Productivity Tools

Online Lesson



When people think of technology, they sometimes visualize impersonal machines that dehumanize our experiences and equate names with numbers. This idea can certainly be true. Another perspective that this lesson develops is the creative side of technology. Productivity tools such as word processors, databases, spreadsheets, and multimedia tools allow for individual expression. People bring information, and ideas to these tools. Individuals use productivity tools to organize, manipulate, shape, and ultimately present ideas in creative new ways.


  • Students will develop ideas for using productivity tools in K-12 classroom learning activities.
  • Students will understand processes and strategies for making effective use of productivity tools.
  • Students will experiment in the use of productivity tools for their grade or subject area.


  • Read materials in this online lesson and follow links to other World Wide Web sites.
  • Take the self test for Module 6 in the Interactive Self Test Area.
  • Respond to one of the following questions in the interactive discussion area:


Please use one of the tools at either EdHelper, RubiStar or, to create a worksheet for a class that you teach/plan to teach. Share your reflections about the value of these web based tools. Consider the following questions in framing your response:

    1. What did you create (web quest, rubric, crossword puzzle,etc)?
    2. How long did it take you to make the form, activity or worksheet? How did this compare with more traditional ways of creating a form, activity or worksheet?
    3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of web based productivity tool given what you've seen here?
    4. What other reflections do you have about web based productivity tools?


Take the Diablo Valley College Learning Style Survey and reflect on the results:

    1. According to survey results what is your learning style?
    2. What are three new things you learned about yourself based on this survey?

Go to Part 2- Word Processing

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Part 2: Word Processing











Word processing is one of the most popular uses of computers in schools.


Word processors allow for six different activities with text. These activities are: text input, storage and retrieval, formatting, editing, and printing. Newer programs often come equipped with special tools to improve the writer's effectiveness. The most common tools include an outliner, spell checker, thesaurus, and now- even grammar checkers!!

Word processing is one of the most popular uses of computers in schools. A reason for this popularity could be that writing is among the three fundamental skills taught in schools. Various studies have compared students using word processors versus students using traditional composition materials. Results have found that students using word processors tend to revise their written work more frequently.

Teachers can experience frustration with students doing word processing activities. Two general complaints seem to be:

Time- students don't have enough time in a lab to compose, edit and print

Access- there aren't enough computers for all students to use

A partial solution to these problems can be found in directing student writing activities through a five step writing process. The process is described below. Teachers can choose to have students enter work into a word processor at Stage 3. Earlier stages are done using traditional paper and pencil/pen tools. Management can be further enhanced using classroom activity centers and rotation schedules.

Five Step Writing Process

Step 1:

Pre Write- planning

Thinking about questions to be answered; writing ideas down

Step 2:

Drafting- composing

Sequencing ideas, setting priorities, getting initial thoughts down

Step 3:

Revising- examination of content

Questioning and reading- Are we saying what we want? Is the meaning clear?

Step 4:

Editing- punctuation, grammar, spelling

Use of spell checkers, peer editing, moving text, find/replace activities

Step 5:

Publishing- creation of the final product

Sharing with teacher, parents and peers

More classroom management tips:

  • Use AlphaSmarts or other portable word processors to augment existing computers
  • Train classroom "tech helpers" to be your first line of defense in troubleshooting difficulties.
  • Don't try to keep students in the same place in the writing process- it's easier to manage writing projects when students are at different places in the writing process

There are a variety of uses for word processors. Here are some ideas:







collaborative stories



ABC Books

Word processors can also help develop vocabulary and composition skills. Consider the following activity from an English composition class dealing with character development. Students received electronic copies of this file. They used word processors to read and carry out the prescribed activities. When they were done, they printed out their file and submitted it to the instructor.



In these activities, you are learning about and practicing the use of six basic strategies for developing character. They are:

1) Description

2) Dialogue

3) Action

4) Reaction of other characters

5) Setting

6) Narrative

This activity focuses on developing characters through a DESCRIPTION.

By describing a person's external characteristics; such as dress, posture, mannerisms, carriage, stature, etc., you can often depict inner character.

Here is a description of the Fat Man in THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett.


