One of my biggest stumbling blocks as I’ve switched gears from middle to elementary school is individual e-mail accounts for the students. Back in middle school, I could always count on every student having their own e-mail account. Even if, for some strange reason, one or two students didn’t have one, I could just ask them to sign up for one before the next class and it would be done. Alas, nothing is quite that easy at the elementary level….

In our case, for lower elementary students, we really only need each student to have an individual, permanent, e-mail address to sign up for other services (not to actually send and receive e-mail). So, in order to get our second grade class up and running with Ning accounts for our Global Village project (which, of course, require a consistent e-mail address for log in purposes – no mailenator for us), and in preparation for all of our Global Communication Center projects, I spent less than an hour today solving my problem, thanks to Gmail.

Basically, Gmail allows you to create subsidiary accounts linked to an individual Gmail account. Check out this great screencast demonstrating how to create linked Gmail accounts that Alec Courosa made with Jing earlier today (I need to start getting the kids to make screencasts with Jing next – what a great way to create tutorials!).

Basically, this means that one teacher can have 20 permanent e-mail accounts that are all delivered into one teacher e-mail account. Therefore, if the teacher account is, all you have to do is add a “+studentname” before the @ symbol to make a linked account. Therefore mail sent to will go straight to Of course, given that Gmail terms and conditions require users to be over 18, we did send out a permission slip to all parents to get their formal approval that we create these linked accounts.

This means that all students will have to learn is “their” e-mail address so that they can log into the Ning (or wiki, or whatever) independently, but they never have to actually see their e-mail, check an in-box, or deal with any spam. This also allows us to be consistent in the classroom, with all students essentially having the same e-mail address to remember – only needing to input their name after the “+” sign.

Also, thanks to the filtering and labeling feature in Gmail, the teacher can filter all incoming mail into specific labels for each student, thereby saving passwords and user account info for future reference, just in case. And, with the (basically) unlimited storage that Gmail provides, this should be the perfect place to keep those kinds of records – accessible from anywhere, by anyone with the teacher password (in this case, both myself and the classroom teacher).

As far as I’m concerned this is the perfect solution for our younger students. It took me less than an hour to set up the initial e-mail account, invite all 18 students to our Ning, accept all 18 invitations, and approve all 18 membership requests. Certainly, it’s not ideal to have the teacher doing all this (especially when I’m used to the students being able to handle sign-ups on their own) but it’s far better than actually having individual accounts and worrying about students maintaining them on their own when they’re 7 & 8 years old.

Bring on the global collaborations! We’re ready!

Tags: elementary, 21stcentury, globalcollaborations, email, gmail, globalcommunicationcenter

50 thoughts on “Sign Me Up! The Elementary Email Solution: Linked Gmail Accounts

  1. Kim,

    I have had great luck using this Gmail feature in setting up learner blogs. This last month, I got with one of our 7th grade science teachers for a project that required students to use googlepages. The problem with the subsidary account is it cannot be used to create a Google account. Have you come across some other ways to work around the need for an e-mail address to access 2.0 tools?

  2. Hi Kim – Thanks for explaining this well. I knew that you could do it but was not quite sure how it works so was nice to read a post that explains it very clearly.

  3. My kids use what you described to sign-up for all their wikis and
    I also use the gmail account with parents. They use:
    “email”+”initials of kid&relationship to kid” when they comment. Then the kids know who it is and accept the comment without getting approval from me.

  4. This is a great tip Kim, and super technique, esp. for elementary settings. How cool that Alex in Canada saw you twitter from Thailand and posted that great screencast. Connected learning never ceases to amaze me. I look forward to sharing this with teachers interested in facilitating student collaborative projects with sites that require unique student emails! :-)

  5. Thanks, Kim. You have explained it so well. I have been using the linked gmail accounts to set up blogs for some of my classes as you can see what students are doing easily, both posting and commenting. I did this with Year 7s when our filter would not let emails from our school though from the edublogs isp (don’t know why and since fixed) and it helped me at least get the students blogging at that time. Thanks for the post

  6. Great solution, Kim.

    Re: Jing, by the way, just curious: why Jing instead of SOM is web-based (no download), allows 15 minutes instead of five, gives you as many channels for your screencasts as you want, and allows comments, notes, pop-up annotations, and more. PLUS you can embed, download, etc.

