5 useful online resources for English teachers

There are a number of resources I return to again and again online, in order to either find useful texts for pupils to read, or to deepen my contextual knowledge of texts. Here are five sites I think are really helpful.

JSTOR Understanding Shakespeare 

This is a brilliant resource that connects digital texts from the Folger Shakespeare Library with articles on the JSTOR digital library. As the strapline tells us: “Pick a play. Click a line. Instantly see articles on JSTOR that reference the line.” 

Below is a screenshot that shows you how it works. I’ve chosen the line “‘Tis an unweeded garden / That grows to seed.” from Hamlet’s first soliloquy (Act 1, Scene 2). You can see that there are 53 references to this line in JSTOR. It lists them on the right of the screen, and by hovering over each one, you can see the page of the article on which it is referenced.
In the referenced page on the example above, you can see how the line can be seen as part of a tradition of similar references to husbandry as a metaphor for kingliness and national security across a number of Shakespeare’s plays. Illuminating, right?

The British Library Articles 

I love these. Here you can browse some really interesting articles on Shakespeare and the Renaissance, Romantics and Victorians, and Twentieth Century literature. All of the articles are linked to items in the British Library’s collection (mainly original manuscripts), with embedded slideshows throughout the articles exploring these items. There’s some really useful contextual stuff here.

CommonLit

This is an American website containing “a free collection of fiction and nonfiction for 5th-12th grade classrooms”. It is a wonderful digital resource.

You can search texts based on the grade they are aimed at (just add 1 to get the UK equivalent age: 6th grade is the same as Year 7 in the UK), or by the text’s Lexile range. Or – and this is where it is really useful – you can search it based on theme, genre (looking for speeches or short stories?), or by a short list of books that the texts link to (for example, searching for texts linked to Animal Farm returns some nonfiction articles on Stalin and the Russian Revolution, among other things). You can also search for texts based on linguistic and rhetorical devices, so if you are looking for examples of hyperbole or dramatic irony, the search will return texts that contain these.

What’s more, each text comes with a series of questions to help comprehension. And you can download each text as a PDF (which includes these questions).

BBC History – British History

With some articles, some iWonder pages and some BBC archive videos, this is a really useful source of contextual information for literature texts. With pages on the Tudors, the Victorians and some key moments of the Jacobean period (to name but a few useful touchstones for English teachers), there are some great resources here.

English Heritage – Story of England

In a similar style to the BBC History site, English Heritage’s simple timelines and overviews of the key periods in English history are a valuable resource. Not only is this organised by period, you can also explore it by themes such as Power & Politics, Religion, Daily Life, and Arts & Invention. Have a look and see what you think.

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Teachers: @TesResources has a problem and they want you to work harder to deal with it

TES Resources has a problem. Its resource sharing platform is riddled with copyright infringements. What are they going to do about it? Well, they are going to ask you to add to the already burgeoning workload of hardworking teachers and get you to police it. As if you don’t already have enough to do.

TES Resources is a great platform. It allows teachers to share resources freely with hundreds of colleagues up and down the country. It truly exemplifies the collegial spirit of teaching. Well, it did.

It did until July 2014, when they announced that teachers would be able to start selling the resources they were already sharing for free. They sold this move as ‘teacher empowerment’. Weirdly, this announcement didn’t mention the cut that they were taking from these transactions.

Now, I have been very outspoken about the selling of resources on social media in recent times, but this post isn’t about my moral objections to teachers selling resources to one another.

This week, it was brought to my attention that a resource that I shared freely on this blog had actually been copied and was being sold on TES Resources for £3 a pop. It had been on the website for nearly 2 years and had received a number of downloads.

I should point out that the aim of this post isn’t to vilify the individuals concerned in this practice. Not because the practice isn’t reprehensible, but rather that, in the spirit of charity, I am happy to concede that some people may do this in complete ignorance that they have taken this idea from someone or that there is a victim of their actions. People make mistakes, and if they show contrition for those mistakes, I’m happy to move on.

In the case of my resource, TES were straight on the case once I’d brought it to their attention and are investigating as we speak. In the first instance they have taken down the resource. I wait with interest to see if there is any attempt to remunerate the injured party. After all, someone has made money from something I chose to give freely. (Should such remuneration arrive, I have earmarked my local paediatric oncology ward to receive the funds – it is a charity that is very close to my tutor group and me, for reasons which I shan’t go into here.)

However, like the mythological hydra, as soon as TES had sliced off this head, another one grew back in its place. It was brought to my attention the next evening that another of my resources that I’ve shared freely was on sale for £4 on the site.

And I am not the only one, large numbers of people have offered me evidence that the TES platform is riddled with people selling others’ resources.

Here are a few examples that came shortly after I made a request on Twitter last night. Important to note that these are just the ones who were up, saw my tweet and responded. I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg:

Not only that, as the last tweet suggests, this practice is driving people away from using the platform to share resources freely:

This might suggest that more sold resources on TES = fewer free ones.

And there are plenty more responses where all these came from. I’m sure you get the picture.

So what are TES Resources going to do about it. Actually, it’s more what they expect you to do about it. They want you – hardworking teachers, already overburdened with a burgeoning workload – they want you to police the site for them.

That’s right. Rather than come up with a way to police this themselves, they are asking us to identify stolen content. Imagine if the police said they wouldn’t deal with antisocial behaviour in your neighbourhood unless you went out and brought the assailants into the police station yourself?

Quite how they want busy teachers to do this is beyond me. Do they want us to do a regular search weekly? Monthly? And what should we search for? I produce lots of resources every month – are we supposed to search for everything we’ve ever produced and shared? Do they not get that we are very busy? Have they not read the pages of their own publication, drowning in articles on workload? Why do they think people use the site for resources in the first place? To save time. Now they want to us to use that time to work for them in managing their site, for free.

Nope. This is on you, TES. You can’t pass this off onto already overworked teachers.

Was this a problem before TES introduced selling? Well, yes, I’m sure people uploaded resources that weren’t their own. But the difference is they weren’t profiting. I share my resources freely, so someone else uploading it means that it will still be shared freely. Okay, so the lack of credit may irk, but that can be easily addressed.

What would I do if I were the TES? I’d embrace the collegial nature of the profession and of sharing freely and leave the cynical hawking of resources to other sites. But whatever they do, the responsibility is theirs to kill off this heinous practice on their site. Over to you, TES.