Google Slides can be used for so much more than presentations. It’s perfect for creating digital activities such as graphic organizers, chat rooms, digital manipulatives, and more. In this tutorial, I’ll show you ways to enhance Google Slides activities to minimize the amount of time students spend fixing technical mistakes and maximize the amount of time they spend learning.

Example activities

Before we get started, these are some Slides activities I’ve done with elementary students in various grades that utilize some of the techniques I’ll describe below. There are more examples in this folder. To get the full experience, make a copy of each and try the activity.

Discussion template

Screenshot of a slide with a red border titled Answer 1. Has a placeholder for the student's name and response to the question.

This discussion template (inspired by Alice Keeler) allows students to participate in a class-wide discussion. The teacher displays a question and each student creates a slide to type their answer. Each question has a unique master layout for its answer. This allows students to quickly respond to each question by selecting the associated “answer” master.

In addition, each “answer” master has a unique color scheme. This makes it easy to differentiate between the questions when the whole class is collaborating in the same presentation.

Also see the template for questions and the teacher guide.

Word sort

Screenshot of a word sort activity. Three boxes are labeled "-at", "-an", and "different word". A list of words sits to the side to be dragged into the appropriate box.

This word sort uses a master slide to lock down all the contents of the slide except for the words. The words are word art (instead of a text box) so that it’s easier to drag them without accidentally selecting or modifying the text inside.

Country facts graphic organizer

Screenshot of a graphic organizer with spaces for the name of a country, its GDP, mean years of schooling, and life expectancy from birth

This graphic organizer is designed for students to collect data about a country or set of countries. Each time a new slide is created, it automatically contains a blank graphic organizer. If a text box gets deleted, it’s easy to bring back. Click the “Layout” dropdown at the top of the slide and then click the “Graphic Organizer” layout. Existing text boxes will not change, but missing text boxes will be restored.

Screenshot of the layout menu with the Graphic Organizer layout highlighted

Google’s master slides make it easy to set up these types of interactive activities. Just as you can set backgrounds and colors for presentations, you can add interactive elements to a master slide.

Techniques for activities in Slides

Now that you’ve seen what’s possible, let’s take a look at how it’s done.

Master slides

Master slides are used to create different slide layouts. You may be familiar with the “Layouts” menu:

Screenshot of the different types of layouts Google Slides offer users by default

Each of these layouts has its own master slide. The master is a template that contains the text placeholders, backgrounds, and other design elements. Masters are typically used to create themes for slideshows, but they can also be used to enhance Slides-based activities in class.

Why use master slides?

Master slides are ideal for activities for students. With master slides, you can:

  • Lock down elements such as titles and directions so that they can’t be moved/deleted
  • Add fillable text boxes that are easy to restore if deleted
  • Create pre-defined layouts that automatically appear on new slides

How do I use master slides?

Check out this tutorial (open in new window) to get started with masters:

12 STEPS

1 In Google Slides, click View

Step 1 image

2 Click Master

Step 2 image

3 To create a new layout, click +

Step 3 image

4 To rename your layout, click Rename

Step 4 image

5 Type the name of your layout

Step 5 image

6 Click OK

Step 6 image

7 Use the slide editor to add elements to your master slide.

Step 7 image

8 To delete a layout, click on it on the left and press the delete key on your keyboard. Note: you can only delete layouts that are not currently applied to any slides in the presentation.

Step 8 image

9 To return to the normal slide view, click the in the right corner.

Step 9 image

10 To use your newly created layout, click Layout

Step 10 image

11 Choose the layout you'd like to use.

Step 11 image

12 The slide will now show the template you created.

Step 12 image

Here's an interactive tutorial for the visual learners

https://www.iorad.com/player/1591527/Google-Slides-for-Education---Getting-Started-with-Master-Slides

Locking objects down

Any text (other than placeholders - see below), images, or other elements you add to a master layout will be locked to the page. This means that students can’t move or edit these particular objects. This is useful for backgrounds, instructions, targets for dragging, and other elements you don’t want students to interact with. Don’t include items you’d like students to be able to manipulate in the master.

