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by Wesley A. Fryer

"Teaching With Templates"

It is amazing how easy it is to waste time on a computer. Whether a learner or a educator,
computer users can literally spend hours fruitlessly searching the internet, changing fonts or
sizes, slowly keyboarding in text, or searching for a document they thought they saved in the
proper folder instead of completing the task at hand. Just as an experienced driver does not focus
principally on the mechanics of shifting and checking for traffic when they are behind the wheel,
literate computer users should not spend too much time on the technical aspects of technology
tools. Like a driver, computer users should focus on the destination where they are traveling,
rather than on the tool helping them get there. To help both learners and educators avoid getting
bogged down in the technical details of completing a task with technology, educators can create
"template" files that streamline and expedite the document and presentation production process.

A "template" is a partially created document, saved in a format that allows multiple users to open
separate copies of it at the same time. When opened, a template file will open as "Untitled,"
"Document 1," or "New Document" (that has not been saved yet) instead of opening as a named,
previously saved file. The term "stationary" is used interchangeably with "template" in some
software, like AppleWorks (formerly ClarisWorks). Templates can be learner documents, ready
for learners to insert their own ideas and information into it. They can also be designed for
educator use, like a form letter including your school letterhead and mascot.

This article describes the reasons and techniques required to create template files on Macintosh
and Windows computers. The methods described here can become some of the most essential
"tools in your technology toolkit" as a professional educator. A linked copy of this article is
available on

Why templates?

Once educators become familiar with the instructional uses of template files, they often wonder
how they ever got along without them. There are several different reasons to use templates in the


Templates help lessons using technology proceed much faster. When learners are
required to set up margins, font type and size, and other formatting features in a word
processing document, it takes much longer for them to get into the "meat" of an instructional
technology lesson. In the case of a multimedia presentation, it can take a considerable
amount of time to create new slides, select background designs and text colors, navigational
buttons, and transitions (not to mention sounds and animations.)To fulfill the requirements
of the TEKS for Technology, learners do need to know how to create and manipulate these
file elements. They do not have to create all their documents from scratch, however.

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Limited time on the computer, whether in a lab or regular classroom setting, makes the need
for using time-saving templates even greater. Primary age children, who usually possess
fewer literacy skills and abilities than intermediate or secondary learners, can often complete
a lesson using productivity software that starts with a template, but could not if they had to
create the entire document from scratch.


Use of template files allows learners and educators to focus more on the content of the
lesson rather than the mechanics of technology use.
Changing the font to 72 point Old
English in lime green does entertain many learners, but is rarely a lesson objective. Inserting
a table into a word processing document is an important skill, but it is probably not nearly as
exciting as the civil war battle details included in a social studies lesson, or information about
star formation and supernovas in a science lesson. Technology tools should ideally become
"transparent" in the classroom setting, just like the overhead projector or the television.
Templates can help educators employ technology tools in a more transparent manner, letting
learners primarily focus on their curriculum content.


Template files can streamline learner research and internet access. Some educators
mistakenly believe that using technology in the classroom just means letting learners search
the internet for information. While internet search skills are vital, learners tend to waste at
least 90% of their time on the computer if they are simply turned loose to find information
about a topic on Altavista or Lycos. (Yahooligans,, is actually one of
the best search engines for this scenario.)Educators need to use lessons created by others that
include grade level and content appropriate websites for learner use. Alternatively, or in
addition, educators should spend time before the lesson begins searching the internet for
appropriate sites. These URLs (internet addresses) can be copied and pasted into learner
template files. They can then be made into "hot links" that learners click on. After clicking
on a link, the default web browser will launch and display the selected website. For other
techniques like this one, refer to the article "Streamlining Learner Internet Access" at

IMAGE teachingwithtemplates01.gif


Template files make good independent learner assignments / center activities.Few
classrooms in the United States presently have enough computers for all learners. Computer
labs may allow each learner to have his/her own workstation, but available time in computer
labs is usually in short supply. Because technology resources and the time to use them are
limited, learners must take turns. Educators at all levels can create assignments with template
files which learners can read and complete independently, when it is their (or their team's)
turn at the classroom computer.

What does a template file look like?

The amount of text and formatting inserted into a learner template file will depend on the
objectives of the instructional lesson and the amount of time learners will have to complete the
assignment on the computer. The computer literacy skill level of learners should also be

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IMAGE teachingwithtemplates02.gif

For a multimedia project, templates can included already created cards/slides and navigational
buttons (if desired). A presentation design can be applied, with font type and size already
selected. Slide designs (in the case of PowerPoint) can be selected. Text boxes (in the case of
HyperStudio) can be created, positioned, and formatted on the desired slides so learners do not
have to spend time with these tasks.

