Focus on Five: Setting Up Google Classroom for Students in a Cluster Program

It’s hard to believe that just a month ago, we were in our classrooms and everything was business as usual. Now, parents are taking on the role of teacher; and teachers are teaching students and their parents how to do remote learning. Our school utilizes Google Classroom and up until this point, I had never set it up for my students. Like many other cluster program teachers, I used multi-sensory strategies and activities in my classroom for my lessons and didn’t heavily focus on technology for academics. While at first glance Google Classroom might remind you of an interface you used for an online class in college, there are ways to make it work for a low-incidence population. Here are five steps for setting up Google Classroom for a low-incidence population…

1. Plan

The most important thing to do in teaching is to plan. Before setting up Google Classroom, decide who your audience will be; parents, students or both. I decided on my students would be my “audience” because the students in my class are higher functioning and doing more academic-based work. Plus, when I make my Google Classroom user-friendly for students it will, it will also be easy for parents to navigate.  Next, I decided on a day of the week format, because I thought that would be easiest for students to do on their own or with minimal support (you could also organize it by content). Another decision I made was that the content on Google Classroom would be self-paced so I could gradually work in Google Hangouts and other experiences for students. I planned on all students having the same schedule for the first couple of weeks with one item to do per subject. The differentiation would come in with the online academic programs (Raz-Kids, Xtra Math, Lexia, Dreambox) because they adjust based on students’ individual levels. Also, I am trying to treat this experience like the first weeks of school, since remote learning is new to everyone. 

2. Create Your Class

When you set you your classroom for the first time, you are going to go to the Google Classroom homepage.  Go to the “+” in the upper right hand corner and select “Create class”. A window will pop up and you will fill in your class information. The first two boxes appear on the header, so I wanted to make it clear for parents and students that it was the correct classroom number and teacher.


Next, I changed the header and put in my profile picture. While this seems like it’s not the most important thing, I think if students see that the header picture is something familiar from the classroom and parents and students see the teacher’s picture in the profile, it makes it easier and more personal. To change your header, find “Upload photo” on the default header and you can drag a photo or select photo from your computer. Pick a long shot, since the header is a long rectangle.


Last, to add a profile picture by going to the three lines in the upper left hand corner. Select “Settings” and the place to change your profile picture will be at the top of the page. You will click “Change” and just like the header photo, you will be able to drag and drop a profile picture or select one saved on your computer.


3. Classwork

Next, go to the “Classwork” tab on the top of the page and click on it. Go to the button that says “Create” with a “+”. There will be a drop down menu. I chose “Topic” (at the bottom) because this creates different headers to put materials under. A box will pop up and ask for a title for your “Topic”. I put “Monday”, because I am organizing by days of the week. I repeated this until I had all the days of the week as “Topics” or headers. As a note, you can click and drag the topics (days of the week) to put them in the order you want.

After you put in your days of the week, you can add a material. I am adding materials instead of assignments to make it more user-friendly for families. The “material” will be a schedule I create in Google Slides. To add a material, click the button that says “Create” with a “+” again. There will be a drop down menu. I chose “Material”. I made the title “Monday Schedule” and I didn’t put a description because it is small print and my students would have difficulty reading it. Next, I clicked on “Create +” and chose “Slides”. 

I created an interactive schedule for students using Google Slides. I made the schedule similar to our school day and included links within the schedule so students could just click on the link and go directly to the program or video that went with the topic. I am doing essentially the same schedule for each day of the week, but I will change the “Specials” and “Special Activity Time” activities each day, based on my school schedule. I will adjust the weekly schedules based on parent input and add more activities to each subject as students and parents get more comfortable with this format. 

After you finish a material, you can go to the upper right hand corner and clicked the arrow on the black “Post” button. There are four choices-Post, Schedule, Save Draft and Discard Draft. It is nice you can make a material for another week and schedule it for later. I also wanted to note, on the left of the “Post” button, it says “For” and has a drop down menu. This is where you can assign materials to the whole class, selected students or an individual student, which is great for differentiation. 

