Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Boost Efficiency and Power Up Collaboration with Google Classroom Shells


Two things educators all need are more time and collaboration. Google Classroom Shells is a simple idea, hiding in plain sight, to help streamline the lesson design process all the while forming a foundation for effective collaboration in departments and PLC’s.

A Shell is a Google Classroom with no students enrolled. If you are fan of Marvel, it's a little bit like the "mirror dimension" from the first Dr. Strange movie. The "mirror dimension" is a place where sorcerers can practice their spells without affecting the real world. Your Shell allows you to fine tune activities, templates, instructions, accommodations and more without students seeing it. When your assignments, and different versions of them are set in your Shell, simply reuse them in your Classrooms in which students are enrolled. These templates are set so you can add unique details and documents without having to retype instructions, etc. A Google Classroom Shell is your "mirror dimension".

In this session, learn to develop a class shell within Google Classroom to house templates of often-used assignments, activities and Eduprotocols. In addition, learn to use a class shell to facilitate collaboration with departments and PLCs for common assignments and assessments. Each example shared will be rooted in 4 C’s lesson design in order to increase engagement while empowering students to take ownership of their own learning. Attendees will leave the session ready to create different types of Google Classroom Shells: Go-To Activity Templates, Common Activities and Assessments for PLCs, Eduprotocols, Curriculum Aligned, and Fitness for PE Class.

"Go-To Activities" Shell

No matter how long you've been teaching, you likely have an arsenal of go-to activities and assignments that can be reused for multiple topics. During the pandemic and distance learning, if you weren't already using Google Classroom, you were forced to adapt these lessons to Google Classroom.

One thing I found annoying was the process of reusing my go-to activities by reusing posts from different classes. Though not difficult, I was annoyed in how instructions and accommodations varied from class to class. I did not enjoy having to retype or re-edit instructions or re-attach unique versions of documents.

It was this inconvenience that led me to develop my first Google Classroom Shell. This Shell was just for me. One of my go-to assignments was my weekly assessment where I gave students the same 4 options each week to demonstrate learning. The only thing that changed was the weekly essential question. I put the instructions in English and Spanish and used the same rubric regardless of the topic. Each week, all I did was reuse the post from the Shell, type in that week's essential question and click Assign. This was such a huge time saver. Slowly, but surely, I began adding more template activities and assignments to the Shell. My lesson plan time was reduced dramatically

The X before the assignment name was a placeholder for the week number. When I reuse the post, I simply replace the X with the week number. Get started building your "Go-To Activities" Shell by creating posts with your instructions, leaving room for customization. In addition, add template documents that include the format you want to use, but open ended to add custom content for future reuse. When you reuse the post in the future, Classroom will make a copy of the documents for you. No need to attach template documents anymore!

Common Activities and Assessments for PLCs

After establishing with my Go-To Lessons Shell, colleagues thought it was a cool idea and wanted to use some of my templates. What we did instead was create a shared Shell for our PLC where we were all co-teachers. We each created a Topic with our name and added our go-to activities. Doing this, we all had access to each other's activities and template documents. We were able to reuse each other's materials.

In our PLC, we were mandated to periodically proctor common assessments. Using our PLC Shell, we collaborated on assignments for each assessment. We discussed and agreed upon instructions, documents and accommodations. We created a generic version of the assignment in addition to versions for English learners and SPED students. We were able to reuse any version from the Shell. For organizational purposes, we created a Topic titled "Common Assessments".

This process galvanized our PLC and made collaboration very enjoyable. For common assessments, we downloaded our student scores to compare data at future meetings. 

Get started with this process by creating a Classroom and inviting colleagues as co-teachers. From there, create a topic for each member and add your templates and go-to activities.


These days, Eduprotocols are all the rage. If you're reading this and you haven't heard of Eduprotocols, open a new browser window and navigate to You will not be disappointed. 

