Strategies for Using Google Slides to Facilitate Online Discussions

Strategies for Using Google Slides to Facilitate Online Discussions

Nicholas Kochmanski

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education, UNC Greensboro


In line with the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educator’s (2017) Standards for Preparing Teachers of Mathematics, a primary goal of most mathematics methods courses is to support pre-service teachers (PSTs) in developing instructional practices that research indicates can support students’ mathematical learning. These practices include, for example, selecting cognitively demanding mathematical tasks (Stein, Grover, & Henningsen, 1996) and facilitating whole-class discussions by pressing students to explain their reasoning and make connections between different solution strategies (Kazemi & Stipek, 2001; Stein, Engle, Smith, & Hughes, 2008). One strategy for supporting PSTs in developing such practices involves engaging them in the kinds of cognitively demanding tasks and conceptually rich discussions they should aim to employ with their students (Lampert et al., 2010).


This past year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced me, along with many other mathematics teacher educators (MTEs), to transition in-person mathematics education courses to fully online environments. Like many others, I found it challenging to encourage active and broad participation in mathematically rich whole-class discussions online, and thus challenging to model the kinds of discussion practices teachers should aim to enact with their students. In this blog post, I share two strategies for encouraging PSTs’ participation in rich online discussions. PSTs indicated both strategies were beneficial on their end-of-course evaluations. The strategies are predicated on the use of Google slides in class.


Using Google Slides in Online Methods Courses

I organized each lesson in my online mathematics education courses around a set of Google slides. Because Google slides allow multiple users to edit the contents of the slides at the same time, they provided me with an opportunity to include interactive elements in the slides without requiring multiple or additional applications. These interactive elements served as the basis for the strategies below.


Strategy 1: Writing Prompts

One way I encouraged greater participation in whole-class discussions was by providing PSTs with the opportunity to think in writing prior to engaging in verbal discussions. In my experience, these prompts provided my students with a chance to consider their ideas prior to the discussion, and thus encourage broader participation in the conversation. To do this online, I created a slide template that included a prompting question and space for each student in the class to write their response to the prompting question. Integrating the prompt and space for writing into the slides limited transition time and appeared to encourage students to use their writing time productively. Figure 1 (below) illustrates how I embedded these writing prompts in my slides. In this example, I asked students to respond in writing to a video they watched of a teacher launching (or introducing) a cognitively demanding task.


Figure 1: Writing Prompts in Google Slides

Anecdotally, there was an increase in the number of PSTs who shared their thinking in discussions after implementing the quick writes. Because I was able to see PSTs’ responses as they were writing them, I was also able to model strategies for selecting and sequencing ideas in whole-group discussions. Further, I found that PSTs began to look at each other’s responses during the writing time, and then build on, reference, or use the ideas they were seeing in their own written responses. I see this as strength of the strategy, as it meant PSTs were engaging with one another’s ideas prior to our whole-class conversations.


Strategy 2: Student “Buttons”

I also created PST-specific “buttons” in Google slides and then asked PSTs to use their assigned “buttons” to answer a question written on a slide. Figure 2 (below) shows one such slide featuring the “buttons.” In this example, I asked PSTs to use their “buttons” to indicate whether they agreed with the following statement: If we multiply x/2 + 3/4 by 4 we get 2x + 3. Is 2x + 3 equivalent to x/2 + 3/4? When implementing the button strategy, I first read aloud the question and then prompted PSTs to drag their “button” (denoted by letters corresponding with their first initial) to the box that indicated their response to the question. In this case, half of the students said “yes,” just under half of the students said “no,” and one student put the button directly in the middle, later explaining she was unsure. As this example illustrates, it was important to pose a question to which students might have different opinions or answers, as this encouraged a range of responses, and thus set the stage for rich conversation.


Figure 2: Student Response Buttons

Using this strategy, enabled PSTs to see their peers’ selections in real-time, meaning they could adjust their answers based other PSTs’ responses. This appeared to increase participation in the subsequent verbal discussions by enabling PSTs to compare their thinking with their peers prior to making their final selection and sharing with the class. Implementing this strategy also enabled me to see PSTs move their buttons as they were making their initial selections, which meant I was able to see whether and how PSTs changed their minds or adjusted their responses based on other PSTs’ selections. As with the first strategy, this was helpful for selecting and sequencing ideas in the whole-class discussions that followed. Further, I encouraged PSTs to adjust their button placements as they listened to other explanations in the subsequent whole-class discussion. This provided me with additional data on PSTs’ evolving thinking.



Though many courses are likely to return to face-to-face instruction soon, it is likely that some aspects of teacher education will remain online. As such, it is useful to build a knowledge base around productive strategies for supporting PSTs’ learning and engagement in online courses. The two strategies outlined above enhanced students’ engagement in whole-class discussions in my online mathematics education courses. In the future, I am interested in exploring whether and how these strategies can be modified for face-to-face classes.



Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators. (2017). Standards for Preparing Teachers of Mathematics. Retrievable online at

Kazemi, E., & Stipek, D. (2001). Promoting conceptual thinking in four upper-elementary mathematics classrooms. The Elementary School Journal102(1), 59-80.

Lampert, M., Beasley, H., Ghousseini, H., Kazemi, E., & Franke, M. (2010). Using designed instructional activities to enable novices to manage ambitious mathematics teaching. In Instructional explanations in the disciplines (pp. 129-141). Springer US.

Stein, M. K., Grover, B. W., & Henningsen, M. (1996). Building student capacity for mathematical thinking and reasoning: An analysis of mathematical tasks used in reform classrooms. American Educational Research Journal33(2), 455-488.

Stein, M. K., Engle, R. A., Smith, M. S., & Hughes, E. K. (2008). Orchestrating productive mathematical discussions: Five practices for helping teachers move beyond show and tell. Mathematical Thinking and Learning10(4), 313-340.