4. Stream

Now that most of the ground work is set, it’s time to put a message on the stream. The stream is a place you can post announcements to students and parents about anything school related. Any new materials you post will also show up in the stream. Click on the “Stream” tab at the top of the screen and you will see your header and your profile picture. Click on the words “Share something with your class…” to add an announcement. Having a consistent schedule of when you post in the stream and communicating that schedule will help parents and students know what to expect.  You can add files from Google Drive, videos or links, as well as text in the steam.  You can post announcements to the whole class or select individual students, just like when you make materials or assignments for “Classwork”.  Under settings (click on the three lines in the upper left hand corner, and go to “Settings”), you can set if parents or students are able to comment on what is in the feed or if it is just for announcements. I will probably change the settings to keep it streamlines and more individualized, so parents or students cannot comment, but they can email me with specific questions.

5. Give Out the Code 

Initially, I did this as the first step (insert palm in face emoji here), which I would not recommend because I didn’t have all the resources organized and there was no clear direction for students or parents. You can find the code on the header on the “Stream” page or under the “People” page.  One thing you need to consider is students need to be logged into their school email accounts in order for the Google Classroom code to work.  Since I had never given students their school email addresses, I needed to email parents instructions for logging into their child’s student email account and how to log into Google Classroom. I sent each parent an email with their child’s username and password, along with instructions. I also included the video Parents’ Guide to Google Classroom in 2020 . This video is a really short and helpful overview to anyone new to Google Classroom.

I wanted to add these two YouTube videos about setting up Google Classroom. I didn’t include them in the beginning because I thought it was important for you to set up your Google Classroom before you invited parents and students to join (many tutorials put this step in the beginning). I know this was a basic introduction, but I hope it is enough to get you started and know that University of YouTube has a plethora of tutorials on Google Classroom.

I hope this gives you some ideas of how to use Google Classroom for you families. Share your ideas and strategies for remote learning. Please stay safe and healthy!
Holly Bueb
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  1. I’ve looked at A LOT of google classroom articles and this is by far the best and most clear. I have bookmarked this page so I can look at this again the week before we launch our distance learning model. THANKS SO MUCH!

  2. Hi Deb, happy to hear! Thanks for reading 🙂

  3. Thank you so much! I really appreciate your help.

  4. Thanks for reading 🙂

  5. This was amazing and the best tutorial I have found. It is simple and will be easy for my students to follow! Thank you so much! I have been struggling with Google Classroom and how to best create classwork that my students will be able to complete and follow along. You are awesome!!

  6. Holly – thank you for such a detailed description. It’s been a couple of weeks now doing remote learning and I am in need of now to begin differentiating. Your suggestions are SO easy to implement – very practical. I so appreciate you taking the time to share what works for you.

  7. Glad to hear it was helpful!

  8. Thank you, was looking for a better set up this is great.

  9. Great to hear! Thanks for reading 🙂

  10. Oh WOW!
    Thank you so much for this detailed guide to setting up Google Classroom in a simple and concise way to reach our students with disabilities. I was at a complete loss on how to reach and engage my students and parents before finding your suggestions. Now, it’s finally coming together!! Many Thanks for your help!!!

  11. SO happy to hear it was helpful! Thanks for reading 🙂

  12. Our district is changing learning formats to district wide use of google classroom for distance learning. Teaching self-contained autism grades 3-5, your tutorial is greatly appreciated. I would love to learn if your interactive schedule slide is available for purchase? It is perfect.

  13. This is so helpful and simple! Thank you so much!

  14. Happy to hear it’s been helpful! Thanks for reading 🙂

  15. I also teach special education. If I want to create folders for each student to view their own assignments, should I create each student’s name as a “topic” with assignments only they can view under their topic/name?
    If I do this, is there any way to keep the students name (topic) private to other students ;for confidentiality)?
    Lastly, is it possible to keep the people/members of the class private so families cannot see who else is on my caseload?

  16. I’m actually not sure on the privacy issues. You could test out with another email account and check!


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