Google Sets

For free classroom tools, it is hard to beat Google. We’ve tried lesson ideas with SketchUpand Earth as well as Sky and Sea. Many classrooms are using Google Docs and Google Apps. The Google for Educators discussion group can be a great place to post questions on classroom technology. Picasa and Scholar are great tools for students to learn about and use.

My favorite new toy from the internet giant: Google Sets.

You type in five items from a set, and Google Sets will suggest other items that could be in the same set. You can choose between a long set, with as many items as Google can think of, or a set of fifteen like the one shown here.

Google Sets Shakespeare

I tried it with easy ones first — type in five mammals and it gives you a nice long list of mammals. Offer it “camping, mountains, hiking, climbing, lakes,” and it comes right back with “fishing” and other outdoorsy places and actions.

I then moved on to less obvious groupings like “mass, requiem, gloria, and oratorio,” but it couldn’t handle that. Same with “pumpkin, apple, scarecrow, squirrel, leaves, and apple.” It won’t generate lists based on parts of speech or initial letter or other characteristics that aren’t about meaning. I even tried to make random lists to see whether it would try to come up with something, but it won’t play. (Actually, at one point it offered me lyrics from Copeland songs, but mostly it just tells you to refine your search.)

When you begin teaching the idea of sets, you might just set this tool up, either with a projector or in a center, and let your students play with it. Once you’re through playing, try out some more structured classroom uses:

  • What a way to generate vocabulary lists! Put in five colors or five nations or five terms from literary analysis, and Google gives you a perfect list to work with. No more wracking your brains to come up with examples. In fact, if your set is obvious enough, it’ll make you a nice list based on only two or three items.
  • Play parlor games with it. Have the class give five terms, type them in, and then have students try to come up with more terms than Google did. Choose the “list of 15” option, don’t show it till after students have made their own lists, and give students 1 point for each term they come up with that’s on the list, and 2 points for everything they can think of that belongs in the set but wasn’t on the list. Copy TV game shows like Family Feud or Password, too, using these randomly-created lists for the answers.
  • Check out the flow chart for Google Sets here. Try to come up with other possible flow charts that could describe how a human being could do it.
  • Compete with Google. Divide the class into teams and have each team come up with five items that defensibly form a set. The first team reads their set and both the other team and Google try to determine its identity as a set. Who comes up with it first? My experience suggests that Google can’t recognize “kinds of classical choral pieces” or “fall things,” so the humans may win.
  • Use it for brainstorming. Putting in a few ideas will lead Google Sets to offer a lot more new ideas.
  • Input the items of a set that you’ve already studied, such as minerals or elements. Pass the Google Sets list items out to student to research. Have students report on their findings.
  • In my experiments, the lists sometimes had bad choices — things that weren’t really part of the set in question. When you get a flawed list, print it out and put it in a center. Let students find the item that is “not like the others.”
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