Hyperlinks to internet websites can also be inserted as appropriate in the file. The "Voices &
Stories from World War II Activity" on both
Word and AppleWorks formats) is a good example. Learners link directly to websites featuring
first person accounts of wartime experiences, including some recorded audio. These internet
links are inserted in the learner template before the questions pertaining to them, making access
to them as straightforward as possible.

Creating Templates on Macintosh Computers

It is relatively easy
to make any file
into a template on a
computer. Once a
Word document,
HyperStudio stack,
KidPix drawing, or
other file has been


Locate the file
on your hard
Click once on
the file's icon.
From the FILE
menu, choose




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IMAGE teachingwithtemplates03.gif


Click on the check box in the lower right corner of the information window, beside
"Stationary Pad."
Close the information window.


Macintosh users can also use the technique described next for "creating template files on
Windows computers," but this "save as" method will not work for all file types. For example,
Kid Pix and HyperStudio do not allow files to be "saved as" templates or stationary. With this
Get Information / Stationary Pad method, however, even these file types can be turned into
templates on Macintosh computers.

Creating Templates on Windows Computers

IMAGE teachingwithtemplates04.gif

After creating a document in Word, AppleWorks, PowerPoint, or many other productivity
software packages on a Windows computer, save a copy of the document normally on your hard
drive (or network folder if available). Then:


From the FILE menu, choose SAVE AS.
At the bottom of the save dialog window, click on the "down arrow" next to SAVE AS

Choose to save the file as a "Document Template" (Word 97), "AppleWorks Stationary," or
"PowerPoint Template" (PowerPoint 97) as appropriate for your software application.
After you choose to save the file as a template or stationary, your application will likely
switch the SAVE IN folder of your document to a templates/stationary folder inside the
application's folder on the C: drive. If you are creating this template file for learners to use,



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you probably don't want it saved in a folder nested deep on your workstation's hard drive.
Click on the "down arrow" next to SAVE IN at the top of the save file dialog window, and
choose the location where you want to save the file. You may want to choose DESKTOP
and move the file to another location later, after you close the document.
Beside FILE NAME, enter an appropriate name for your file.
Click the SAVE button.


Windows computers use a three character "extension" after the filename to determine what
application and file type is associated with a particular document. Word documents use the
".doc" extension, ClarisWorks (AppleWorks) files use the ".cwk" extension, and PowerPoint
uses ".ppt" as unique identifiers within the Windows operating system. Changing or eliminating
a file's extension can change the application which opens the file automatically when it is double
clicked, and the way the file is handled in the application.

When a file is saved as a template or stationary file, a different file extension is assigned by the
Windows program to the document. Word documents are saved as ".dot" files, ClarisWorks as
".cws" files, and PowerPoint as ".pot" files. Once you learn the correct template/stationary
extension for a Windows program, you can change it into a template file by changing its 3
character extension as appropriate. Right click a file and choose PROPERTIES to view its
extension, if it is hidden from view. To change its extension, right click the file and choose
RENAME. After typing the filename, a period, and the correct three digit extension, press enter
and click OK to confirm this change to Windows.

A Wonderful Template Technique on a Network

IMAGE teachingwithtemplates05.gif

If you are fortunate to have a school network in place, it is possible to save one copy of a learner
template on the "file server" so that all workstations (both Macintoshes and Windows computers)
can quickly open local copies. To do this:
1.Ask your network administrator to create a new folder on your network hard drive, with
educators assigned "read/write rights" and learners assigned "read only rights" to the folder.
Name this folder "Templates."
2.Create a desktop shortcut/alias to this folder on the desktop of all the computers in your
computer lab and classroom(s).
3.After creating a template file (while logged in to the network as a educator with corresponding
"rights"), move a copy of the template file into this folder on your network.

When learners need to open a template file, they can double click the shortcut/alias on their
desktop to the network "Templates" folder, and then double click the template file they want.
Because learners only have "read rights" to the Templates folder, if they choose FILE - SAVE at
the end of the period and do not specify a folder to save their file in, the computer will display an
error: FILE SAVING NOT PERMITTED IN THIS LOCATION. This technique can be a huge
headache saver. Learners still may name their file poorly or not save it in the correct place, but
at least the templates folder (where they opened the file and likely the default saving location)
will not be filled with twenty untitled learner documents at the end of the period!

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Wesley Fryer is an elementary computer educator and technology facilitator in Lubbock ISD. He
maintains a free, bi-monthly educational newsletter for educators around the world interested in
educational technology issues. Sign up at Email your questions and

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