Google Docs: Teaching Collaboration Skills with a Screen Reader Activity

"Back-in-the-day" comments added to a document meant the teacher's red pen marks on your paper, used to indicate errors or areas that need to be changed. The more red that appeared on the document, the more editing was required (and often more red meant a lower grade!) Things have certainly evolved! Now, "comments" are a digital collaboration tool that enables students to work together on a digital document. Sure, teachers still use the digital comment feature to indicate errors, but more often the comment feature is used as a collaboration tool between students. 21st century students learn to collaborate early using features in applications such as Comments in Google Docs. Have you specifically taught your student how to use the comment feature with a screen reader? Here is a fun lesson designed for Google Docs on an iPad with VoiceOver; however, this lesson can be applied to Google docs on any device; and, the lesson can be modified to be used with other word processing applications. 

For braille students, digital tools are leveling the playing field! Collaboration with materials in braille requires transcribing braille and print back and forth. Due to space issues, physically making comments on a braille page can be challenging. However, commenting using digital tools can be done in real time without the need of an teacher or para-professional!

Comment Activity

Since students are collaborating on digital projects starting in early elementary school, let's keep the content of this activity simple. If doing this activity with an older student, use more challenging content that encourages healthy debating skills!

For younger students, choose a simple topic, such as favorite foods, favorite animals, favorite places, or favorite sports. This can be done as a class project with the teacher starting the discussion or it can be a small group project with one person in the group starting the discussion. Once the topic is determined, the first person can write a sentence stating his/her favorite things. (Example: My favorite food is chocolate.) The second student then adds his favorite food and then writes a comment - using the comment feature - about chocolate.

  1. Student #2's favorite food: Example: My favorite food is pickles.
  2. Comment to chocolate: The comment could be student #2's agree/disagree statement about chocolate, can be his favorite kind of chocolate, etc.
    1. Be sure to have set rules about what is appropriate or not in the comments. Students should not attack another student's character!

Students can carry on a discussion within the comments feature. If desired, the teacher can encourage the student who wrote the initial statement to "accept" the comment (so that the comment appears in the boy of the document) or can leave the comment in the comment section.

For older students, choose a debatable topic. It can be a topic that is pulled from the current classroom subject or from the news. Here are popular debate topics listed for middle school students:

  • The minimum wage for each country should be the same. (Or should the minimum wage in the US be higher?)
  • Effects of social media on teenagers.
  • Does homework really promote learning?
  • Should cell phones be banned at school?

Note: If using debate topics, students can add a paragraph in the body of the document with their argument. The other student(s) can make quick comments using the comment feature.

How to Read or Create Comments in Google Docs on the iPad

To Read a Comment

When opened, the comments appear as a column down the right side of the screen.

  • Open the desired Google document. In the tool bar at the top of the screen:
  • Open the Collaborator button to add people or to see who is collaborating on this document, or
  • Open the Comments button to see the available comments
    • select the comment for more options
      • Select More Actions to edit or delete; also has arrows for previous and next comments
    • Select Resolve button or Reply button

Screenshot of Google Doc comment ("Cheese is better" text) with More Actions button selected. VoiceOver focus is on the Delete button.

To Create a Comment

  • Open the desired Google Doc. Select the desired word or sentence.
  • In the tool bar at the top of the screen, select Insert button.
  • Select Comment button (comments appear as a column on the right side) and type in the comment in the text field.
  • Select the Save button before closing the Comment popup.

screenshot of Google doc with "Chocolate and cheese are equally great." selected in the body and Insert menu is open with the VoiceOver focus on the "Comment" button

Macy, with Challenge Solutions created an excellent video tutorial about using Google Docs on an iPad with VoiceOver. In this video, she also described how to access and create comments. If you are already familiar with using Google Docs with VoiceOver, skip directly to the comment section, starting at 21:48 and ending at 29:30.


Note: When collaborating with peers or teacher, the comment feature is often used to identify grammar or spelling errors and to provide input for possible changes in the document. Digital collaboration tools are critical skills for students in K12 and higher education and are a daily skill for professionals in almost every career!

Alignment with AT Tech Scope and Sequence

Using the comment feature in Google Docs includes these AT Tech Scope and Sequence skills:

Introduction in Kindergarten, Reinforce in First Grade and Mastery in Second Grade

  • Navigating commands, including navigating to first/last item on the screen, navigating by word and line  
  • Word Processing Skills (write, edit and save assignments)
  • Keyboarding skills

Introduction in First Grade, Reinforce in Second Grade and Mastery in Third Grade

  • Highlighting text
  • Proofread and edit

Note: Collaboration tools are not specifically listed in the national Technology Scope and Sequence.