Mistakes That Lesson-Plan Sellers Make (on TPT and elsewhere)

By , August 3, 2011

Here is a list of problems I’ve encountered while trying to organize information about lesson plan resources; this is essentially a list of marketing suggestions to help sellers — but if sellers heed my advice, they’ll help teachers find useful resources with less effort.

This list emphasizes one “marketplace” because I recently spent many hours scraping, cleaning, and transmogrifying data for 104,000 products offered for sale through the “TeachersPayTeachers” marketplace (for inclusion in the LessonIndex.com directory) — but it’s also informed by my earlier efforts importing data from other merchants’ web sites.

TeachersPayTeachers is a “marketplace” of lesson plan resources, where both individual teachers and larger publishing companies can offer their products for sale. There are thousands of sellers, each creating products, writing product titles and descriptions, and selecting product categories, grade levels, and product “type” information.  Since there’s no single “editor” or editorial team, nor a “style guide,” sellers exercise a wide range of judgment and discretion.

Here are some mistakes that sellers make (on TPT and elsewhere):

  • Product titles that don’t say what the product is.  What should a teacher expect from products with these actual titles:  “Canterbury Tales,” “Math Worksheet,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Canada,” “Grading Revolutions,” “Candy Sort,” “Broken Promise,” or “Cars”? Sure, there’s more information to be gleaned from the subject and grade level designations, and in the product description, but the titles should be more specific.
  • Product titles that don’t match the product being sold, as shown in the preview images. I’m not talking about complete mismatches, but situations where customers familiar with a publishers’ products simply can’t find that publisher’s products by searching for the products’ actual titles. (Common substitutions: Novel/Literature/Lit, Guide/Study/Unit). Yes, you can add to the title — if you’re stuck with a product whose title really is just “Canada,” you’d add more information into the title at TPT (e.g. “Canada – unit with articles and worksheets for elementary students”).
  • Omitted words and ambiguous abbreviations. A resource about the classic poem, “Casey at the Bat,” shouldn’t be titled “Casey at Bat.” There is no book called The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis’ first Narnia book was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), and a product titled “The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe Learning Unit” might never be found when users search for the real title or for the unique word “Narnia” (hint, hint).
  • Terse product titles and descriptions. This is different from the first item above; a title and description might identify the product reasonably well, but without any additional information that most customers want before buying. If you’re selling a quiz, text, or exam, how many questions are included, in what formats, for what level of student ability?
  • Not listing the contents. If you’re selling a “Novel Study,” be specific about what elements are actually included: Are there vocabulary lists?  If so, are there separate lists for each chapter or section? Do you include page numbers where the words appear? Definitions? Worksheets, crossword puzzles, other vocab activities? Separate vocab quizzes? Are there discussion questions for each chapter? Are there quizzes for each chapter or section of the book? A summary test? What format do the tests use (matching, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, short-answer, or essay)? Are the tests made up of the exact same questions used in worksheets? Are answer keys included?
  • Not identifying learning styles or levels of knowledge. Do study-guide and discussion questions merely ask what happened, or do they include higher levels of thinking and learning (Bloom’s Taxonomy)? Does the unit include various activity options (reading response journal, quote log, map activities, drawing activities, group work, class discussion topics, project ideas) which incorporate “multiple intelligences” and cover different learning styles?
  • Not specifying whether the resource allows (or clearly implements) differentiated learning. Does the resource include clear and easy directions for using the materials with students at different skill levels, or with different learning abilities? Are specific situations reflected (gifted/talented, remedial reading, ESL/ELL, physical or cognitive impairments, etc.?  How much extra work will the teacher need to do to adapt or augment the materials for different student segments?