For those of you new to Eduprotocols, in a nutshell, they are a series of lesson frames that can be reused over and over, with the 4C's embedded and applicable to any grade level or subject. As Eduprotocols became a huge part of my teaching, I instinctively built an Eduprotocols Shell. Just like in my "Go-To Activities" Shell, the instructions, accommodations and template documents stay the same each time I reuse. Only the topics or content changes. Below is a screenshot of my Thin Slides template.

When I reuse this Eduprotocol template, I add the topic and week number in the title. If you're new to Eduprotocols, Thin Slides is what I recommend you use to get started before diving into the rest. It's great for checking for understanding and getting students comfortable presenting in front of their peers. I facilitate by reusing the post then adding a specific topic and giving students 3 minutes to build their slide. On their slide, they will include ONLY one word and one picture about a takeaway, opinion or idea about the assigned topic. They click turn in and I present via Google Classroom on the projector each student's slide. 

When student's slide appears, they have roughly 7 seconds to present, elaborating on their one word and one picture. The one picture and word is there to help them remember what they want to say. In less than 10 minutes, I can have every kid present, everyday. Imagine how comfortable they will be presenting by the end of the year! If interested in joining one of my Eduprotocols Shells as a co-teacher, email me at

Curriculum Aligned

If you like the idea of creating a Shell for your department or PLC, then you'll be sure to like the idea of building a curriculum aligned Shell. This type of Shell, best created with a department, takes a specific curriculum and develops assignments and activities that align with each section and chapter of the textbook. 

I originally thought of this type of Shell because I was disillusioned with how textbook companies often have an online version of their book with an accompanying system for which students will login to access curriculum aligned activities. This was just one more thing for students to login to. These systems often where heavy duty, taking up processor power on Chromebooks causing them to operate very slowly. 

Since we were already using Google Classroom, I decided to adapt the curriculum's prebuilt assignments, in addition to my own, to the Google Classroom environment. Classroom works fine on Chromebooks and do not slow them down. Working with colleagues, we went section by section and chapter by chapter creating a treasure trove of activities. If new teachers joined the department, they were given access to this Shell and they had a head start. Even though we were reusing these posts, we still maintained creative control to adapt them as needed. 

Below is a screenshot of a curriculum aligned Shell for a 7th grade World History class that contains Eduprotocols for each section in the textbook.

The naming conventions above were for the grade level, chapter and section. For example, 7.1.1 stands for 7th grade, chapter 1, section 1. No matter the section being covered, this department had activities already built beforehand for teachers to pick, choose and reuse. Get started by creating a new Classroom and inviting co-teachers. Crack open your curriculum, look at the chapter/section structure, create topics for each and start building your curriculum aligned activities. This will take some time if doing for an entire textbook, but the collaboration involved will strengthen your team and save time in the future. 

Fitness for PE Class

For years I struggled to find a way to meaningfully integrate technology into a PE class. Initially, I thought about getting students to use something like a Fitbit to track fitness, but that posed too many logistical problems. I thought about having students use a fitness app on their cellphones, but not every kid has a cellphone. After a conversation with a PE teacher, we decided Google Classroom was the answer. All of our students had access to Google Classroom either on their cellphone or a school issued Chromebook. 

A PE teacher friend and I built a PE Fitness Tracker Shell. This Shell included Google Classroom Questions where students would record mile times, sit and reach scores, height, weight and much more. This allowed the teacher and students to see their fitness and health progress over time. 

Topics were created to organize activities by BMI, cardio and flexibility records. The "x's" were there as placeholders for dates of recording. This helped the teachers and students see progress over time. Below is a screenshot of this Shell.

Google Classroom Shells are very versatile, help facilitate collaboration and save time. For what will you create a Google Classroom Shell? If you would like to bring me to your school for PD, workshops, a keynote, training or a follow-up on this or previous blogposts, click here to schedule an appointment to chat.

My book, The Complete EdTech Coach: An Organic Approach to Digital Learning, co-authored with my wife Katherine Goyette is now available on Amazon. Click here to purchase. It is published by Dave Burgess Publishing. Be sure to follow the hashtag #OrganicEdTech and #CVTechTalk for updates.

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