The fat man was flabbily fat with bulbous pink cheeks and lips and chins and neck, with a great soft egg of a belly that was all his torso, and pendant cones for arms and legs. As he advanced to meet Spade, all his bulbs rose and shook and fell separately with each step, in the manner of clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown. His eyes, made small by fat puffs around them, were dark and sleek. Dark ringlets thinly covered his broad scalp. He wore a black cutaway coat, black vest, black satin ascot tie holding a pinkish pearl, striped gray worsted trousers, and patent-leather shoes.

His voice was a throaty purr. "Ah, Mr. Spade," he said with enthusiasm and held out a hand like a fat pink star.



Mr. Hammett chose language which sounds fat, soft and flabby. He used almost cartoon-like images of the Fat Man. He also uses simile to describe the man's hand, "like a fat pink star." Please re-read the passage and see if you can find other ways in which Mr. Hammett was able to paint such a good portrait of his Fat Man character.


Using some of Mr. Hammett's techniques, you can create a word portrait of an imaginary Thin Man. Use Mr. Hammett's description as your model. Wherever you see [ ] marks, try to come up with a similar way of describing the feature for an extremely thin and boney person. You may want to change other words in addition to those marked with the [ ] marks.


The [fat] man was [flabbily fat] with [bulbous pink] cheeks and lips and chins and neck, with a [great soft egg of a belly] that was all his torso, and [pendant cones] for arms and legs. As he advanced to meet Spade, all his [bulbs rose and shook and fell separately] with each step, in the manner of [clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown]. His eyes, made [small by fat puffs around them], were dark and sleek. Dark ringlets thinly covered his [broad] scalp. He wore a black cutaway coat, black vest, black satin ascot tie holding a pinkish pearl, striped gray worsted trousers, and patent-leather shoes. His voice was a [throaty purr].

"Ah, Mr. Spade," he said with enthusiasm and held out a hand like a [fat pink star].


Have a friend or your partner read your modified Fat Man. Were you successful in using language that sounds thin and boney? Did you successfully draw a word portrait by which the reader can picture your Thin Man?



Now try a description of one person in two different moods. Make this person a baby. In one description, describe your baby contented and happy. In the second description, describe an angry, unhappy baby. Try to mention the physical features -- the face, the body posture, the arms, the hands and legs -- to give the reader the picture of the baby's mood.










*This activity is based on a sample activity from Humanities Software "Write On" products.

Go to Part 3- Databases and Spreadsheets

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Part 3: Databases and Spreadsheets






Databases and spreadsheets are invaluable resources if you see the work of education to be creating categories, collecting information, and analyzing data.


Databases and spreadsheets are powerful applications with great potential for use in K-12 classrooms. Common uses for these programs involve organizing, storing, calculating, sorting, and graphing information.

A sample spreadsheet activity with fourth graders studying geography involved the following electronic data sheet:

Biome Activity Electronic Data Sheet

Students entered temperature ranges in the spreadsheet for each biome as shown below (student entries are in red):


Biome Activity Electronic Data Sheet


Students then used the charting features of the spreadsheet to visual represent the data as shown below:


Biome Activity Electronic Data Sheet Represented in Bar Graph


Along with visual representations of data, spreadsheets and databases offer different ways of sorting information- users can sort information using multiple indices. As an example, the State information shown below can be sorted using any of the following categories: State, Year Entered, Population, and Total Area.


Sample State Database Sorted Alphabetically by State



The figure below shows the same data, now sorted by Population in 1990 from smallest to largest.


Sample State Database Sorted by Population Size in 1990 from Smallest to Largest



Databases and spreadsheets also allow for the creation of whole new categories of information with calculated data. Looking at the States database, we can establish a new category called "Population Growth." The application can subtract and fill in differences for each state using the calculation function. Here is our sample data sheet with the new category- Population Growth.


Sample State Database with Calculated Data- Population Growth


Databases and spreadsheets are invaluable resources if you see the work of education to be creating categories, collecting information, and analyzing data. Educational researchers have argued that student activities using these tools can develop higher-level thinking skills. Additional ideas for using these productivity tools are shared in the class text.