  • Spelling and grammar mistakes. No, I don’t care if you include the comma before the last element in a series. But if you confuse “there”with “their,” or misspell (or misuse) a literary term, or if you misspell a book title or author name when promoting your novel study, buyers will question the competence of your materials.
  • Style Embarassments. Don’t use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS in your product title (it’s OK for “NATO,” but not when identifying a separate book title or key concept).
  • Character Translations. When you cut and paste from one file format to another, certain characters are often garbled (accented characters, certain punctuation marks, and symbols like ™ and ©), turning into bizarre symbols when viewed on TPT.
  • Unspecified file format or requirements. Although TPT shows an image for the file type (.pdf, .doc, etc.), you should also clearly identify the specific file format (or the program you used to create the file) and any specific requirements for using the product.  Does your product require the use of specific plug-ins (which might not be installable on some school’s computers, for security reasons)?  Note that some devices don’t support certain technologies (for example, Flash on iPhones and iPads), and some school districts block web sites (like YouTube or Facebook) which might be incorporated in a lesson.
  • Failing to “think about search” when writing titles and descriptions.  Remember that there are “two levels of search” to consider: the search function on TeachersPayTeachers (or any other marketplace or merchant web site), and the “search engines” (Google, Bing, etc.).  Even if you know how search results will appear on a TPT search-results page, Google shows a much smaller snippet of text from a product description in its search results.  Even if your product is properly categorized on TPT, you may need to repeat the category or content area in your product title in order for your product to be included in keyword searches.
  • Keyword stuffing. Your product title and description should be written for humans, not search engines. Don’t include a long list of keywords and phrases, and never include keywords or phrases that aren’t relevant for the product you’re selling. Don’t include “cross-selling” language for unrelated items in your product description.
  • Omitting page count. Often, a customer must quickly filter through dozens or hundreds of search results for a topic, and one of the easiest numbers to find is “number of pages.”  Someone looking for a “Novel Study” or “Unit Plan” wants to see 20, 40, or 60 pages; if there’s no number at all, they might ignore your listing.
  • Mismatches. If you’ve identified your product as a “Novel Study” or “Unit Plan,” but TPT reports that your product is only 4 pages long, that’s a mismatch. Likewise, if you’re selling a 150-page AP Literature Unit Plan for $3, buyers WILL perceive a “mismatch” between the price and the product being described. (Of course, an even worse mismatch would be a 4-page “AP Literature Unit Plan” for $50.)  Sometimes you can “explain” an apparent mismatch; for example, you might note how much “white space” you’ve included in the materials.  If you embed “cross-selling” into your product (for example, adding two pages listing the other products you sell), or if you include multiple variations of a product, state this clearly so buyers understand why your “worksheet” is listed as having 5 pages.
  • Preview images that only show a title page. If you’re selling “reproducibles,” make sure that your “image previews” include at least one of the reproducible pages, not just the title, copyright, or instruction page.
  • Subject and Product-Type selection.  Many teachers select “too many” or “too few” options for the subject area, grade level, or product type.  TPT has lots of subject categories, with lots of overlap — just like the Content Standards for most K-12 content areas.  If your 30-page US History resource includes a half-page list of 10 Civil War terms, don’t select “Vocabulary” as one of your product’s subject categories. Likewise, the product “types” are vague and overlapping. But if you’ve created a “Study Guide” that merely includes a dozen reading-comprehension questions for each chapter in a novel, it’s neither a “Unit Plan” nor a “Novel Study.”
  • Too Few Grade Levels. In most California schools, aspects of US History are generally taught in 5th, 8th, and 11th grade.  If you’re an 8th-Grade history teacher in California, you probably teach US History, and you might be tempted to only select “8th Grade” for your US History materials.  If so, you’ll exclude customers who are teaching US History to 7th or 9th graders. You should also consider whether your materials might be useful for some 5th or 11th grade classrooms.
