Google App Add-Ons, Oh My

I’ve used Google apps for education in my classroom for the last four years. This includes Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms and now, the answer to all of my teacher prayers – Classroom.

Just when I thought I had fully integrated and simplified teaching and let’s be honest, my life, I found something new and exciting that makes me life just a bit easier.

I knew there were apps out there you can add to your Docs and Sheets that make up for some of the limited functionality of these programs compared to their Microsoft counterparts. Previously, when you could only add scripts, I felt they were a little overwhelming to use for someone with a limited understanding of the inner workings of computer programming stuff. Yes, stuff, because I have no clue what goes on behind the user-friendly interfaces I interact with.

Then, Google switched to apps and I felt much less overwhelmed. But still, there didn’t seem to be anything out there that I needed. I was doing just fine with what I had.

Then…I came across New Visions CloudLab, and let me just tell you, these people are doing amazing things that all teachers should be using to make their lives infinitely easier if they have integrated Google products into their classrooms.

I’ve used their FormLimiter and FormRanger before on projects for my kids’ school where I needed to limit the number of people who could volunteer time or to bring a supply or food item. This was the extent of my experience. I had heard of Doctopus, but never given it a try (I’m using it this year…so, I’ll post about it when I do.)

The one I want to talk about in this post, though, is their autoCrat add-0n. It is actually not all that new. It is a simple mail merge feature that has probably been around as long as computers. What is exciting is the way teachers can use this in their classroom. Here is a run down of my first use of autoCrat and I’m excited for how I can use it in the future to streamline the bureaucratic side of teaching.


I am having my students maintain writing portfolios in my classroom this year. I want to be able to track their growth over the course of the year, specifically on their big four writing assignments. I am starting with a pre-assessment and then giving four major writing assignments over the course of the year, then assessing their growth again at the end of the year. There will be plenty of opportunities for conferencing and reflection along the way.

In each portfolio, I’m starting with a cover sheet that lists all the 7th grade writing and grammar objectives they are introduced to and expected to master at this level. I’ve included a section at the end where I can assess individual weaknesses of students based on previous writing and grammar strands. These will vary, obviously by student. I used some informal writing samples to start tracking their individual weaknesses in a spreadsheet. Had I known I was going to be doing this, I would have aligned them directly to the SOL, but instead, I just made anecdotal notes about I saw in their writing.

Names blacked out…for obvious reasons

Now, I could spend hours filling out these cover sheets. I teach 135 kids this year, so it would literally take hours. Or…drum roll please. (Can you tell I feel really smart for figuring out something people have been using for ages?)

autoCrat. Boom!

Since I already had all my rosters in a spreadsheet and their weakness categorizes, I just had to set up my template. I edited the cover sheet template I’d made and entered some tags that the app will recognize. It was easy enough. I insert these tags where I want the information inputed.

My Writing Portfolio Cove Sheet Template
My Writing Portfolio Cove Sheet Template

Then, I wanted it to enter their individual weaknesses in the table. I use the same tag and the title of the column I want entered.

bottom of cover sheet

Then, I return to the spreadsheet to run autoCrat. Set up is super easy. Just follow the steps to choose your template from your Google Drive, assign your tags to your columns, set your document names (also able to insert tags to autofill from columns)  and determine the folder to output into.

set up 1
Credit: Screenshot from autoCrat app
set up 2
Credit: Screenshot from autoCrat app
set up 3
Credit: Screenshot from autoCrat app

Once you’ve done those three easy steps, you run the merge. It adds four columns to your spreadsheets with links to the documents in your drive. You can also merge them as PDFs instead of Google Docs.

Post Merge Spreadsheet
Names blued out…for obvious reasons

Now, the one con I see of the program is that it doesn’t allow you to merge them into one easy PDF or Doc. You get a separate document for each person. When you have to print 135 of these, that would be a total pain and maybe it would easier to fill them out by hand. I found a solution on the autoCrat Google Support Community.

PDF Mergy. – Integrated with Google Docs, choose the documents or PDFs you want to merge and it does it for you. It allows you to download or save back to your Google Drive. Now, I just print one PDF for each of my five blocks and I’m done.

PDF Mergy

Let me know in the comments how you’ve used autoCrat in your classroom!


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