Go to Part 4- Multimedia Tools

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Part 4: Multimedia Tools





"...multimedia software is the first technology that truly honors our multiple forms of intelligence- text, abstract, visual, musical, social, etc"

-John Seeley Brown



According to Park Xerox's John Seeley Brown, "...multimedia software is the first technology that truly honors our multiple forms of intelligence- text abstract, visual musical social, etc." Brown goes on to say that as such, "...(multimedia tools) can tap and ignite the unique talents of each student, building skills that are necessary for lifelong learning and success in the emerging knowledge economy.

Software programs that allow students to make orignial productions integrating text, audio, and graphics are known as multimedia authoring tools. KidPix and HyperStudio are two of the best known programs of this variety. Some great curricular ideas for the use of KidPix can be found at Joyce L. Morris' website:

KidPix Resources

Samples of projects using HyperStudio are available for viewing at the HyperStudio World Wide Web site-



Multimedia programs generally support development of either linear presentations (one path for the viewer to progress through) or branching presentations (multiple paths for a viewer to choose in relation to their needs and interests). In working with groups of students in K-12 learning environments, planning and organization strategies are very important. Successful strategies for multimedia projects involve students in a three step process:

Step 1) Planning/Development of Project Proposals- development of essential questions, storyboarding what the project will look like, obtaining feedback from peers/teacher

Step 2) Construction of Project- students working individually, in small groups, or at specified times in a rotation schedule

Step 3) Evaluation- showcase/premiere of multimedia projects to audience(s); consideration of content learning and learning about technology; if the project was a group activity, what did the students learn about cooperation/collaboration

Other keys to success with multimedia projects include the following points:

  • Start Small- recognize that the success of a large project will be based on small projects that develop students skills and give you a chance to reflect and refine on processes.
  • Keep Expectations Reasonable- first projects will not necessarily be rich in content; teachers and students generally start out developing technology skills with initial projects. Richer content progresses as people become more competent and comfortable using technology tools.
  • Try It Yourself First- check out what your asking students to do.
  • Locate Support Resources- who are students, parents and/or teachers who can support you in developing a successful project?
  • Partner with Another Teacher- some teachers feel more secure venturing into a multimedia project when they partner with another teacher. The two teachers generally work together in one another's classrooms developing skills and confidence.

Go to Part 5- Web Based Productivity Tools

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Part 5: Web Based Productivity Tools



"...anytime, anywhere tools for teachers"

-Tom Snyder Web Tools


A number of web based enterprises have established productivity tool areas for teachers. Some offer gradebook programs and threaded discussion areas. Others offer worksheet generators and web page construction centers. Surveying what's possible, please visit the following sites: some of the offerings here include:

  • Lesson Plans
  • Math Worksheets
  • Test Preparation Materials
  • Vocabulary Activities
  • Algebra & Geometry Support assists educators in making rubrics for a variety of project based learning activities including:

  • interviews
  • storytelling
  • debates
  • role plays
  • map making
  • posters
  • multimedia projects
  • web sites some of the offerings here include:

  • Web Quests
  • Assignment Generators
  • Word Search Creators
  • Science Lab Generators
  • Crossword Puzzles and more....


Another "genre" of online productivity tools can be found in online surveys. Here is one interesting example of this variety:

Diablo Valley College's Online Learning Style Survey

An online guide designed to help college students (perhaps middle school and high school students also?) become more successful students. It includes a Learning Style Survey to help students identify their learning style. The survey involves appromiately 32 forced choice questions which will generate a profile that students can reflect on. It also includes learning strategies designed to help students study in a productive manner.



Go to Part 6- Web Resources

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Part 6: Web Resources



Microsoft's theme based lessons help students communicate and collaborate...



Microsoft offers a series of theme based lessons designed to help students communicate and collaborate with popular Microsoft productivity tools such as: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Teachers can find great great ideas for activities that feature these popular productivity tools. Examine lessons at the Microsoft web site by clicking on any of the following links--


Click here to use popup menus and browse lessons by curriculum area or grade level



If you like the ideas listed above but your "productivity tool" skills are just developing, consider Microsoft's How to Articles: Learn how to use Microsoft software in the classroom with tips and tricks to get you started quickly.

Microsoft's How-to Articles....



People bring information, and ideas to productivity tools. Individuals use them to organize, manipulate, shape, and ultimately present ideas in creative new ways. This online lesson has illustrated some of the ways that productivity tools can be valuable resources in K-12 classrooms.

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