  • Too Many Grade Levels. Some sellers simply select every “Grade Level” (Pre-K to Post-Secondary, plus the eclectic options).  That’s not just annoying and unreasonable, it will likely discourage customers who might find the product useful.  If I’m teaching 7th graders, I’ll be reluctant to buy a product that’s identified as being appropriate for “Pre-K through 12th grade” or even “Grades 4 through 10.”)  In addition to skepticism about the likely content (substance), teachers know that classroom reproducibles are visually designed for a specific age group (materials for lower grades generally use larger type, more white space, more and larger illustrations, and fewer words [from a smaller vocabulary]), and students respond to these visual cues.
  • Poor responses to “questions.” TPT provides an option for prospective customers to post questions for sellers, with both the question and the response visible to all customers. I’ve seen some sellers reply with very terse, non-responsive, vague, unfriendly, and even rude responses — which are now visible for all future customers to see.
  • Atypical (non-representative) “free product.” The TPT marketplace requires that every seller offer at least one free product, with the expectation that customers can inspect the free product to evaluate the quality of the seller’s work.  An implied expectation is that the free product should be “similar” to the products offered for sale, in complexity, scope, and size.  If you’re selling lengthy Novel Studies, but your free product is a single-page worksheet, customers will be skeptical. In this situation, a better option is to offer an 8- to 10-page excerpt from one of your Novel Studies (including the full table of contents, one or more introductory pages, and materials for the first section of the novel, but omitting the answer key and perhaps other pages from that section).
  • Failing to indicate how materials are adapted. Most customers assume that the materials sold on TPT are “classroom-tested” (though I’ve seen many products that cast doubt); you should clearly state if you’ve used the materials in your classroom. Beyond this, you should explain any adaptations or changes you’ve made before offering the items for sale on TPT. (I hope you’ve “genericized” the product: replaced your name with a blank for another teacher’s name, and omitted any specific references to your classroom or policies, or to prior lessons or activities in your classroom or school) .  As noted above, you should also note if you’ve adapted the materials (whether in your classroom or for publication) to address different learning styles and ability levels.
  • Selling materials that are dated or obsolete (or assume the use of a specific version or edition). If you last used these materials in your classroom in 1969, they probably need some “refreshing,” and they might even be obsolete.  An obvious example would be geography materials that reference the “Soviet Union (USSR)” instead of the separate nations that now exist there. Another interesting example of this is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank: you might assume the use of the original version of the memoir (edited by her father and published in 1947), but your customer might be using the dramatic (play) version of the story included in many anthologies, or perhaps your customer’s classroom is stocked with the newer “Revised Critical Edition,” published in 1989, or Susan Massotty’s 1995 translation of the “unexpurgated text,” which include some passages (omitted from the earlier edition) which will make some parents, students, and teachers uncomfortable.
  • Failing to identify specific issues affecting usability in a public school classroom. Resources that reflect specific moral or religious values or views should be clearly identified as such, so that both public-school teachers and others can make informed decisions about what to purchase. Materials that condemn homosexuality, impose strict gender roles (females as homemakers, for example), or “teach” creationism or intelligent design instead of evolution can’t be used in public school classrooms, even if they don’t include specific religious references.  Likewise, materials that assume extensive knowledge of Christian Scripture, or which incorporate Bible verses or religious themes, can’t be used in public school classrooms (with the obvious exception of classes studying different religions).  These materials are generally intended for use in non-public schools or in home-schooling, and should be clearly designated as such. This will increase sales to the educators who want to use these materials, while avoiding mistakes that could result in negative ratings from dissatisfied customers.
  • Urging customers to shop elsewhere.  I was shocked to find product descriptions from one seller which urged customers to visit a different web site where the same product was offered for a lower price.  That’s not just against TPT’s rules, but it’s an overt unethical action, which will drive away customers.



