July 20, 2024


Education, What Else?

20+ sources of FREE digital content for your class

6 min read


People have very strong feelings about them, I’ve found.

When I created the website and book, Ditch That Textbook, people have been quick to share their hatred — or their love — of textbooks with me, complete with lots of reasons.

Printed textbooks served such an important purpose for so long. For years, information was at a premium, and textbooks filled the void. They were chock full of it — a one-stop shop for the curious student.

But textbooks are bulky, inflexible and pricey. They can be outdated when they arrive in classrooms, and they’re often outdated when schools finally adopt new ones. (You’re not surprised to hear that in a blog called “Ditch That Textbook,” are you?)

Things have changed. We don’t have a lack of places to learn new things.

Google searches and YouTube are where many of us go first to get that quick question answered. They’re often a good jumping-off point if we want to delve deep into a topic as well. But the info we find there can be inaccurate or superficial.

Open educational resources (OERs) may be one of the best options available right now.

They’re also a great option for adding unique experiences to the lessons you already teach.

These resources include:

  • individual reading selections
  • videos
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • interactive digital experiences
  • pre-made or customizable digital “textbooks” (if we can even call them that) 

Oh, and that word “open.” That also means that it’s almost all completely free. Most paid options are only premium upgrades from free resources that are already very rich.

20+ sources of FREE digital content for your class

Smithsonian Learning Lab (learninglab.si.edu)

 The Smithsonian Learning Lab is a free, platform with millions of vetted digital resources and collections. You can search resources by type or search collections by topic.

Smithsonian History Explorer (historyexplorer.si.edu)

The Smithsonian History Explorer has hundreds of free American History resources for your students. You can search by keyword or filter by resource type, grade level, historical era and cross-curricular connections.

Smithsonian Game Center (ssec.si.edu/game-center)

Games can be a fun and engaging way to learn! The Smithsonian Game Center offers many STEM games and simulations that have clear learning objectives and align with your curriculum.

National Archives (archives.gov/education)

Browse the vast collection National Archives to create lessons using primary sources. Using DocsTeach (a FREE tool) you can create and share activities using primary sources or browse from the activity library.

PBS LearningMedia (pbslearningmedia.org)

PBS has created and shared tons of media rich, engaging, digital lessons for a wide range of grade levels and subject areas. You can view all of the interactive lessons here and search by subject area or grade level. Also check out this interactive lesson for teachers that walks you through how to use these resources with your students.

Khan Academy (khanacademy.org)

Khan Academy is a not-for-profit organization providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.  All of the site’s resources are available to anyone- student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, or an adult returning to the classroom after 20 years.  

CK-12 Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to high quality educational materials for K-12 students all over the world. We offer free high-quality, standards-aligned, open content in the STEM subjects. By providing these free resources, CK-12 is working toward educational equity for all.

CSPAN Classroom (c-span.org/classroom)

C-SPAN Classroom provide free video-based materials for social studies teachers. Videos are embeddable or can be shared with a link. Check out the lesson plans and bell ringers that you can search through by time it takes to complete. There is also a C-SPAN in the classroom podcast!

OER Commons (oercommons.org)

OER Commons houses lessons created by educators. It includes subjects like history, law, social science and more. OER Commons digital librarians have also curated collections of professional learning resources like game-based learning, arts integration and building text-dependent questions.

CommonLit (commonlit.org)

CommonLit has over 2000 leveled reading passages for grades 3-12. You can download the passages as PDF or assign them directly to students. Browse by content type, grade level, lexile range, genre, theme and more.

Library of Congress (loc.gov)

The Library of Congress offers reliable classroom materials to help teachers use primary sources in their classrooms. Be sure to check out the getting started with primary sources resource for teachers. 

US Government Open Data Set (data.gov)

You can visit the U.S. Government’s open data sets to find data, tools, and resources to conduct research, design websites, apps, simulations and more. Utilize the data to create real world research lessons and activities for your students.

Newsela is the best way for students to master nonfiction in any subject. Each Newsela text is offered at multiple tiers, for every student, no matter their level. Students can study the same content and learn at their own pace—while teachers save time and headaches. It’s the definition of working smarter.

Tween Tribune (tweentribune.com)

Smithsonian’s TweenTribune is a free website with news articles for students. Each article includes comprehension- and vocabulary-based quizzes and adjustable Lexile levels. All past articles are available and can be filtered by grade level or keyword. There are also tech-related stories and articles in Spanish. 

National Geographic (nationalgeographic.org/education)

The National Geographic Resource Library has tons of high-quality, standards-based, educational resources and activities. Resources include maps, lesson plans, interactive activities, and reference materials. You can search the resource collection by resource type, subject area or grade level.

Curriki wants to create the largest global community library of OER. Its library includes thousands of educator-vetted, openly licensed materials. It has curated collections in math, science, computer science, English and study skills.

ReadWorks (readworks.org)

ReadWorks. give you access thousands of high-quality, free K-12 articles. Explore reading passages, question sets, vocabulary, article-a-day, paired text, vocabulary, book study materials, ebooks and more.

Libby lets you use your library card to access thousands of ebooks and audio books for free online from your local library.

PBS Learning Media US History Collection (pbslearningmedia.org/collection/us-history-collection)

The PBS Learning Media US History Collection enables teachers and students of U.S. History (Grades 6–12) to use media to teach and learn the topics and themes covered in most standard middle and high school U.S. history classes, and spans 16 eras of U.S. history, from Pre-Colonial America to the 21st century.

OpenStax offers free digital textbooks with tons of resources for teachers and students. Resources include test banks, answer guides, PowerPoint slides, downloadable PDFs and more. It also includes learning management system integrations for Canvas, Blackboard, and more. 

TEACHFLIX (DitchThatTextbook.com/TEACHFLIX)

What if you could access tons of great YouTube videos for your class all in one place? That’s what we have collected here on our Ditch That Textbook TEACHFLIX page. Browse 360 videos, elementary and middle school science, virtual field trips and more.

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