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Getting Students to Talk Silently: Using Google Docs for Silent Seminar

Posing a question and allowing students to respond is a strategy that cuts across grade levels and content areas. Teachers can pose questions verbally, written on a board, or by posting it to an online forum. Students then typically respond either verbally or in writing. If students respond verbally, the shortcoming is that there is no record of precisely what they said. In addition, shy students may not want to share because of the attention put on them as they speak. The plus side, however, is that other students can hear their classmates’ responses, and teachers can use the responses to catalyze a class conversation, which can serve as a springboard for other students sharing their thoughts. If students respond in writing, it allows them time to articulate their thoughts more fully, and teachers can grade it more thoroughly than an oral response. The disadvantage, however, is that other students do not typically see their classmate’s responses. Even when students respond to a prompt in an online forum, they do not get to engage their classmates’ responses in real time, which limits how they engage each other. One option teachers have available to them is to create a Silent Seminar using Google Docs.


Silent Seminar is a teaching strategy that lets students respond to prompts in real time using technology. To do so, teachers can create a blank document in Google Docs and share it as an editable document with students. Next, teachers can post a question at the top of the document, and students will then respond in writing underneath it. As students write, their classmates and teachers can see the words being typed onto the document in real time.

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Bell Ringer: Teachers can post a prompt that thematically relates to an upcoming lesson, such as: (1) What does courage mean?, (2) What are some common uses for hydrogen?, and (3) Who was the best President? Students can then respond on the document, and teachers can discuss the ideas and explain how they will be further thinking about those concepts in today’s lesson.

During Lesson: Teachers can create a chart that contains three columns. Teachers can label the columns, and example labels include: (1) Key Vocabulary/Significant Figures, (2) Important Concepts/Facts, and (3) Questions I Have. As students read a text, engage a lecture, or view a video, they can add to the chart in real time. That way, once the text, lecture, or video is complete, teachers have a document they can use to launch into a follow-up activity.

Post-Assessment: Teachers can instruct students to write two questions they have after a lesson in a Google Doc. The Google Doc can both provide anonymity for students who would normally be too embarrassed to ask questions and admit that they do not understand lesson content. Teachers can then have students answer their classmates’ questions as an exit ticket, use the questions to catalyze a closing discussion, or use them to analyze content that needs to be retaught in a future lesson.

Setting it Up

On the teachers’ end, they must create their Google Doc1, add a title to the document2, type their question3, and then change the share settings from Private so that students can collaborate.









To accomplish this, teachers will go to the blue “Share” button in the top right hand corner of the document. From the “Share with others” pop-up box that appears, teachers select the “Advanced” option5 on the bottom right hand corner of the box. A new pop-up rectangle appears. From here, under “Who has access6” teachers will see that the document is automatically set to “Private.”





To change the privacy settings to allow students to edit the Google Doc, teachers will click the blue “Change” option and a sharing settings box will appear. Here, teachers must be sure to select “On – Anyone with the link7” and switch the “Access” settings by clicking the arrow next to “Can view” and selecting “Can edit.” Teachers then click the save button and they are brought back to the main share settings screen where a collaboration link appears at the top with the text “Link to share.8” Teachers then copy this URL and paste it onto their course class website or send the link as an email for students to access to the document.






How to Make it Happen

On the students’ end, there are a few important steps to follow. First, students must make sure that they are logged out of all Google accounts (Gmail, Drive, YouTube, etc.) in their web browsers. Then, students navigate to the place where their teacher has placed the share link. Once students click the link into the Silent Seminar document, they are given an anonymous animal identity.9 Now, students are ready to begin writing, silently discussing classroom topics in real time!10






Note: If teachers want students’ identities to be visible for discussion or grading purposes,11 teachers must invite their students specifically to the Google Doc via each student’s email address under the “Invite people” option in the Sharing settings.12