Guest post by Alex Case, teacher in Japan and blogger at TEFLtastic.

I’ve somehow managed to keep blogging about TEFL for over six years mainly with the selfish motivation of keeping myself interested in teaching. In a similar way I post my worksheets simply to make the time I spend on them seem less wasted. However, I do sometimes yearn for a larger sense of purpose to keep myself going. The only realistic one I’ve managed to come up with so far is to do my small part to help create free resources online that at least match what a teacher could find in the same amount of time in front of their own or their school’s bookshelves, something that can be done both by posting materials and ideas yourself and making other people’s stuff easier to find by linking to it.

So, how are we doing so far? Is Google now your ultimate lesson planning tool, or would you need a credit card and/ or need to combine it with numerous journeys over to that bookshelf to make it worth spending a couple of minutes on a search engine? And how about when writing an essay or article – do you agree with most of the industry that online references are best avoided or is there a good amount of free stuff online that would make it into your references list?

Or is my aim as pointless and/ or unachievable as the other purposes that I’ve rejected? If so, can you think of a better mission for any TEFLer with their own free-to-access blog/ site out there? Here are some uses free TEFL blogs/ sites have been put to, many of which are less common than they could be, or even used to be:

Or perhaps anyone who wants to make an impact should bypass teachers entirely and write for net-savvy language learners. Alternatively, are you like one guy who wrote to compliment me on my materials and then said he was offended by me giving them away for free and thought I ought to monetise them?

In summary, how are we doing and how could we do better? Comments below please.

Illustration from http://www.flickr.com/photos/toddle_email_newsletters/

38 Comments

  1. Sorry for reanimating a dead thread, but I’ve been pondering how we are doing and how to do better further and would still like to hear more from other people. Some random observations:
    eltjam has done something very important if you want to your spread your ideas which again I can’t be bothered to do. It’s definitely worth having your own address (somethingsomething.com or .co.uk) rather than using a generic .wordpress.com one. As well as boosting search rankings, some schools and even whole countries block blogs on blogging platform addresses.

    I’ve recently proved to myself that my (free to access) online articles and worksheets are the same quality as the ones I’ve had published on paper, by having things I wrote for the former purposes accepted by well-known TEFL magazines. However, the only times I’ve noticed my articles being referenced it has always been my stuff on paper.

    Jason’s approach of allowing people to make money out of your ideas seems probably the best way of spreading them, so I’m thinking about dropping one of the only two restrictions I put on use of my materials and letting people include them in things they charge people for (as long as they keep to the last remaining restriction and say where they come from).

  2. Alex, to get back to your original question about the value of free online materials vs published materials, I think that many, if not most, Mexican teachers of English are unaware of the existence of free Internet EFT materials and their English proficiency may be weak enough that they are unable to do web searches in English, even if they have Internet access.
    One of the things I make it a point to do is provide links to free online materials sites whenever I make a presentation to teachers. So the Mexican teachers of English are stuck with the materials provided by the govt which are poor and not aware of, so unable to use, the free online materials they could use.

    1. Thanks for getting us back on topic, Carol! Would I be right in guessing that they are also probably completely unaware of the materials of the international ELT publishers and paid sites like onestopenglish? If so, with the help of people like you we are probably doing okay in comparison. Perhaps rather than providing materials in teachers’ many languages, we could have sites that described materials elsewhere in teachers’ L1 and so also make them more searchable. One of the biggest referrers to my site is a French version of that:
      http://www.michellehenry.fr

  3. I am really intrigued by this conversation about how to localize teaching materials. How many of you have gone into local teachers classrooms and watched what they do over an extended period of time? How might this kind of opportunity change or not change your perception?

    After years spent watching native or near native speakers teach English I can count the time spent in English-challenged non-native speakers’ classrooms on two hands and one foot.

    1. I haven’t spent any time watching non-native teachers teach English. My experience, albeit second-hand, comes from the teachers’ course my dept runs every summer and talking to their former students who end up in my classes at university. In many public schools in Mexico nobody is qualified to teach English. Instead, they draw straws (maybe literally in some cases) and short straw has to teach English for a year or two. It is invariably taught in Spanish and is limited to grammar and/or reading depending on the individual teacher’s preference or comfort level.
      An additional problem in Mexico is that many of our students speak Spanish as a second language. There are still around 40 indigenous languages in active use, so children from the villages do not even hear Spanish until they get to primary school. Thus when they are exposed to English, they are not yet fluent in Spanish. And no, even though it is received wisdom that children can learn new languages more easily than adults, these kids manage to learn both Spanish and English badly while not retaining fluency in their first language. It’s really sad, especially since with competent teaching and resources, these kids could be tri-lingual by the time they finish high school…Oh yes, I have also been told by my students that writing in Spanish is only taught in primary or middle school, never in the public high schools, so my students arrive at university unable to write grammatically or coherently in Spanish, which means that when they hit the English program they are completely at sea when it comes to writing in English. Makes for a challenging job.

  4. Hi Carol

    I must say my experience with free online materials is similar to yours, which is one reason I asked the question. However, nowdays I also have to spend so much time adapting stuff from books to be suitable for my classes that most of time I might as well have started from zero or just the germ of the idea and written my own stuff. In fact, the same is true even of my own old worksheets. That’s why I boiled the question down to the hopefully realistic and worthwhile comparison between published materials and free online ones (and the same question for teaching ideas, though most people including myself have concentrated on materials). How would you say we are doing in those terms?

    I think you are absolutely right that there are markets that most free online blogs/ sites aren’t hitting at all, including primary school teachers here in Japan. To be honest, I think the best thing we could do is write in the teachers’ L1. Other things taking that kind of situation into account would include providing our ideas as printable ebooks, simplifying our English, providing videos demonstrating techniques and activities, providing lesson plans and detailed answer keys, etc – none of which I must admit I do myself due to the sheer tedium! Those still leave the problems of lack of internet access and our probable difficulties knowing how to “sell” our ideas/ materials in those markets, to which the partial answers would be providing mobile-accessible ideas/ materials and using social media in the teachers’ L1 in the hope that one or two people will discover our stuff, print it out, and spread the word on paper.

    1. I’ve just about described most materials you have to pay for, which is also the case for your EOT stuff – and therefore you are either off topic again or on the other side of this comparison between free online stuff and published stuff you have to pay for (which you probably are anyway, as I seem to remember you produced an actual published course). The exception is the materials in teachers’ L1 – neither you nor international publishers produce much or anything in, say, Japanese for Japanese teachers of English.

      People having to resort to internet cafes is a good point, and another reason why free blogs/ sites should probably provide our materials and ideas in multi-page packages of pdfs that are easy to save and print. I’ve planned to do that for ages on my blog, e.g. have all my Past Continuous worksheets in one pdf, but I doubt that I will actually get round to it – again because this is basically a hobby and it’s always more motivating just to post new stuff.

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