July 16, 2024


International Student Club UK

20 ways to use OrbitNote for PDFs in the classroom


PDF files are a helpful classroom tool. Use OrbitNote to give your students’ PDF files new superpowers and level up learning.

This post is sponsored by Texthelp.

PDF files still make the world go round. We read from them. We send documents as PDFs. They’re quick and easy, portable and lightweight.

PDF files are a force in the classroom, too.

They work nicely with learning management systems. Students can read from them. They can annotate on them. They create an easy digital workflow.

Are you ready to give your PDFs new superpowers? 

If so, it’s time to check out OrbitNote.

OrbitNote allows you to transform and interact with digital documents in a completely different way. It lets you create an accessible, dynamic and collaborative space that works for everyone.

With OrbitNote, you can:

  • Read text aloud 
  • Create and share digital work easily, creating effective workflows
  • Add text, drawing, shapes and voice comments
  • Collaborate and leave feedback
  • Get reading, writing, comprehension support from Read&Write features

It’s a web app that “just works”. Only a lightweight extension is required for certain features. 

OrbitNote works seamlessly with Texthelp’s Read&Write and EquatIO, or stands on its own. Make PDFs accessible from right inside the document. It works across multiple browsers, including Chrome and Edge.

So … what can you do with OrbitNote?

I’ll share 20 ways you can use OrbitNote: 10 features you can use right now, and 10 ways you can use it in the classroom.

OrbitNote: the features

1. Read text to students

Use OrbitNote’s text to speech feature to read text aloud to students. They can listen to text in their own personal headphones or through classroom speakers. Struggling readers can get personal, on-demand support quietly and discreetly. Plus, any student can consume class content on the go, at any time.

3. Annotate on PDFs with typed text

With OrbitNote, the days of just viewing PDFs on your device are gone. 

Students can easily type and resize text, change its color, add short or long-form responses, and brainstorm digitally, on any document you provide.

4. Draw or write on PDFs

PDFs can be very visual documents, and students can elaborate on those visual ideas with drawing tools in OrbitNote. Students with touch screens can draw with their finger or a stylus. For those  without touch screens, touch pads or a mouse will let them circle, underline, and even write text. This brings some of the best paper document functionality into the digital world.

5. Add shapes for more interactive activities

With the shape tool in OrbitNote, you can add circles, squares, and lines. Or change the fill and line color and thickness. With a transparent fill color, students can draw a rectangle to highlight or identify parts of the document. They can also use these shapes to circle or identify parts of an image.

6. Collaborate student-to-student with comments

Share a PDF with a small group of students or an entire class. When they edit it using OrbitNote, they’re able to leave rich comments and reply to each other. Students can create text, image and voice comments and even attach files to their comments, too. From there, they can reply to each other’s comments in a nested thread – kind of like a conversation.

7. Leave students text feedback

Students aren’t the only ones who can write comments on PDFs with OrbitNote! Teachers can leave feedback comments for their students – a fast digital equivalent to jotting notes in the margins of paper assignments. Teachers can also highlight something good or something that needs improvement, or drop a quick text comment that’s easy for the student to read.

Pro tip: Keep a bank of commonly written feedback notes in a document – or use a text expansion to add those comments quickly.

8. Connect with Read&Write

When you use OrbitNote alongside Texthelp’s Read&Write and EquatIO, it makes documents and online learning even more accessible. Read&Write’s text and picture dictionaries, Audio Maker, and other accessibility tools add even more superpowers to PDFs for teachers and students. Plus, EquatIO’s equation editor lets students do math digitally inside PDFs.

9. Save time by recording audio feedback

We talk faster than we type and write by hand. If we can share student feedback with our voices, we can save time; little by little, comment by comment.

OrbitNote’s voice comments let you share feedback with students faster with your voice. Plus, students can hear your voice, letting you add your own intonation and personality so it feels like you.

10. Organize ideas by highlighting

OrbitNote’s highlighting feature allows students to organize new information and find it quickly with four different color options to choose from and then, well … something amazing can happen next. (Check out No. 13 below if you just can’t wait!)

So, we’ve discussed 10 ways to use OrbitNote’s features … Next, we’ll explain how to implement those features in the classroom.

Lots of the features mentioned above are part of OrbitNote’s “freemium” plan, which includes: text-to-speech, highlighters, text comments, and Google Classroom and Schoology integrations.