    Again, just curious. Thanks for the Gmail solution!

  7. You can also set up a catchall account, which collects any mail sent to nonexisting addresses on your domain – if you have google apps for edu you can still take advantage of the filters etc.

  8. forgot to mention that the catch all solution works on all sites including sites that don’t work with the linked account system.

  9. I was thinking….instead of having to do this every year with a new group of students that you could instead just assign numbers. For example, each one of my kids has a number that I gave them. So if I have a 16 kids, I could just create 16 accounts of, and and so on. That way I would be able to reuse the same accounts each year with my new students. Are there any cons to this that I’m just not thinking of???

  10. Mr. James,

    Sorry – the only other way I can think of is to create individual student accounts. I’ve done that with our grade 4 and 5s (and with all my middle school students in the past). I just don’t think it’s the best option for primary grades… Let me know what you end up doing!


    I was so happy to figure it out, I knew I had to share!

    Mr. B,

    Great idea about parent comments! It can be so confusing to have student names and parent names floating around!


    Thanks! It was a totally Twitter moment :)


    I wish I had known about this option before – it really makes things so easy!


    No reason and no preference for Jing – just happened to be the tool Alec used, so I referenced it.

    Ann and Cheryl,

    Glad I could help!


    Excellent! You’re a G-mail pro!


    Since you’re not actually creating accounts (just adding the +name when you use the e-mail), it probably doesn’t matter whether it’s a +name or +number – in fact, it might be easier for kids to remember the +name. You only have to create one gmail account, and then you can have as many +name accounts linked as you want.

  11. Hi there! Sooooo…basically, the kids will never be able to see the email – is this the gist? I looked at Google Aps for Educ – but seems that Gmail is disabled under my domain name? I’d like to be able to use Google Docs with this system…is there a way??? I like the +name combo because it does allow you to monitor their emails, but I don’t like that it doesn’t allow them to talk – perhaps using a wiki would enhance that aspect of a project I’d like to do.

  12. This looks like a great feature. One question – can the students actually use the sub account as their own email account or would you only use this feature in gmail to be able to create accounts with other services?


  13. Jill,

    Yes, the students would never see the e-mail. You as the teacher would see all of the e-mails directed to each individual student within that one account.

    If you’re using a blog, the “talking” would come from commenting and replying to comments within blog posts. If you’re using a wiki the “talking” could come under the “discussion” tab.


    You could use the sub account if you wanted to give the students the password to the main account – then they could see all of the e-mails that everyone in the class gets, so I would not recommend that option. If you need each student to have their own individual e-mail account, I would just help your students sign up for their own G-mail account.

  14. Hello Kim

    Thank you for uncovering this and spreading the word. I had two question and and I am asking them with the spirit that no question is wrong or too small :)

    1. If I create sub accounts for my students, will they need passwords to their sub accounts or can they just be given the email id name to help them leave comments/emails for each other in response to a class discussion or post on a class blog or to write a page? If they do need passwords – will that give them opportunity to use them in any unsafe way – say for chatting/google talk etc.?

    2. My class has 40 students – will that mean I need two primary Gmail ids to accomodate 20 in each or will google allow up to 40? I am browsing and probing around.. so let’s see what comes up..

  15. I’m sooo sorry to post what is probably such a beginner’s question. I am hoping to start blogging in my writing classes and I am wondering why students would need email addresses. Is it because they would not be able to post comments without one? And, if I want to have an assignment on the blog and I want the students to complete the assignment as part of the blog, is this done as a “post” or a “comment?” Also, number 1 of resh’s post: do they need passwords? Thanks so much

  16. Resh,

    Absolutely! All questions welcome!

    Sub-account e-mail address will not require passwords – it’s basically like a dummy account that they can use while commenting. Only you, as the teacher, will actually see any of the e-mails that go to that account (with your username and password).

    I’m not sure about the limit of the number of sub accounts with G-mail. I seem to remember reading somewhere that it’s unlimited, but that sounds too good to be true. I say test it and see what happens! And, then, of course, tell us!


    If you are only having students comment on your blog they do not need an e-mail address. You can actually have them put any e-mail address in that required box, it doesn’t have to be a real, functioning address.

    However, if you would like students to contribute to the blog (as authors), they will need an e-mail address to create a user account (which will then have a password). You might be interested in this post: Students as Contributors on Edublogs: The Quick and Easy Way

    Hope that helps!

  17. Cheers Kim,
    You’ve provided some useful thoughts regarding middle-years pupils and e-mail accounts. I’ve drawn on two sources of info… one from you and the other from Sue Waters’ edublog tutorials.
    This has helped me make some design choices for my students (grd 5 Melbourne based primary school). However, I initially had my pupils create their own blogs via my account. This left me (security concern) vulnerable since my students had all the access privileges given as administrator.
    There are some inherent problems i.e. students accidentally / intentionally corrupting / altering passwords etc. The only solution is to provide them with ‘linked’ e-mail accounts as you suggest (and their own admin privileges to their own site).
    All I need to try (if possible) is to keep their existing blogs but transfer them to their own account (is this possible??).
    So, thank you for your post… most helpful.
    Altan :-)

  18. Hi Kim – found this very useful – however we have had to close our school ning – under the terms and conditions of ning, users (defined as all those with a user ID not just the creators of the networks) must be over the age of 13.
    I have corresponded with Steve Hargadon over this and he has always encouraged us to hang on… we went through the COPPA act and showed how by using dummy emails (completely false ones work on ning) no info was being collected on any minor whatsoever, so although ning was happy for us to continue the network it would still not give us a written approval or officially ‘support’ the network because of it’s own terms and conditions.
    UK teachers might need to be aware of this – BECTA is.
    However your info has been invaluable for getting the students onto edublogs where there is no such pitfall in the terms and conditions.
    Thanks again for this!

  19. Altan,

    Good question! I have absolutely no idea, though. Might be a good choice for the Edublogs Forums… If you find out, I’d love it if you could share the answer here that way we all can benefit :)


    So glad this was helpful! Yes, Ning is really frustrating that way. They should really include a clause that adds the opportunity for younger users with parent permission – that’s what we do here, signed parent permission slips. Especially when the networks are private, protected and monitored by teachers, it doesn’t seem fair to just keep all younger students out!

  20. Using the + symbol, you’re not actually creating a ‘subaccount’, though that may be a useful metaphor. Really what’s happening is that gmail ignores all the characters after the + symbol. So an email to is really being sent to, however, when you receive the email in your inbox it will show ‘to:‘ in the header. This allows you to leverage gmails filtering tools to create separate folders for each ‘subaccount’. But really you’re not creating anything….I could send an email to ‘’ and you’d see that, too.

  21. @Robind,

    Yep, totally understand the process – just a nice way for people to understand how it can help them in the classroom.

  22. I like the idea of using this as a communication tool in the classroom, but if the students can’t see the emails, I don’t understand how it can be used. I mean, how do the students access the services of Gmail without using a password, because don’t Google Docs and Reader and Blogger require a password to actually access the apps?

  23. @Pebble,

    Actually, that’s exactly what I like about this process – specifically for elementary students. We needed e-mail accounts that the students wouldn’t see (they don’t need them for anything we’re doing in class, but they can’t sign up for some of the tools without an e-mail address). For lower elementary, this is perfect. For upper ES and higher, I would just recommend each student having their own e-mail address.

  24. Does this work with VoiceThread?

    I need to register some third graders so they can use VoiceThread so I was thrilled to find your solution for creating multiple accounts.

    Trouble is it doesn’t seem to work . When I insert a linked gmail address into the corresponding box in the register section I get a red cross.No joy. Am I missing something here? Any suggestions?

    Thank you for sharing your ideas, spirit and enthusiasm – all very inspiring

  25. @Jonathan,

    I’m sorry to say that this little trick does not work with VoiceThread, but VT has a built-in feature for multiple student accounts that might work for you.

    First of all, you may be aware that VT offers a Pro account (for free) for educators, so you may want to sign up for that first (just click on the Go Pro! button at the top of your screen, and then look for the K-12 Educators link – it’s not the same as their Ed account, which costs US$50, but it’s more than enough for the average teacher’s needs).