You can add these locked items to your master layout the same way you would add items to a normal slide with the toolbars and menus at the top of the screen:

Screenshot of Slides with top menus and toolbars to add objects highlighted

If you’d like to add locked down text, click the text icon and choose “Text box”:

Screenshot of text menu opened with text box option highlighted

Adding placeholders

Placeholders are text boxes your students can fill in when they’re using the layout for a slide. To add a placeholder, click the text icon and choose “Body text placeholder”:

Screenshot of text menu opened with "Body text placeholder" option highlighted

Click and drag on the slide where you’d like placeholder to appear. You’ll see a bulleted list that says “First level”, “Second level”, “Third level”, etc. These bullets look cluttered on the master, but will not display on the real slides for students. Although the bullets likely extend beyond the boundary of the box that contains them, students will only see the boundary box.

Screenshot of the master and normal views for a layout. The master view shows bullet points in a text placeholder exceeding the area of the boundary whereas the normal view only shows "Click to add text" in the box

You can format the placeholder box just as you would format any other text (e.g. color, font, size, etc.). Because this is just a placeholder, you can’t change the words “Level 1”, “Level 2”, etc. Those are there to help you as you change the formatting. However, they won’t appear when the student views the slide. Instead, the box will display “Click to add text”.

If you want to type specific text on the master, use the text tool (described above) rather than the placeholder tool.

Screenshot of a placeholder with the first level text styled with a custom font. Text next to screenshot reads "Use the text formatting tools on 'first level'"

Applying a layout to a slide

Once you’re done designing your master slide(s), you (or your students) will need to apply them to a slide.

Before you apply the master to a slide, you’ll have to close the master view by clicking the X in the top right:

Screenshot of the X used to close the master view with an arrow pointing towards it

Applying to a new slide

Click the “New slide with layout” button (triangle next to + button) and choose the master template you created:

Screenshot of "New slide with layout" menu opened showing a list of layouts. "New slide with layout" button and the sample master layout are highlighted

Applying to an existing slide

If you want to switch to a different master or restore deleted placeholders, use this option.

Click the “Layout” button and choose the master template you created:

Screenshot of "Layout" menu opened showing a list of layouts. "Layout" button and the sample master layout are highlighted

Sortable objects

For activities that require matching or sorting, the objects you want students to move should not be part of the master slide. Create a master slide that contains any elements you want locked down (such as directions or boxes into which the items should be placed) and apply it to a new slide. On this slide, insert whatever images, objects, or text you’d like students to sort.

Word art for sorting words

If you are doing a word sorting exercise, consider using word art instead of regular text. Clicking and dragging in the middle of a normal text box highlights the text instead of moving it:

Animation showing a cursor highlighting a word in a text box instead of moving it

For activities like word sorts, this can be frustrating for students. Luckily, Google Slides has its own take on word art that eliminates this issue. Slides’ work art looks exactly like regular text. However, it’s much easier to move by dragging:

Animation showing a cursor successfully dragging a word

To add word art to your activity, click Insert > Word art:

Screenshot of the Insert menu opened with Word art entry highlighted

Type the word you’d like to use into the box and press enter to save. Press shift+enter to make a new line.

Screenshot of text box to type word for word art

Use the tools at the top of the page to change the font, color, and outline for the word:

Screenshot of Slides with new word art and text formatting tools highlighted

To resize the word art, drag the handles in the corner. Hold shift to maintain the right proportions while resizing:

Animation showing user shrinking word art by clicking and dragging handle

To edit the text in word art, double click on it. If want to use word art multiple times and format it the same way, you can duplicate your original by pressing control + D (command + D on a Mac). Duplicate it as many times as you need and change the text so you don’t need to reformat each one.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve mastered Google Slides, the possibilities are endless. Feel free to use the examples above as starting points or create your own activities from scratch! If you put any of these techniques into practice, I’d love to hear about it on Twitter!