The Teacher’s Guide To Open Educational Resources

You’ve probably heard about Open Educational Resources and maybe even used some in your classroom. But the world of OERs is growing constantly, with more quality resources available every day. If you aren’t taking advantage of them yet, now is a great time to take a closer look.

What’s so great about OERs?

Open Educational Resources

Image via UNESCO by J. Mello

Open Educational Resources are learning tools like textbooks, lesson plans, and other media that are in the public domain or openly licensed, meaning that use you can freely use and adapt them. Unlike online resources that are free but not openly licensed, you can adapt OERs as much as you like to your own needs, which makes them an infinitely flexible tool. For example, you could take a geography textbook and add examples and landmarks from your own region. Or you could take a storybook and translate it, as a class, into another language. Or your art class could create new illustrations for an existing story.

You can also contribute your new, modified version of the work back to the public, making OERs a wonderful way for you and your students to share your work with other classrooms around the world. You could take a science textbook from South Africa, add some of your own lessons and examples, and then find that your modified version has been translated into Swedish for students in Sweden. It makes the world a bit smaller!

How can I tell whether a work is an OER?

The easiest way to find out whether a work is an OER is to look for a Creative Commons (CC) license. Creative Commons makes it easy for people to openly license and share their works by posting their work with a CC license (think of it as an alternative to the copyright symbol). There are several types of CC licenses, so make sure to check what permissions are available before you get started—for example, some licenses allow for adaptations (making the work an OER) while others do not; some licenses allow you to share your work for commercial purposes, others for non-commercial only. Creative Commons licenses are not the only way to signify that a work is an OER, but they are by far the most widely used. If you’re in doubt, you can look for a “Licensing” or “Permissions” section of the website where you found the work for more details on whether a work is an OER.

Where to start

Since anyone can create an OER and share it online, the field of resources available out there is constantly growing. It would be impossible to list all of them here, but here are some of our favorites to help you get started. Many of these sites even allow you to search for OERs by state and Common Core standards:

  • Curriki is both a place to search for OERs and a platform that allows you to assemble and modify your own curriculum.
  • Gooru offers a platform that helps you search for free online learning resources, modify them, and create “playlists” that allow you to save and share sets of resources with students and other teachers.
  • Creative Commons has a directory of websites that use their licenses to offer free audio, video, images, and more.


Public domain books are a great way to enjoy the wealth of free resources available on the web. You can find all kinds of literature available online, in many languages, from Shakespeare to Charles Darwin. Project Gutenberg has the largest collection of public domain books, most of which were published before 1923. For a curated selection of public domain books with better covers and descriptions, check out the public domain section of Feedbooks.

You can also find some wonderful children’s and young adult literature created by organizations around the world and licensed as OERs. Here are some favorites:

  • UNESCO’s Women in African History series features biographical comic books and historical background information about notable African women for middle grades.
  • Mustard Seed Books has easy readers for the early grades about science and nature.
  • Bookdash has a collection of beautiful multi-cultural children’s books.
  • Pratham Books from India has hundreds of children’s books.
  • African Storybook Project also offers hundreds of children’s books, many of which are based on folktales from various African countries.

Math and Science

  • CK-12 offers not only a wide range of textbooks, but also an online platform that makes it easy for teachers to modify books and share them with students.
  • Siyavula has a beautiful set of math and science textbooks for middle and high school students, as well as accompanying comic books and teacher manuals.
  • GeoGebra offers free, open source software for learning K-12 math.

Videos and courses

How to use and re-use OERs

Some OERs are much easier to adapt than others. Text files are simple, but other resources like images, textbooks and videos are more challenging to adapt. Some websites, like CK-12, provide platforms that allow you easily mix up and modify their works. Others, like Pratham Books, provide links to the original images and files in a Dropbox folder for you to download. At the very least, you can usually treat works as images, which allows you to copy and paste them, and use them in larger projects. If you really want to modify a work whose original file isn’t available online, you can contact the creator directly to ask for it.

An important piece of OER etiquette: Be sure to attribute the work to the original creator when you use it. For example, if you’re using a CC-licensed image in a presentation, check to see who created it and include it in a note with the image in your presentation (see the OER logo in this post for an example).

Want more?

For those who want to learn more about Open Educational Resources, there are free (naturally!) courses and resources available online at the School of Open to help you learn how to find and use OERs.

Do you have a favorite OER site or resource that isn’t mentioned here? Please link to it in the comments and let us know why you love it!


  1. Sean

    July 27, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Saylor Academy ( — OER curated into self-paced, free online courses at the college and professional levels. (Disclosure: I work for Saylor!)

    OpenStax ( — free, recent, high-quality, openly-licensed college texts in STEM and humanities.

  2. David Harris

    July 30, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Thanks for your great article on open educational resources! OER are varying and numerous, so it’s great that you have provided a guide to help teachers with what can feel like a daunting process.

    I work for Rice University in Houston and we have an OER initiative called OpenStax College. We provide, free, peer-reviewed textbooks for introductory college courses. We have 15 titles available now with more on the way, and so far we have saved students over $40 million dollars! Since many of the references you included in your article point to our textbooks, I thought it might be useful for you to have a link to the source of this content in case you make any updates to the article or write anything similar in the future: You’re welcome to contact me if you have questions.

    Thanks again for your great article!

  3. Cynthia Sego

    August 13, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    This is a great resource!

  4. Adam

    August 17, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Curriki is a great place to start your search for open educational resources.

    If you are looking for STEM resources, we have a growing collection of customizable and printable CC-licensed resources at: