PDFs in Google Classroom—How To Annotate with Snap&Read

by Luke Trayser

Through eLearning, there’s been a surge in the use of PDFs for assignments and quizzes. Educators naturally turn to Google Classroom to manage these resources. One educator posted to the Google Classroom forum with this question—a question everyone is asking:


“When I create an assignment and attach a PDF, is there a way to make the students simply fill it out on screen instead of printing it (and wasting paper)? I was hoping they could simply fill it out and then turn it in.”


The answer may surprise you. Google doesn’t have tools to mark up, or annotate, a PDF.


PDFs are a reliable and usable staple of modern education, functioning independently of operating systems and web browsers. When you open one, you know without question that all text and images will appear as the document’s creator intended.


But there’s good news after all. There is a tool that adds annotation tools to Google so students can fill out those PDFs, and then print or turn them in. All it takes is the Snap&Read extension. If you’re unfamiliar with Snap&Read, the student’s personal reading toolkit, you can read up on it here and start your free trial if it sounds useful.


If you already have Snap&Read, then keep scrolling. You’re about to learn how to annotate PDFs in Google Chrome, which means your students are too.

How to annotate PDFs with the Snap&Read Chrome extension

If you’re fluent in Snap&Read already, you’ve likely noticed annotation is nowhere to be seen in the reader itself. You’re correct about that. The annotation tools only show up when a PDF is open in the browser—owing to the philosophy that simpler is better.


There are two ways to open a PDF: 1) open a PDF link in your browser, and 2) open a PDF from Google Drive, One Drive, or your hard drive / device (just click Snap&Read logo in your extension toolbar and “Open PDF from …”).

Snap&Read settings opening PDF

For the purposes of our how-to, we’ll open a blank map of the United States. Our students will be tasked with writing each state’s correct postal code.


Here’s what our document looks like in the PDF viewer:

PDF of a map of the USA open in Snap&Read

The icons in the top right corner of the viewer let you do things like search, zoom, save, open other documents, or rotate the PDF. But the star feature for us is that blue icon in the top left. That’s the annotation tool. Let’s click that and see what happens next.

PDF of the USA open with Snap&Read annotation tools

Three new tools just popped up, and we’ll go through them from top to bottom: text, square, and line.


1. Text Tool

We’re about to enter some postal codes. Let’s click that T icon now.

Text tool highlighted in annotation tool on a PDF of the USA

More icons popped up in the top left, which you are no doubt familiar with. You can customize the font, text size, text emphasis, alignment, and color. Size 12 Arial sounds good to us. But we’ll make the text purple, because our personality cannot be contained that easily. We start marking up our document.

Looks like we started in the New England area. A wise choice. But watch out! We’ve got trouble ahead. The adorable little state we call Rhode Island is too small to properly annotate. So let’s zoom in to 200% and annotate from there.

Zoomed in map of the United States with State initials entered in

Crisis averted. We changed our Rhode Island font size to 8 to make it nice and snug within the state’s borders, and we’ll likely do the same with the similarly-diminutive Delaware.


Speaking of Rhode Island and Delaware, let’s say we also need to highlight the first 13 ratified states. Now we’re going to click the square icon.

2. Square Tool

This one is plain and simple. There are a couple useful customization tools before you start highlighting (color and opacity), and once that’s selected, all you have to do is click, hold, and drag over the area you wish to highlight.

The highlighting is done, but we have one more portion of our U.S. Geography homework: We need to cross out any states that joined the Union in the 20th century (fun fact: there are only 5 of them). Time to use the third tool.

3. Line Tool

PDF of the USA with some state initials highlighted and some crossed out

Using the Line Tool is a lot like using the Square Tool. Click the line icon, select your line thickness, color, and opacity, then make your lines by clicking, holding, and dragging.

We could show you more, but that’s really all there is to it! The best thing you can do now is load up a PDF of your own in the viewer and start annotating. Once you have the hang of it, get ready to teach your students how to do it also. And, this part is important, so we’ll put it in all caps:


DON’T FORGET TO SAVE THE ANNOTATED DOCUMENT! Click the save icon at the top right and save it to Google Drive, One Drive, or download it to your device. Very important.


If you have any questions on how to use your Don Johnston learning tools, contact us anytime. We love hearing from you, and we also love writing how-tos like these. Enjoy all the annotated documents that will be coming your way soon, and thanks for saving paper!


Thanks to the Department of Geography at The University of Alabama for the blank map of the United States.

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