77 Responses to “Mistakes That Lesson-Plan Sellers Make (on TPT and elsewhere)”

  1. Wise Guys says:

    Excellent post! We will go through all of our products and take a look at your advice.

    Brian and Eric
    Wise Guys on TPT

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write this post. I’ve realized that my “freebies” are not representative of the products I sell on TpT, and will change that shortly! I’m probably guilty of some other mistakes as well, and will evaluate that. Your goal of making relevant, quality materials easy to find for teachers is very admirable!

  3. Mark Welch says:

    A very useful resource for TPT sellers (especially new sellers) is the “SOS-on-TPT” blog, at http://sos-on-tpt.blogspot.com/

  4. Sharon says:

    Thanks so much. I am new to TpT and the information helped me to understand so much more about TpT.

  5. CL says:

    The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was C.S. Lewis’ second Narnia book.

    • Mark Welch says:

      The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was the first Narnia book written, and the first published. The “prequel,” The Magician’s Nephew, was written last, and published second-to-last of the series. (Wikipedia).

      • cindy says:

        Really? I know I read somewhere The Magician’s Nephew was written first but published last. I thought it was in the book that came in a set with the others. I’ll have to look.

        • The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was written first, but when the movie came out a few years ago someone decided to change the order to the chronological order instead of the order they were written and released in by CS Lewis. It confused a lot of people.
          I personally like the original order CS Lewis released them in (I think he knew what he was doing). There are a lot of things in The Magicians Nephew that assume you have already read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Common mistake. 🙂

  6. cindy says:

    Thanks so much for this great article. I will be reviewing my posts to make sure I correct any mistakes I have made that make it difficult for buyers to choose my sale items.

  7. Pam says:

    Thanks for the great summary! I’m just getting started on TpT and was hoping there’d be some guidance I could use before I began posting. Very helpful. Thanks!

  8. Tanya says:

    I’m new to TpT; thank you for the great advice!

  9. Arlene M says:

    Lots of good suggestions here, but some errors.

    1. No Bible quotes or references to religion in public schools? Think again. I have on my units many references to such. For example, a quote from the Bible “For every thing there is a season” etc. (Ecc.) and discussing its applicability to a novel, would not be questioned in any of the public schools in which I taught. I’ve used a couple of Psalms in poetry units, and so forth.

    Saying they “can’t be used” is inaccurate.

    And though technically you are correct as far as ALL CAPS in a title is concerned, sometimes a seller is merely imitating the book’s use on the cover page. Also, it is a way to make a product stand out, so why not?

    There are many more pieces of advice to be added: the effect of some fonts on graphics on a page if the buyer’s program doesn’t support those graphics; using “page break”; deciding whether to use an editable or non-modifiable format for the product; etc.

    • Tessa S says:

      There’s a great short story by Zena Henderson (“Gilead”) that includes a quote from the Bible (“Is there no balm in Gilead?”) which students need to understand in order to understand all the nuances of the story. Religious works are not forbidden in public schools; however, proselytizing is. There can even be prayers as long as a teacher or other person in authority is not leading it or upsetting the learning environment. I’m sure many of us have uttered a silent prayer in the middle of a difficult situation.

  10. Deanna Jump says:

    GREAT information! Thank you so much for writing this. I don’t know how I missed this before.

  11. Cheryl Dick says:

    Excellent article! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Cyndie Dunn says:

    This is an excellent letter! I am going to change a few things that I have been doing. Thank you for writing this. It was very informative and helpful.

  13. Oretha DeBrew says:

    Great article! It was very informative and I will definitely make some changes when creating,reviewing and posting a product.

  14. Casey Parrott says:

    Great information. I am looking at selling on TPT and find your advice helpful. I will definitely refer back often. Thank you.

  15. Deborah Waugh says:

    Thank you so much for this information. I am looking forward to selling on TpT but it is all a little overwhelming when first starting. Your info will help!

  16. Deborah Bova says:

    This has been an eye – opener and a tremendous help. I have my first product, the freebie, ready to go and an trying to figure out the best way to present a preview… and several things that were mentioned need to be addressed before I go on to actually loading this. Presentation has to be succint and appealing. Now, how do I do just that.

  17. Pam says:

    Thank you so much for this advise. I’m just getting started with TpT and will use these suggestions when putting everything together.

  18. Chalk-Dust-Diva says:

    Great information! I will be sure to use your advice.

  19. Alison Funk says:

    WOW! This post is so helpful. So far I have found TPT to be very helpful and user-friendly.

