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Are EFL materials sites a waste of money?

Are EFL materials sites a waste of money?

If you are a freelance English teacher, then it’s quite possible you’re considering signing up to an EFL materials site and paying the monthly or annual subscription. But are they worth it?

In this blog, Louisa Walsh from Global English TESOL explores the pros and cons of subscriptions for EFL material websites.

As an independent online English teacher, I know there is plenty enough to do already: marketing, admin, lesson prep and, of course, actual teaching. Specialist material sites like Fluentu and Off2Class promise sophisticated lessons for a fee, complete with a range of bells and whistles, sometimes with video, flashcards and platforms where material is integrated seamlessly within your lesson. Wow. It’s pretty tempting.  

But should you pay? And how much is too much? Are they worth it?

Well, as a tutor for the Global English TESOL courses, which all include teaching English online content, as well being a freelance online English teacher, I’d say whether to subscribe or not comes down to what stage you are at in your online EFL career. Let’s look at the following scenarios to help you decide...


1. I’m a new teacher, just starting out.      

Answer: No, don’t subscribe.
If you’re brand new to teaching but have no actual students, a subscription-based site can be a useful psychological crutch. After all, if you’re a little inexperienced, then it’s helpful to think that at least the material will stand up to scrutiny. However, I think this is possibly the worst time to enter into a costly contract. No students, no money and your subscription will likely start from when you take it out, not from when you get your first paying student. In addition, you have no idea about the materials you require until you talk to your student and assess their needs.

Also, bear in mind that many of your new students may want straight conversation-based lessons on-the-go, via WhatsApp, for example. I teach a number of these learners. They simply don’t want to or aren’t able to log in to a site and view materials.

Therefore, a subscription is going to be money you could be spending on advertising your services, building your presence (or website) or engaging people via social media. 

So, instead of a subscription for materials, in these early online teaching days, work on how you operate in the online space and focus on attracting students, connecting, developing rapport and being responsive to learner needs. Do an initial needs analysis with a new student correctly and you can be buzzing with ideas for future lessons.

At this early stage of your teaching career, check out some of our favourite free materials sites, such as:

and other free ESL Sites.


2. I’m working online, have a few students a few hours a week, but want to get more.

Answer: No, don’t subscribe to anything too expensive, but...
if the above free sites don’t give you quite enough variety, you could opt for some low-cost or one-off payment sites, such as: 

  • Handouts online (not bells and whistles, but good, solid plans on a range of themes) for $24, or
  • Teach This which offers its entire catalogue of 1500 lessons for under $40 a year.



3. My business is growing fast and I am too busy to prepare.

Answer: Yes! Find a good site and subscribe!
This is a different story. If you can’t find free resources to suit everyone, while you have paying students with unmet material needs, and (crucially) a subscription site could meet them, go for it. It will save you valuable preparation time and help you with lesson ideas for that very particular student. If this is you, work out how many lessons you need access to in a week, calculate that over a year and then see if the subscription rate seems reasonable.

Compare a few subscription-based sites – are they updated regularly with fresh materials? What ‘extra’ will it bring to lessons and crucially, are materials easily accessible and ready to use with minimal preparation?

A couple of the whizzier ones, as mentioned above are:

  • Fluent U: currently $20 - $30 per month depending on how you pay
  • Off2class: $8 - $25 + per month depending on materials accessed and number of students

Not sure yet? Both of the above sites offer free trial periods so you can try before you buy.


So are EFL material subscription-based sites worth the fee?

It all depends on where you are in your online journey. It can be time-consuming to search through free sites for suitable material, adapt them to suit student needs and create resources yourself. But this is all a valuable part of the teaching craft. 

This is why we include a resources site review and give trainees a chance to create their own lessons in all our accredited TESOL courses.

However, by the time you are teaching several hours each day, as I am, a mix of free and subscription-based sites will likely form at least a part of your lessons. In short, subscription sites have their place, but so has good old-fashioned lesson creation.

  • Author: Louisa Walsh
  • Date: Tuesday 29th September 2020



Off2Class now also has a free account, perfect for beginner teachers!

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Are EFL materials sites a waste of money?