Save Time by Creating Customized Shortcuts on Your Computer for Frequently Used Sentences or Text Strings

Teachers spend a lot time marking – assessing and evaluating their students. Best practices suggest that providing very specific qualitative feedback can produce great results. For example, 1) what a child did well, 2) where a child needs to improve, and 3) specific steps on how to improve.

The problem is that writing out long descriptive written feedback is time-consuming. It’s much easier to circle a grade on a test or rubric than it is to write out a paragraph explaining to a student how to get a better mark.

We can use computers to save time by creating customized abbreviations for frequently used sentences and text strings. In fact, lots of schools already use computer software and comment banks to speed up the process when writing report cards.

If you’ve ever used copy-and-paste when typing out student comments, then this post should be able to save you some time.

Here are some ways that you could use abbreviations software to make your life easier in the classroom:

  1. Let’s say you’re taking anecdotal notes on your iPad or laptop. (If you’re using an iPad in the classroom, you should check out the WriteRoom, TextExpander and Dropbox apps to easily take notes on your iPad that you can access from your school and home computers.) You could set it up so that just by typing .date, your iPad or computer automatically enters the current date and time. (We use a period before our special shortcuts, but you could use any shortcut you wanted.)
  2. If you type .r3 you could set it up so that your iPad automatically enters something like this:

    (Mon, Oct 3, 2011 – 2:35 PM) Reading Level 3 (75%)

    That way, you could focus on recording what the student said, instead of trying to write down their level for the subject for your anecdotal note.
  3. You could set it up so that a person’s initials .hp instantly expands into a person’s full name, for example Harry Potter
  4. You could create a shortcut to automatically insert an e-mail signature.
  5. You could create a shortcut to automatically insert a boilerplate template for your feedback. If you use it. Three stars and a shooting star template, then typing .3s into a Word document might look like this

Three Stars (Three things you did well)

  • I like how you
  • I also like how you
  • finally, I like how you

Shooting Star (something to improve next time)

  • Next time, I would like you to
  1. If you’re giving written feedback on an assignment, chances are, students make similar mistakes. You could create some generic comments and have a little list besides you as you’re typing and giving feedback to your students. Here are some examples:
    • .sss1
      • only use facts explicitly from the text in your answer. You can ask questions and use personal experiences to help you to understand the text as you read, but when you are writing your paragraph answer, you should only focus on facts from the article.
    • .sss2
      • see if you can make an even more complex inference about the main idea by evaluating the controversy and explaining why it’s appropriate or inappropriate. Ask yourself, “Why is this important?” as you read and see if you can find more facts explicitly from the text to support your thinking.
  2. If you code, you can also use custom shortcuts to insert frequently used code fragments.

Of course, you’ll still need to go back to tweak the comments for each individual, but it’s always easier to change a few words that it is to reinvent the wheel each time.

Here are four options to help teachers use technology in the classroom to create shortcuts that make their life easier:

  1. TextExpander is a great little program for your Mac or your iPad/iPhone. The Mac version costs $34.95 US and comes with a 90 day moneyback guarantee. You can sync your shortcut “snippets” via MobileMe or Dropbox
  2. TextExpander (Touch) works on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch and lets you type short abbreviations which expand into longer sentences or “snippets.” It currently costs $4.99 from iTunes. (Note: not all apps can use the textexpander snippets. Here’s a list of the 100 trying to and counting apps that do play nicely with textexpander. In other words, if your favorite app isn’t on this list, you won’t be able to use your custom made shortcuts with the app.)
  3. Breevy is basically TextExpander for Windows by 16 software. It costs $34.95 US and comes with a free fully functional 30 day trial. Breevy also can sync with dropbox, which makes it easy for you to sync your textexpander snippets on your Windows computer with your iPad.
  4. If you prefer, you can speak your shortcut “snippets” to your computer using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium instead of typing out your abbreviations. For example, just by saying “insert reading level 3,” you could insert a much longer paragraph into your document.
    • In order to create custom commands in Dragon NaturallySpeaking to insert frequently used text and/or graphics by voice, you need to have Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium or higher. The text and graphics custom commands aren’t available in the home edition. (You can see the different versions of Dragon using this comparison chart, but you really need to look at this feature matrix to compare more specific features. Look at the last page under Text and Graphic Custom Commands.)
    • If you’re student or teacher, you may qualify to get a significant discount on Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium, but you want to read these 10 things before you buy.
    • If you have the professional or legal version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11, then you get advanced custom commands, which allow you to add variables or more sophisticated voice commands to automate routine tasks


This post was written using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 Premium Wireless. There is an educational discount available for qualified students and teachers but you probably want to read this post before you buy. We are compensated for our reviews. Click here for details. 

  • There are 907 words in the initial draft of this post. Dragon made 11 word errors. So, we had an accuracy of 98.8% in this document.
  • If you include punctuation and capitalization errors, Dragon made an 7 punctuation and capitalization errors. So, we had an accuracy of 98.0% in this document.

Here are some of the word errors made by Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5:

  • where a child = we are child
  • than it is to write out a paragraph.= then it is to write out a paragraph.
  • to speed up = speed up
  • comment banks = comment. Thanks
  • 4.99 = for 99
  • Let’s say you’re taking = That’s it. Taking

Here are some of the punctuation / capitalization errors made by Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5:

  • better mark = better Mark
  • write out a paragraph explaining to a student how to get a better mark. = write out a paragraph explaining to a student. How to get a better Mark.


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