Click here to try OrbitNote for FREE

Premium OrbitNote includes: all freemium features and annotations, collect highlights, voice notes, and OCR functionality. Get more information on pricing at the Pricing tab at the OrbitNote website.

OrbitNote: the in-class implementation

11. Create interviews and discussions with audio comments

Audio comments are a great place to share feedback with students. But that’s just the beginning of what’s possible with them.

 Post a document with a challenging question, statement, or picture. Then, let students record audio comments and reply to each other’s audio comments for an interactive, collaborative, digital discussion, recorded any time, anywhere. 

Students can create questions for others to answer, creating an audio interview, of sorts.

12. Create graphic organizers

Any graphic organizer – including one of the 20+ pre-made graphic organizers I offer for free here can be annotated as a PDF in OrbitNote. 

Just go to: File – Download as – PDF to download a copy. Then, assign it to students. 

Graphic organizers are less about “type the right answer” and more about guiding students through a line of thinking. This type of assignment can lead to deeper student thinking.

13. Create research summaries from highlights

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for (at least since I teased it in No. 10 above).

 Students can highlight different types of information with the four different highlighter colors, then the magic happens…

Just click the “Collect Highlights” button and OrbitNote gathers and sorts all your highlights by color and pulls it into a new PDF highlights document. It’s a simple one-click way for students to organize and focus thoughts.

14. Do close reading and annotate texts

Students can do more than just reading and underlining with OrbitNote. As they read, they can highlight, underline, connect, write notes, and analyze what they’re reading. By using OrbitNote’s annotation tools, students have more digital options at their disposal. 

Then, when they’re done reading, they have an online version of their text marked up with their own thinking – that they can access anywhere.

15. Show thinking visually

You might think the best use of OrbitNote’s tools is to mark up an existing text. And that might be right. But it can be just as powerful with an empty space for a student that has a lot to share. 

Give students a blank document (or with a simple open framework for sharing ideas). Students can then create sketches, diagrams, or word webs with OrbitNote to show what they know.

This visual thinking lets us see students’ construction of their new learning, as it appears in their minds.

16. Collaborate on brainstorming or note taking

Annotating PDFs with OrbitNote is powerful when students do it individually. It can transform the experience when they do it collaboratively. 

Students can open PDFs in OrbitNote that are shared with others in Google Drive. When students add annotations to a PDF file, other students who view it in OrbitNote see it that way, too, and can add their own annotations.

It can be a group-wide or class-wide collaborative discussion that happens in digital spaces.

17. Create templates with Google Slides or PowerPoint for student work

Can’t find the perfect PDF file to share with students? Then make it! 

Use lines, shapes, text, images and more in a tool like Google Slides or PowerPoint to create a template that guides students through the work you want them to do. Then, download that template as a PDF file and assign it to students to annotate in OrbitNote. 

Looking for some examples? Check out the Ditch That Textbook template library with dozens of templates you can download for FREE.

18. Share YOUR annotations with Google Classroom

You, the teacher, might annotate a PDF yourself! Maybe you’re annotating it on a projector screen or interactive display in front of the class. Maybe you’ve done it on your own as an example. If you want to share it directly to your students via Google Classroom, it’s quick and easy. Here’s a tutorial to walk you through it.

19. OCR scan a document to turn it into text

If you or your students find a document that’s an image, in many cases, it can limit what you do with that document and how you annotate it. Thankfully, OrbitNote has an OCR scanning option that will turn an image of a document into text you can manipulate, highlight, and annotate. Here’s a tutorial that shows you how.

20. Upload to Drive to turn in to Google Classroom, LMS

When students have completed their tasks and assignments, how do they get their work to you? 

OrbitNote makes it easy. Students can click the “Upload” button in the top right to upload their work to Google Drive. From there, they can turn in that file directly to you through Google Classroom, Schoology, or the Google Assignments LTI in Canvas.

 Or they can always bypass any of that by creating a shared link to that file in Google through your LMS assignment. Here’s a Schoology tutorial, and here’s a way to turn student work in virtually any LMS with a link.

Click here to try OrbitNote for FREE

Looking for more? Find Texthelp, the creator of OrbitNote, on social media here:

  • Twitter – @texthelp
  • Instagram – @texthelpers
  • Facebook – @texthelpers
  • Linkedin – @texthelp


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