feedback on student work in Google Documents.

google-docs-resolveOne of the challenges of going paperless with Google Docs is finding digital analogs for common things like marking student work. Sharing a document in Google Drive is 100 times more convenient that handing over a sheet of paper, but how do you give feedback that is meaning full and as simple as scribbling notes with a red pen?

Luckily there’re two great tools built into Google Documents, Sheets, and Slides that allow you to leave comments, have others respond, and then mark an issue as resolved.

To demonstrate I’ve broken out my new gif creation tool, which I’m going to be using to the point of annoyance. Enjoy the unnecessary number of moving images!

How to share documents for marking

To be able to leave comments on student work you need either edit or comment permissions on the document in question. To do this your students need to give you either Can edit or Can comment permission when they share a document with you.

To do this your students should click Share in the top right and select Can Edit or Can Comment from the drop down menu of the share window. See below:


Commenting in a Google Document

So, a student has submitted a Google Doc containing the greatest thesis on nuclear fission you’ve ever read, but there’re a few things that you’d like to suggest to raise it to PHD standard — how do you do it?

To comment in a Google Doc highlight the text you want to comment on, right click, and select Comment. A box will appear to the right of the highlighted text letting you enter your recommendations. The student will receive a notification email telling them you’ve made a comment, or if they’re current in the document they’ll see the update live. They can then make the suggested instructions, ask to more information, or mark the comment as resolved to close it.


The same feature exists in all of Google’s core office apps — Slides, Sheets, and Documents all allow you to leave a comment by right clicking.


Using suggestions to give student feedback

Google Doc SuggestionsBut what if you want to get a bit more indepth and actually start suggesting changes that the student could make? The suggestions feature allows you to type directly into the document without overwriting the student’s original text.

To enable Suggesting mode click the drop down menu, just under the Share button.

Now when you highlight text with your cursor and type the original text will be crossed out and your suggested edit shown in green next to it. A box also appears to the right of the document which gives the student the option to accept your changes and make them permanent or revert back to their original version.

Screenshot 2014-10-18 at 22.38.35

Wrap up

With comments and suggestions in Google Docs there’s no longer a need to print out student work to mark with a pen. You can do it all online in an instant! Let me know in the comments if you’ve found other ways to give student feedback in Google Docs.


About Author

Profile photo of Karl Rivers

Karl is an award winning Director of IT for the Royal Grammar School Guildford, based near London, England. He has been working in education for more than ten years and founded ClassThink in 2013 to share technology best practice with other schools. In 2014 he won the NAACE Impact Award for support services in schools, and writes edtech articles for Education Executive Magazine.


    • Profile photo of Karl Rivers

      Quite a few! But we’ll be doing much more to discourage printing over the next 12 months — plans are afoot!

      The reason I wrote the article was actually in response to something I hadn’t anticipated. After the Chromebooks were distributed to teachers I got a report from Reprographics that printing had significantly increased. That had me confused for a while until I looked into it further.

      Teachers were happily working away on their Chromebook exactly as we’d asked, but they couldn’t work out a digital equivalent to the red pen. Instead they were sending the work to Repro to have it printed out for marking and then handing it back to the student. 😐

      I put together this tutorial to show them how to do student feedback in a Google Doc. Once Google Classroom gets a proper grading and marking system this problem should disappear altogether.

  1. Chris Macfarlane on

    Hello, I have been trying to work out if Google Classroom will actually be a useful tool or not and found your blog. So, thanks for putting these suggestions up. I was wondering how any evidence of marking is kept over time? Do pupils keep a record of the comments on a particular piece of work? If not, it seems as though the effort that went into making marking dialogic is lost in the final result, as pupils may forget what mistakes were made and how they should have been corrected as time passes.

Tell us what you think!