  20. Heather Eveland says:

    Thank you for the detailed information. I’m looking forward to selling on TpT and your information will help me start off on the right track. Thank you!

  21. Bimpe Odunjo says:

    Thank you so much!
    I just signed up this weekend and this was one of my first stops to help me get started correctly.

  22. Shannon Reardon says:

    Thank you for the many specifics. I am new to TpT and the article is very helpful.

  23. E3Chemistry says:

    Priceless suggestions. Thanks

  24. Thanks for this. I look back on my first free item and wish I knew then what I know now. I definitely try to put a detailed description and have now learned how to make collage previews. That little but definitely has boosted my little bit if sales traffic.

  25. IamBullyproofMusic says:

    Thanks so much. New to TPT. This is very clear and helpful information.

  26. Rebekah Brock says:

    Beautiful advice! I’m just getting started and appreciate the wisdom!

  27. Mark Brady says:

    Thanks. It would also be great to have some research that describes a variety of search and purchase processes that buyers actually go through on TPT. I’m guessing there are things that can be identified that content creators can begin to incorporate into their creations.

  28. MrsPoppy says:

    I just posted my free item and my first paid item, and then noticed this article. I’m glad to know that I did not make any of these mistakes, but I have years of sales experience. I made many of these mistakes when I first ventured into the online sales arena in a prior life.

  29. Thank you for the advice!
    I just posted my 1st free item, Eye Tracking and Vision Perception Checklists for Teachers, and will soon be downloading the “Maximaize Vision Performance” classroom activities and worksheets.
    I will find your advice helpful to reach the most teachers!

  30. Susan Berkowitz says:

    Lots of good advice! I should go back and add a better freebie example.

  31. Thank you very much – very comprehensive advice!

  32. Kate Rivas says:

    Thank so much! I am about to upload my first TpT item and I will definitely make sure I follow these suggestions. Very helpful. 🙂

  33. SnoopSistas says:

    We just recently signed on to TPT and are getting ready to add some items to the site. Thanks so much for the information!

  34. Here are a few thoughts from me….

    Another suggestion that should have been included is Font type. It drives me crazy (as a 1st grade teacher) I find a resource that has a funky font that will make it harder for my low learners to read. This is especially the case in math. Just this morning I found a cool assessment tool, but the number font used would be way too hard for my 1st graders to read correctly!

    Another thing that needs to be considered (and there are two parts to this) the amount of colorful clip art. Too much color and I won’t purchase an item. It eats up my ink and our school allows limited amounts of color printing. And when the pages are full of characters and clip art, it takes the students’ attention away from the activity’s purpose.

    And my last complaint is the mega bundling some people do. When I am looking for an activity to go with the lesson I am doing, sometimes I just need 1…not 20. Plus my pocketbook can’t afford to buy 20 just to get the one activity I want!

  35. Amber Socaciu says:

    Great suggestions! I’m also new to TpT as a seller and buyer. I’m always searching for ways to improve my products – for my students and other teachers’ students! Thanks!

  36. colleen Meier says:

    Great article! The grade level thing has been a conundrum for me because all of my materials are differentiated, so I have worksheets that are appropriate for 1st grade, but I also have the same worksheet designed for 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students as well(less white space, tighter lines, etc). So every time I go to choose the grade levels, I am aware that some 5th grade teachers may be turned off that it’s also appropriate for 1st grade. I am wondering if I should break them up and sell them in 2 parts…

  37. Tina Steele says:

    Wonderful advice – especially for new TPT creators. I appreciate the time you took to go into detail on each topic! This list should be a great addition in .pdf format to download and keep! 🙂

  38. Great information! I’ll be bookmarking this page for guidance!

  39. Kelly Clark says:

    Thanks for having this o the site. I appreciated the points and examples given.

  40. Very helpful bits of information, thank you.

  41. Betsy says:

    So thorough and so helpful! Thank you!

  42. Ray Gosa says:

    Thank you very much. These observations will aid and abet the success of many TpT sellers!

  43. Amy Smith says:

    I feel like I can get started on tpt after reading your post. Thank you!

  44. Mary Schmidt says:

    Thanks for the article. It was good to hear that I was doing some things right!

  45. InterAcademy says:

    This was very helpful. Thanks.

  46. Victoria Leon says:

    So much great advice! Thanks for sharing!

  47. Carrie Sutton says:

    Actually, in Canada, Catholic schools are part of the public school system. Therefore, there are thousands of Canadian teachers who want to include scripture and Christian values in as many of their lessons as possible.

  48. Thanks for this information and tips on providing better products.

  49. chanthira says:

    I’ve just started on Teacherspayteachers and have listed a free product. This info is helpful. I need to go back and improve on my listings.Thanks.

  50. Kels Klass says:

    Definitely helpful! After reading through your post, I may be guilty of SEVERAL of these! I appreciate your time and attention to detail to help us!

  51. Tracy Wasem says:

    This advice is well written. It answered numerous questions, I had regarding the posting of new material. I am new to the site, but not to teaching.
    Thank you for sharing important information.

  52. Tieplay says:

    Thanks, this article helped me a lot! I need to go through all of my titles! 🙂

  53. Hannah Stuart says:

    Good advice for both novices and veterans. Mistakes are easily made. It is good to look through all of your products after reading this and tweak them accordingly.

  54. Thank you very much. I have learned from this very much.

  55. Joyce says:

    Thanks for the wonderful tips.

    Intellectually Gifted Products by Joyce Lansky

  56. I just recently joined TpT as a seller in February 2014. It has quickly become my new hobby! I have found TpT to be an excellent site for sharing resources. I will certainly take this advice to heart. Thank you for these helpful tips!

    Lindsey Kennedy
    Kennedy’s Classroom Resources on TpT

  57. Anne says:

    Thank you for the helpful guidance! Great points to consider as a new seller!

  58. Ros Hardy says:

    Excellent tips! I am new to TpT and the great advice offered on the site has made such a difference to setting up shop… Thank you!

    Ros Hardy – The Sue Series books on TpT

  59. Sabrina says:

    I am so glad there are so many resources to help the newcomer’s like myself. Thanks for this helpful resources that will help me to avoid common pitfalls.

  60. Thank you for the helpful tips as I begin my journey with TPT.

    Best Got Better

  61. Bob Gardner says:

    Thanks for the tips!

  62. I don’t know how I missed this one, but the information presented here is excellent. Anyone selling on TPT should read this. I will be reviewing my products! Thanks!

  63. Ella Hurley says:

    I just made a list of 4 things I think I omitted from some or all of my products. Thanks – I can now fix them and get selling!

  64. Thank you so much for this information. I’m new to TpT and very anxious to get started. This is so helpful. Thanks

  65. Eddie Knipe says:

    Thank you for the useful advice. Relatively new to TPT and have certainly revised some of my products after reading your advice.

  66. Kim says:

    Thank you! You might want to include: Do not raise your price $4.00 right after someone inquires about your product, unless changes have been made. I am new to this site, and I am going to be contributing to the community soon, provided that what I experienced is not typical on TPT. I felt it was in poor taste and not very ethical. I’ve heard good things about this site, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 🙂

  67. Sharon Clark says:

    Hi, can someone tell me how to go about downloading different formats of the same product. Or should I do that? I’m new to this and all my posters are in pdf (Adobe) format. However, I’d like to also offer a jpeg just in case.

  68. Tanya says:

    This article really helped me think about my product description process and its importance as correlated with sales. I’m new to the community and I will be revisiting this post many times. Thank you.

  69. Thank you so much!! We’re new on TpT. The information is very helpful for us to know more about TpT and how to create a good product! Thanks a lot!

  70. Debbie says:

    Just getting ready to start to sell–was very interested in this helpful article. Thanks

  71. Ernest says:

    It is good to learn about these errors so that we won’t make the same ones other sellers did.

  72. Kelli G Barnett says:

    Great advice! Thanks from a newbie seller!!!

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