    OK, moving on to your actual question. Here’s what I do for my younger students that do not have their own e-mail address. In your account you have the option of adding multiple “identities” – you can have as many as you want (as far as I can tell), so I usually set one up for each student in the class. This means there is one log in (and one e-mail address), yours, but multiple student accounts listed under that one account.

    Once you are logged in, and you have created multiple identities (under the “My Account” tab in the upper right hand corner), you can switch from one student identity to another as your students leave comments and create threads.

    We usually have our students draw self portraits and then upload those for the avatar for each identity and just remind them to pick their “face” when they record a comment.

    Hope that helps!


  26. Kim,

    Is there a way for teachers to create an iGoogle page and use on classroom computers without having students be able to change the password?

    I have teachers who want to customize an iGoogle page and use it as a startpage on a few classroom computers. The problem is once logged in, the students can change the password and get into mischief.

    They do not want to use Google Apps for Your Domain. It’s too restrictive for them,and they have to rely on the site administrator. They each want to customize their own iGoogle page with gadgets, bookmarks, etc.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    Thank you,

  27. Hi Kim –

    I want to blog with my 3rd graders so badly, but have been told in no uncertain terms that “right now we are not allowing blogging”. Since I live in a conservative area, I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon. So…I’m wondering if you might have suggestions on alternatives? I’ve looked at zoho and wondered about the wiki there (I tried to have a wiki at Wikispaces last year but they blocked it with the above-referenced comment, which shows that they really don’t understand either concept!). I have been ‘allowed’ to have an outside website (on and am wondering about the possibility of allowing comments from students?

    Basically, I’m just trying to figure out if there is a safe way that I can introduce an activity that is similar-to-blogging-without-really-being-blogging so that I can then say – perhaps – Look what we’ve done, and we’re all alive and thriving, and it’s okay!

    Any suggestions are welcome.


  28. @Corrina

    Oh boy. It sounds like you are in a tough situation. I don’t know if this would solve your problem, but what if you did an internal blog, something that is not accessible by anyone except your students (and their parents)? You could make everything password protected and then show your admin how much the students have grown through the experience. The only problem is that the real power in blogging (or any of these web 2.0 tools) is in the communication with others.

    Another idea would be a password protected Ning. It’s not quite the same as a blog, but I’ve had success with schools as soon as I say it’s totally private and no one else can see it. In fact, a Ning has many more features than a blog, so you might even be able to do more than you think if you can get one started.

    If neither of those work, I love the idea of having students comment on your website. That would be a nice simple way to start demonstrating the difference between one way communication and two way. If you did that, would it be public? Because then you could get other schools involved, and that would really be exciting!

    If you still need more ideas, let me know! Good luck!

  29. I’m so happy I stumbled upon this. This solves many potential problems. Great find…for me. Also, I found the screencast quite helpful.

  30. I want to make Gmail sub accounts for students as described in your blog using the + sign. Gmail tells me that only letters, numbers and . are allowed. I have run across the + suggestion on a lot of sites but it doesn’t seem to work any longer.

  31. @Jeannebp

    Oh no! That’s really too bad, maybe Google decided they didn’t want to offer that functionality any more. I haven’t had to use it lately because we’ve started using Google Apps for Education so now all of our students have their own e-mail address. My suggestion would be to contact the parents and ask them for the use of a family e-mail address if your students are too young to have their own.

  32. Hi Kim,

    Thanks for a great post! @PJVermont recommended your post on Twitter.
    I’m wondering what you are doing with your 2nd grade on Ning. I am also interested starting Ning with my Middle School students and Edmodo with younger ones. My question is: Doesn’t Ning have an age requirement of being 13 and over?

    1. @doremigirl,

      For the Ning project, I think you will find this post helpful: Making Connections: Social Networking in the Elementary Classroom.

      Yes, Ning does have an age requirement, but we used a specific signed parental permission slip to get around that requirement. I know that the rules are a little more lax overseas, but I know Kevin Jarrett in New Jersey is following the same protocol. Essentially the parents are the one registering for the Ning and then we’re allowing the students to access their account. As long as I have a signed permission slip, I feel like I’m following the expected guidelines.

      Hope that helps!

  33. Learning is an ongoing process as ou simply learn new things all your life.

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