August 2013
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Melanie Rockenhaus, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, Italy

For more than 25 years, I have been teaching English in Italy as an ESP instructor and at a university in Pisa. Here I report on a presentation given at the 2013 TESOL convention on selecting and using copyleft materials for English language instruction.

“Copyleft” is a play on the word “copyright” and refers to materials, generally signaled with the a mirrored copyright symbol , freely available to all and which can be used as they are or can be modified, provided they remain available without restrictions (“Copyleft,” 2013). Copyleft materials are not limited to, or even particularly related to, English language teaching, but are instead part of a growing movement to share creative work more freely in the interest of all users. I discovered the quantity and quality of copyleft materials when I was asked to teach the English language module of a training course preparing technicians to apply home automation technology (called “domotics” from Latin domos + automation) to the interior design of recreational vehicles (RVs).

RV production is an essential part of the economy here, with nearly 85% of the Italian production of RVs taking place in the Tuscan Camper Valley (Ciuti, 2004). The course, however, presented a potentially frustrating experience for all as there was no budget for materials and the 12 participants, carefully chosen for their technical preparation, had widely dissimilar English language skills.

This all-too-common problem was resolved by using copyleft materials located through the Producing Open Online Learning System Tools website (POOLS-T, 2013). POOLS has produced language teaching materials, or as they say, “pools of online copyleft materials” (2013), which are free to use, modify, and share. I found adequate materials readily available for my course, but POOLS has also developed tools for creating ad hoc online materials. By using these tools, instructors can convert any text into an html page and hyperlink all words in the text to online dictionaries. Teachers can add audio and video components as well and enrich the student learning experience, or use online tools to create pertinent exercises such as gap fill, multiple choice, cloze, scrambled sentences, or crossword puzzles. All of these materials and tools are available on or through the POOLS website, and users can sign up for the POOLS newsletters to stay abreast of more recent developments. Membership is free, as are all copyleft materials on the site.

Novice users are advised to read through the site, carefully searching for ready-made materials. There are already numerous texts, articles, and more, and resources are added on a regular basis. In many cases, the articles are followed by built-in online exercises, as for my particular class. My students first read through a piece titled “Domotics – text and exercises” (POOLS-T, 2013) using the online dictionaries provided, then completed the exercises linked to this. This was feasible, even for learners at lower levels, due to the dictionary support provided, and students were extremely satisfied to be working on materials in their field in English. These activities were carried out in pairs, directly on the POOLS-T website, allowing them to focus on the technical language needed while communicating directly with each other and the instructor in English, as they negotiated meaning. In this way, they practiced the skills of reading, writing, and speaking, all three in their specialized field of domotics. Both informal comments gathered in conversations with learners and formal feedback gleaned from the postcourse surveys carried out by the organizing institution were extremely positive; several students commented that the use of Internet-based materials and real learning tasks was particularly rewarding and effective.


Copyleft. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from

Ciuti, I. (2004). Tutti in vacanza in camper boom dell' industria toscana [Everyone on vacation in a camper: A boom for the Tuscan industry]. La Repubblica. Retrieved from

Producing Open Online Learning System Tools. (2013). Pools-t: Tools for creating online materials. Retrieved from

Melanie Rockenhaus hails from Texas and has completed an MA in literature, an MA TESOL, and a postgraduate diploma in translation. She has taught in private schools, companies, organizations, and universities and has translated a variety of websites and books. She is interested in teaching and researching writing and placement testing research.

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