Collaborative Lyrical Analysis with Google Docs

As my colleague Nate Green recently discussed, Google Docs is a fantastic way to respond to student writing. Students receive my comments quicker, they can read them better, and it allows the opportunity for an ongoing dialogue rather than a static one-time handoff. But this year, with the inclusion of WiFi in Avon Old Farms’ classrooms, many more possibilities have opened up to use Google Docs as a collaborative in-class learning tool.


One of my favorite ways to use Google Docs in the classroom is collaborative lyrical analysis. As Doug Ward pointed out last October on ProfHacker, music can be a great way to inspire student thinking. As often as I can, I find a song whose lyrics relate thematically to whatever we are studying, and I ask the class to make those connections. Last year, I would have the lyrics on the SMART Board and ask students to take notes on anything that caught their eye so they could contribute to discussion at the conclusion of the song. This year, thanks to our new WiFi, I instead put the lyrics in a Google Doc and give commenting privileges to all of my students.

“Can comment” allows my students to make comments on the lyrics without accidentally modifying them.

As the song plays, the margins fill up in real time with insightful student commentary–and here’s the best part–not only from the students who would normally participate, but even from the students who tend to be shy in class. Those kids who might have a lot to say but have just not reached that comfort level yet, or who get drowned out by the more animated characters in class, are allowed to put their thoughts out there at their own pace.

This is how students’ comments appear on the page, linked to their respective highlights. (For this exercise, I asked my students to identify Biblical allusions in “Cattle and the Creeping Things” by The Hold Steady, the band featured in the image at the top of the aforementioned ProfHacker article. Coincidentally, I ran this exercise the very day that post was published!)


Meanwhile, I reply to a few of the comments, hoping to prime the pump for a compelling class discussion. At the conclusion of the song, I pull up the Google Doc on the SMART Board and let that direct the flow of discussion. Of course the habitual interlocutors need no prompting, but if one of the quieter kids has written something interesting (which is often the case!), I’ll tell him so and ask him to elaborate orally. That student feels much more comfortable participating because he has already thought about what he is going to say and knows that the teacher finds it intriguing. This is the kind of confidence boost needed to break any quiet student out of his shell, and the whole class benefits as a result.


Have you used Google Docs in the classroom in other ways? If so, please share in the comments!

Morgan Harris

English and Philosophy Teacher at Avon Old Farms School

Morgan Harris (@MorganGH) is an English and Philosophy teacher at Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut.