Saturday, March 19, 2016

Highlighting the Best of Class

At the end of a two-day Google workshop I teach at a local college, I ask the participants to collaboratively create a presentation where each person makes one slide that shows the thing they can't wait to show someone else. I typically make a slide too because each time I teach the class, I find something new that I really like. This weekend that was the Google Docs Add-on called Highlight Tool.

The Highlight Tool was created by a high school student to help a teacher who wanted a better highlighter for Google Docs. When the add-on is installed, the user can select different colors and make a key that shows what each color represents. 

Then, while reading, highlighting can be done in several different colors. For example, a paper's thesis could be highlighted in one color and the supporting details could be highlighted in a different color. To try out the highlighter, I started with a Google Docs version of the ISTE NETS-T and highlighted of textual examples of different teacher expectations. Highlighting is easy - select a portion of text and click on a colored bar in the add-on pane while working in a Doc. The image at the top of my post is a screenshot of my highlighted text.

While this was incredibly easy to set up and do, I really wouldn't need an add-on for what I have described so far. You can use the text color function in the menu bar to highlight in different colors. The next steps that I describe are what really sold me on this interesting tool. After you are finished highlighting, you have a very colorful document, but the add-on doesn't stop there. Next you can export all the highlights in one of two ways.

Export by sequence allows the user to export all the highlights into a new Google Doc in the order that they were highlighted. This would be handy to look over the text for a pattern in ideas with the visual assist of color. For example, if you are looking at highlights of a research paper to see if there is evidence throughout the paper, you would be looking to see if the color representing evidence is present periodically throughout the exported highlights.

Export by color allows the user to export all the highlighted text into a new Google Doc organized by the category that the colors represent. This would be handy for grouping all the similar ideas or evidence from a reading together. After the highlights are grouped, the reader could look for patterns and big ideas.

I don't often ask my students to highlight text as they read, but this tool could change my mind about that. I do ask my students to check that the notes they take target the objectives listed in each textbook section. I could ask them to highlight each objective in a different color. Then, if they share the exported highlights with me, I could check to see how they are doing with that.

I recently participated in an inservice where the presenter led us through a rubric analysis and asked that we highlight various aspects of a rubric in different colors. What differentiates a 4 from a 3 or a 3 from a 2? This add-on would be great for doing that work as a class or in small groups and saving the exported highlights as a summary of the activity for future writing reference.

Another way to use this tool would be to designate four colors for each member of a four-person group. Each person could read a work looking for a different aspect of writing and then the highlights could be exported and shared.

This simple but useful tool was definitely the one thing I couldn't wait to share. I hope that you might find it useful too.


  1. That seems like a really cool tool. I'm curious about what your students selected as their favs. Could you share?

    1. Many of them I have blogged about, but I should probably do a post about them? Add-ons were a favorite, especially the Orange Slice Teacher Rubric (an awesome tool), the Book Report Slides template, everything at, using the Docs Research tool, using Google Drawings to create games, pin a tab in Chrome, and using for shortening links.

  2. Export by color is so SMART. One of my kids is an avid highlighter and uses every color available to her - all for a specific purpose. Being able to export all the vocabulary words, for instance, would be such a powerful tool! Thanks for the great tip.