Searching for open authentic resources online

Searching for open authentic resources online

Image credit: COERLL Creative Commons License

Authentic resources are essential for language teaching and when they are open – by carrying a Creative Commons or other open license, as opposed to a copyright – they present even more opportunities. On a practical level, if anything you do with copyrighted material ever leaves the walls of your classroom, you could potentially get in legal trouble. But in addition to that, if you ever share the lessons you create using authentic resources with colleagues, your use of openly licensed materials will allow them to make their own modifications and copies of your work.

We recently surveyed some language teachers and faculty about their techniques for searching for authentic resources, and most of their great ideas revolved around copyrighted materials. This makes perfect sense: copyright is pervasive, and materials with a copyright are easier to find and often more polished. But we hope that little by little, authors and creators will learn to change how they use outside sources and publish their own work, with licenses that give credit to the author and access to all.

Sometimes it is harder to find content with open licenses when searching with very specific search terms or specific topics in mind. Even copyrighted materials can be hard to find when you have a very specific resource in mind. As Rachel Preston, a French teacher in Austin pointed out,

Being flexible on search terms and going into my searches with an open mind often help me find resources that I would not have conceived of that are relevant and interesting.

If you let go of some of your requirements, a video or a text that seems to have no topical relation to what you’re doing in class can still be useful and interesting, with the right scaffolding. Christian Hilchey has some interesting tips on this in his interview in our newsletter. (In case you do want to narrow down your options quickly, Rose Potter suggests, “Always include the language, city or country in your search. For example, if you are looking for a sample of jai alai include, ‘jai alai basque Spain’ or you may end up with images from… around the world.”)

Another important aspect to finding open authentic resources is other people. It probably seems obvious that other teachers can help via social media, word of mouth, professional organizations, or blogs. But librarians may also be able to help; even without language knowledge they should understand licensing and online resources. You can also enlist students to search for resources. It teaches them digital citizenship, gives you an idea of what they’re interested in, and generates a whole stash of materials in a short period of time.

And of course if the internet doesn’t give you what you’re looking for, the outside world might have more realia than expected. Marcelo Fuentes, a grad student at the University of Minnesota, suggests,

I would encourage educators to use more materials obtained by themselves. You don’t need to travel: you can find materials in other languages in practically any city. Those pictures of graffiti, menus, brochures, etc., have a story, a connection to you, and because of that they will be much more interesting for your students than most things you can find online.

Or, you can follow German teacher Anke Sanders’ advice and get creative to make your own pictures, audio, or video. If you do make your own creations, remember that putting a license on them will allow others to benefit!

If you do need to use copyrighted materials (which includes anything with a ©, AND anything not labeled with a license), make sure you know the rules of fair use, and if you are having trouble staying within those boundaries, it is legal for you to link to copyrighted resources from your lessons, as long as the resource itself isn’t included in your creation. It can even be a good idea to try contacting the copyright owner for permission to use their content.

Whether it is an article about hot air balloons in Québec, a website about being green in Costa Rica, a video about the whistling language of the Canary islands, a video of middle school students talking about their vacation plans in French, or a video about traditional medicine in Spanish, there is a wealth of knowledge out there! Read more about ideas for searching in our newsletter article and please add any ideas for openly licensed authentic resources in the comments below.

Some authentic resource recommendations from the language teaching community

Creative Commons licensed authentic resources

  • CC Search allows you to search multiple websites for open content, depending on whether you are looking for audio, video, images, or text
  • Wikis, such as Wikicommons
  • Public domain image repositories such as and Pexels
  • You can search specifically for open content on Google and YouTube. Learn more in our newsletter article.
  • COERLL materials are all Creative Commons licensed and available for 15 languages

Copyrighted authentic resources

  • Corpora, such as the collection from BYU
  • Using the search term “infografía” plus a Spanish word or phrase (this idea comes from Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell – see her blog for more authentic resources tips)
  • Notes in Spanish offers authentic conversations between a Spanish woman and her English husband… Some of the podcasts are a bit outdated, but many contain cultural themes/topics that are still relevant today. Students like listening to the conversations as it represents natural conversation between a native Spanish speaker and a non-native speaker. I like them because they expose my students to the Castilian accent while also serving as a springboard for culturally (and linguistically/grammatically) oriented conversations to emerge in my class.” – Joshua Thoms (Utah State University)
  • Several teachers recommended tourism sites, such as, recommended by Nancy Guilloteau (University of Texas at Austin)
Sharing opens up new possibilities

Sharing opens up new possibilities

Photo credit: flickr user Hoffnungsschimmer Creative Commons License

Here at COERLL we have always worked on projects with small teams of professors or teachers to create openly licensed language teaching materials (textbooks, activities, lessons, etc.) that we share with teachers. However, some of our new projects follow a different model: instead of giving teachers materials, we are asking teachers to share with us and with other teachers the in-class lessons or activities they have created, and to support each other in further developing and testing these materials.

To inspire people to start sharing, we created this infographic that shows all of the ways sharing can impact teachers, students, and the community, but I wanted to get a firsthand account of this impact from a teacher, so I asked Amy Lenord, a Spanish teacher, consultant, blogger, #langchat moderator, and 2015 Texas Foreign Language Association president. She helped me envision how that one simple act of sharing can be a catalyst for a whole set of other practices. Amy and many other bloggers have inspired me as they share their great ideas and successes right along with the ideas that didn’t quite work the way they wanted them to. This openness creates a forum for feedback and ideas from other teachers dealing with the same challenges.

Whether online or face-to-face, feedback from other teachers is part of a larger iterative process that “only works if you are willing and transparent”, as Amy says. A teacher who considers reactions from other teachers and integrates that into their work will probably also pay attention to reactions of students, going back to a lesson after it’s done to evaluate how it worked and figure out how to do it differently the next time. Amy talks about developing a lesson like it is a scientific process, albeit a creative one: hypothesizing about what will work, testing it out with students, observing results, consulting other teachers, making changes, and going back into the classroom with the students to teach and observe, starting the process all over again. As she puts it, “teaching is organic. I can’t teach the same way in two consecutive years”.

Amy Lenord claimed to not be a part of the open educational movement when we talked, but she exemplifies it in every way, by her willingness to tell others a story about what she is doing, to change her methods to fit her students’ needs, and to accept and give feedback as part of a community of teachers.

Of course, as a center for open educational resources, we will always provide resources that are licensed to be modified, copied, and shared. But, these resources are nothing without the process that a teacher will go through to make them effective, and the act of sharing can make this process even more rich.

If you are interested in collaborating with other teachers, you might want to check out the following resources:

  • Language Coaching by Amy Lenord, “just a Spanish teacher doing what she loves and hoping to inspire others to do the same.”
  • The TELL Collab is a two-day professional learning experience with collaborative sessions, presentations and resource sharing for both teachers and administrators
  • COERLL’s Heritage Spanish page is a place to share resources created or simply found by teachers who have experience with speakers of Spanish as a heritage language.
  • COERLL’s Foreign Languages and the Literary in the Everyday project gathers teachers to create and share classroom activities around the central theme of finding playful, non-conventional language in everyday texts like memes and graffiti.
  • Terri Nelson (California State University) has been creating Paris occupé, a role-playing-game to teach French language, history, and critical thinking. You can learn more in this webinar video. If you might be interested in testing the game, let us know at!