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By Eric Eslinger
Program Officer, Educational Technology, Knowles Science Teaching Foundation

November 20, 2013

One thing you need to have as a modern teacher is an online space where students, parents, and the broader community can visit in order to find out what is going on in your classroom, the assignments you’ve given, and who you are as a teacher. There are a lot of different ways to do this, from creating an Edmodo profile, to using a web service provided by your school, to creating a website of your own. In this post, I am going to talk about using Google Sites to create a classroom page of your own.

Sites is a free-to-use platform provided by Google that allows anyone to create a personalized website. It includes tools for doing “normal” website stuff like navigation bars, sub-pages, links and embedded images, and supports a broad range of embeddable tools, which Sites refers to as gadgets.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Self, why would I use Google Sites for my teacher page, if my school has already made me a cute little page with my picture on it and some text?” The answer to this (insightful) question is: you might not want to. If you’re happy with what you get from your school already, you may want to leave it alone. Probably, though, you will want to do something, like add sub-pages to your personal page, which you can do easily with Sites. Having your main personal site hosted outside your school’s infrastructure also means that you can take all of that work with you if you were to change schools or your school were to change infrastructure. To avoid a potential issue, you can link your school-provided page to your personal page, or just distribute your personal page manually to your students.

Getting set up in Sites is pretty straightforward, as long as you avoid the two most common pitfalls. First, visit sites.google.com and sign in with your Google account (create one if you don’t have one yet). Hit the big red “Create” button.

The first mistake you might make is creating a site based on a site template. It sounds compelling to take a site template for “Classroom Site” or “School Site” and just copy that into your new site. This is a mistake because these site-level templates are just copies of other sites that got put into a gallery. There isn’t anything in a template that you can’t create in a blank site by using existing tools. Plus, almost all of those templates come complete with cruft you’ll want to delete anyway. One of the classroom templates I found even had spelling errors. Site templates are great for inspiration: they’re how I learned to use a Google Form to handle the “contact me” page, for example. To search for ideas, take a look at the links listed below. I created these from classroom site templates, so you can explore them and get inspired.

  • Sample one: this uses the most popular site template. It makes use of a lot of Announcements tools – each of the boxes on the front page (i.e., Student of the Month, Word of the Week, Announcements, and Homework Assignments) are Announcements tools, which let you make blog-like posts which update a “recent posts” kind of box on another screen.

  • Sample two: this one has a lot of instructions embedded in the default template that you can follow and then delete as your site fleshes out. It’s a nice tour of useful features in the Sites suite.

  • Sample three: this is the most fleshed-out example site. There are four weeks of assignments, calendars, and typos (which I left in place, despite my itch to correct them).

The second mistake you might make is not overriding your site’s URL. While it makes sense for your site’s title to be “Ms. So-and-So’s 10th Grade Biology Class,” your site’s URL would default to “mssoandsos10thgradebiologyclass”, which is kind of difficult to remember and re-type. You can override this, though, by typing in the box shown below:

You need to pick a unique url (one nobody else has used within Google Sites), so you might need to be a bit clever or creative.

If you fell victim to either of these mistakes, or are for any other reason unhappy with your site, you can always delete it. Go to the Site Management interface by the More button (in the upper-right of the screen), select Manage Site, and click on Delete to delete the site.

Afterward, if you re-visit the original site, you can force deletion (otherwise, the site’s URL won’t be available for a month).

Once you create a site, you should change the default privacy on it. Google Sites start with “public to the world” sharing, which is fine once you are happy with it, but you should make the site private until that time. Now is a good time to learn about basic permissions. Click on the blue Share button, then where it says “Public on the web…” hit the change link, and change it to Private (nobody unless you add them) or Anyone with the link (which is like unlisted – you can visit the site, but it won’t show up in Google searches). Hit save, then click on your site title in the left column to return to the site.

Congratulations! You now have a Google Site! Coming soon, I’ll post some cool tricks you can use to make your site really exciting (see what I did there?), but for now if you need help, visit https://support.google.com/sites/ to browse Google’s help pages.

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