Googly Teacher Tip #3: MLA Format + Google Docs + iPads


One frustration I’ve heard lately is that students are having trouble setting up their documents to MLA Format with their new school-issued iPads. I admit that at first I could not figure it out. A quick glance online did not help. According to the Google Docs support articles I read, the task was impossible.

Of course, we English teachers want our students to learn MLA Format, and we’d prefer to do it without hauling the whole class to the computer lab. So, I spent a little time this afternoon figuring it out, and, fortunately, it is fairly easy to do.

Method #1: Use a Template

My first thought was to use one of the templates built into Google Docs. I know MLA format was there at some point. Unfortunately, when I went to the templates area today, I was disappointed to find only APA in the iOS version of Docs. That would have helped me when I was getting my degree in Education, but it won’t help my seventh-grade English students.

I thought I had used an MLA Format template in Docs, so I checked it out on the Chrome desktop version. Sure enough, the MLA Format template is available in the web version, but it now says, “Add-on” underneath. When you enable the add-on, you are automatically asked to use the EasyBib add-on with your new template. That’s fine with me, except for the fact that add-ons are not available in the iOS app.

If you think it will be easier for your students to start typing with an MLA Format template, they can get it with their iPads as long as they use the Chrome desktop version to set up the document. After they complete the initial setup, I recommend returning to the Docs app to type the rest.

Student Directions: How to Enable and Use the MLA Format Template in Chrome

  • Download Chrome from the App Store.
  • Open Chrome and type into the search box.
  • Press the three dots in the right corner and choose Chrome desktop version.

  • Press the down arrow next to Template Gallery.
  • Scroll down and choose MLA Report with the blue Add-on button.

  • When the new Doc opens with the MLA format template, you will be prompted to use EasyBib. You can either press Use or the X in the corner to close it. The template works either way, but I recommend using EasyBib, especially if you need to make a works cited.
  • Before you start typing your essay, title the Doc using your teacher’s standard format (e.g., Period Last First Name Assignment Title). This will help you find the document when you go back to the app.
  • Next, replace Last Name in the upper right header with your own last name. Since this is a header, your last name will appear on every page. Leave the page number as is.
  • Close Chrome and open Docs for your iPad. Find the MLA format document you just made. Write your information in the header (name, teacher’s name, subject, and European-style date). Type your own title and start replacing the Latin filler text with your own ideas.

Method #2 (Preferred): Use the Docs App and Start from Scratch

Even though this is more work initially, students will learn how to format the document themselves. This skill will come in handy for other writing projects, whether students are asked to use MLA Format or another style. I want them to aware of the wide variety of tools available.

Student Directions: How to Create Your Own MLA Format Google Doc from the App

  • Open the Google Docs app and press the + to create a new document.

  • Name the document following your teacher’s standard format (e.g., Period Last Name First Name Assignment Title). Press Create.
  • First, double-space the whole document. Press the A and PARAGRAPH. Next to Line spacing, press the up arrow until it says 2.00.
  • Second, change the font to 12 pt., Times New Roman. In the A tab, press TEXT. Next to Font, press the right arrow. Scroll to Times New Roman and select it. Press the back arrow next to Font to return to TEXT. Next to size, press the up arrow to 12 pt. Press on the white space of the document to leave the menu.
  • Third, add your last name and page number to the top of each page. Press the + icon in the menu. Choose Page number and select the one with 1, 2 in the upper right corner. You will see the number 1 in a newly created header on your Doc. Move the cursor to the left of the number 1 and type your last name. Now, your last name and the page number will appear on every page of your document. Press your finger on the body of your document to leave the header.

  • NOTE: Don’t despair if your heading seems to have disappeared. You need to be in print layout view to see it. Press the three dots and choose print layout.

  • Fourth, type your heading (align left). Make sure you are typing in the body of the document, not the header. Press the align left button in the toolbar. Type your heading according to MLA format (see the screenshot below). Press return one time.
  • Fifth, type your title. Press the align center button to type your title. Press return.
  • Sixth, type your essay. Align left and press tab to indent. When you finish your first paragraph press return one time. Do not leave an extra space between paragraphs.

Expert Tip: Use Split Screen

Teach students how to use the MLA Format Style Guide from OWL Purdue (or any other resource) as they type using the iPad split screen. First, model how to look at the style guide in order to use that information on your own documents. Get started with the class and have them format the rest on their own while you circulate to help. Now you can encourage students to use that skill the next time they are not sure how to do something. It is much better for students to try to help themselves instead of waiting for the teacher to answer every question. Remember, we will not be by their sides every time they need to write something!

Student Directions: How to use Split Screen to See the MLA Format Style Guide and Docs

  • In Safari, type MLA format OWL Purdue in the search box.
  • Open the OWL Purdue site and scroll to the Sample Paper. You may need to hover over the sample paper to press the square/arrow box, which will open the sample paper in a new tab.
  • Slide one finger from the bottom to center of the iPad screen. If Google Docs is not already in the dock, press the home button to pull Docs to the iPad Dock.

  • Once you see Google Docs in the dock, take one finger and pull Docs to the right or left corner of your iPad.

  • Drop Docs to the side. You should be able to see Safari and Google Docs side by side. Use one finger to drag the center right or left.

Closing Thoughts

I know that formatting concerns may seem tedious or inconsequential to some, but to most English teachers, the details matter. The presentation of a piece of writing has a huge impact on how it is received by the reader. When I am plowing my way though 160 or more student essays, the writers who have taken the time to format correctly have an automatic leg up. Maybe that’s unfair. What if a creative, hard-working writer gets overlooked because he or she doesn’t know how to properly format the document? I agree, that would be unfair. That’s why I teach my students how to do it.


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