Are free activities worth it?

Are free activities worth it?

Teachers love free activities. And there are so many online, you can be forgiven for thinking: why should I ever pay for one? But just as free internet news is sometimes less than believable, free activities may not be all their cracked up to be.

If the job to be done is transmitting information, then the free PowerPoints from TES may be worth their 5-stars. But as the Government's report on curriculum resources (2018) concludes: The resources currently available do not meet all the criteria for being high quality and knowledge-rich." 

Knowledge-rich means that the resource helps students gain a deep conceptual understanding. That's the right measure of quality in a world of demanding GCSEs. But on that scale, many free activities only merit 1-2 stars.

One problem is that free activities are generally targeted at the same small part of the learning pathway. We call it 'explain' - see the 5A's learning pathway for more details. Using these explain activities within a properly designed teaching sequence is fine. But the danger is that the curriculum is little more than a playlist of tell and practice. The research is clear that proper curriculum design is needed for students to develop a deeper understanding - and miss out on those AO2 marks.

We should also be wary of claims like 'written by teachers for teachers’.  By that logic, we would let our aeroplanes be ‘designed by passengers, for passengers’ 

Seriously, I respect anyone who can spend 50 hours a week teaching and then invest more time to become an expert activity designer (please join our team!). But it doesn't follow that because you can teach students to understand that your materials will reliably lead to learning gains everywhere else (or vice versa). Teaching and curriculum design are different jobs - like coaching sport and playing it. 

So next time you see a 5-star free activity (even on our site), pause and ask yourself: Is there real pedagogy here or just praise? Remember, your students are worth it. 


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