Convenience to Concern: Drawbacks of TPT

It’s time to plan a new literacy unit.  That means, of course, that it’s important to think first about what standards you’re looking to incorporate.  Then you’ll likely plan out assessments to gauge the learning and then map out a scope and sequence of lessons.  From there, it’s time to more fully plan the day to day lessons.  This is where knowing your students really comes into play, as you design lesson specifics that will both engage them and best get the content across. 

Phew!  Already, it’s a lot.  It takes a lot of thinking, mind changing, and rearranging.  And a lot of time. It’s a huge mental load.  But it’s not done.  Now that the “what” is in place, it’s time for the “how.”

Which means it’s now time to gather resources.  

But often, teachers are so mentally exhausted at this point, creativity is zapped.  And so is the time.  

And that’s where something like TPT comes in.  It’s often a first source for the “how.”  Most teachers either use it now or have used it in the past.  It can be a huge time-saver. 

“—a lesson repository that is not vetted for quality or standards-alignment— saw a large uptick in use, and more than one-half of the ELA and mathematics teachers in our sample reported using the site “regularly” (once a week or more) for their instruction.”

(Kaufman et. al, 2018)

But there are a lot of drawbacks when it comes to TPT.  

Hold on.  Before you yell at me, let me first say that I would bet money that I have purchased far more TPT products than you have.  I’m not against it at all.  It’s a great beginning point and full of many truly helpful resources.  With all the grade levels I’ve taught, all the subjects within those grade levels, plus all the tutoring I’ve done, I’ve needed to find a lot of resources (especially for math!).  Most often, I’ve only ever used very small pieces of things, so I ended up purchasing way more things than I’d ever really use in order to put together what I really wanted.  I’ve spent a lot of money on that site.

That said, we do need to be very careful.   TPT has its drawbacks.

First, because there are often mistakes in them.  These things are written by humans, so there are going to be errors.  Mistakes that can be incredibly confusing to students.

Second, they quite often don’t match the standards.  Even when you try to filter it to do that, it’s usually a very loose match.  In fact, when a study on this was done, researchers found that  a whopping 56% of the materials they examined only “partly aligns to some of the listed standards or fully aligns to a few (but not the majority) of the listed standards.”  (ASCD, 2023).  Whatever you get will very likely need revision. This is why I’ve only really used pieces of things. 

And a third drawback of TPT is that the easier the topic you’re looking for, the more resources you’ll find. The meatier the topic, the fewer you’ll find.  Let’s think about a general narrative unit.  Right now, if I type character motivation, a very meaty topic, I get just over 7,100 results.  But just a quick scroll down page one shows me a lot of slides with only the definition of character motivation, many, many task cards that include a story with just a few sentences to it and a multiple choice “pick the motivation,” and a whole lot of graphic organizers.  I even saw one product that was coloring pages.  

Not much to actually teach character motivation.

I encourage you to read through the very eye-opening set of findings put together by the Fordham Institute (2019).  It spells out a plethora of drawbacks of sites like TPT.  Not only are these products typically not well-aligned to standards, they’re also overwhelmingly low DOK level. The authors share some sobering information you may not have even thought of.   I know I was surprised.  (If you check it out, you’ll need to download the PDF for the main summary of findings). 

Here’s an example of what this might look like for teachers.  

My own state’s standard around character motivation for third grade says:  Explain how one or more characters develop throughout the plot.  

Meaning within an entire text.  One that’s far more complicated than the paragraph on a task card.  In other words, not just a few sentences in a very simple and contrived short story.  The standard demands this work with a story that requires that kids hold onto information from the beginning all the way through to the end in order to explain development throughout the plot.  And to explain it, not just pick it from a multiple choice list.  A much higher level of thinking.  

It’s a high-level standard.  For the most part, none of these TPT resources will get them there.  Some of them are great beginning practice, sure, but they aren’t nearly enough.  Nor are they authentic texts, which is the entire goal.  


Conversely, another standard for third grade is to “Identify and explain the purpose of forms of figurative language to include metaphor, hyperbole, and idioms.”

Much more concrete.  Much smaller.  Much easier to teach.  

A TPT search on the term figurative language yields over 35,000 results.  Filtering to just 3rd grade still gives me over 11,000.  Idioms:  almost 19,000.  Metaphors:  over 15,000.  And hyperbole:  over 8,000.  Notice that even just the tiny, discrete skill of identifying idioms has more product available than the much more important skill of understanding character motivation.  

Frustrated girl overwhelmed by too many online options.
Image by Peshkova via Depositphotos

Because these things are far easier to teach, and far more straightforward than character motivation, there are many more resources to choose from.  And that can lead to spending too much time on them.  What’s more, these kinds of things are very isolated, far removed from actual text.  If we want kids to be able to recognize figurative language when they come across it in their own reading, understand what it is and what its purpose is, and ascertain what it means in the context of the text, then there’s got to be a better way to tackle it.

A major drawback of TPT.  

ASCD recently reported on some research done about the quality of materials found on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers.  While of course there were some really great things, the conclusion was  that “Overall, reviewers’ capstone or holistic rating for most of the downloaded materials was “mediocre” or “probably not worth using.” 

This is exactly why I ended up spending far more money (and time) than I should have to piece things together: so I had something worth using. 

But there is a better way.  A much better way.  With no drawbacks.

Read alouds. 

Read alouds are full of figurative language.  Full of examples that are grounded in the meaning of a real text.  Full of examples of how this author’s craft move helps the reader understand the story.  

Which ties right back to that character motivation standard.  What could possibly be a better way to teach how one or more characters develop throughout the plot than within a real story with a plot?  

Teacher reading aloud from a mentor text.
Image via Canva

Two birds, one stone.  Read alouds are truly a teaching powerhouse!   And the best part is you’re already using them.  They’re not an extra thing.   Even better–they’re sitting on your shelf right now.  Plus your school and public library are full of hundreds and hundreds more, all for free.  Even better, because you plan the lessons, you don’t have to spend too much time or money to piece a bunch of things together.  In fact, you probably won’t need any materials at all!  

I think I know what you’re going to say:  but it would take so much time to find the right books for the things I need to teach!  If you’re starting from scratch, maybe.  But if you have any books on your shelf at all, I promise they’re all full of high-level, authentic standards work opportunity.  I can even go one step further.  I’ve created a comprehensive guide with 20 of my most favorite, not at all overly used picture books (for all elementary levels) for you.  In the guide, I also share a multitude of ways every single one of them can be used, meaning you can come back to these books again and again for even greater teaching power.  More lessons, zero prep.  

Here’s an example of just one (and oooohhhhh this book makes me cry every single time!):

Cover of the book City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems and text that explains how it can be used for reading instruction.

Want the guide?  Grab it here!  I’d love to hear which book you try!

Who is Coach from the Couch??  I’m Michelle, a 24-year veteran educator, currently a K-5 literacy coach.  I continue to learn alongside teachers in classrooms each and every day, and it’s my mission to support as many teachers as I can.  Because no one can do this work alone. I’m available to you, too, through virtual coaching calls!  Simply email me at [email protected] or reach out for a coaching call!

Or, consider joining my Facebook community–a safe, supportive environment (really–no blaming or shaming allowed!)  where you can ask questions, learn ideas, and share your thoughts among other literacy-loving educators!  

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