Peddling France: Cycling in the Loire Valley: Summer holiday idea for 2023

Cycling in France for a mini break holiday – what could go wrong? Evidently nothing or rien as they say in France!
That’s what English language teachers, Kate and Dominick have said, or rather, have raved about, since coming back from their cycling 5-day break in the Loire Valley in August. Now, summer 2023 may seem a long way away in the depths of winter but time to start thinking!

Cue Kate: “There’s no better way to discover the delights of the Loire Valley than by bike, in a perfect mélange of nature, culture and, of course, wine!”

Kate and Dominick winetasting- Domaine des Pierrettes

So, my curiosity ‘piqued’, I can’t wait to find out more. And after a dinner out with Kate and Dominick, I’m sold on it too.

The holiday itself is through a company called Randovélo and was just what Kate had been looking for: “I had been toying with the idea of a cycling holiday for some time, attracted by the thought of a more active way of exploring a destination and finally got round to doing some research” says Kate. While checking out the competition, she finally settled on Randovélo because “I was immediately impressed with their broad choice of routes and positive reviews”.

Not one to hang about, Kate “got on her bike” and decided it was the holiday for her. One brief chat with colleague Dominick and he was in too. So, they booked. And never looked back.
Kate enthuses: “Randovélo proved to be very well organized and efficient. On arrival we were given a welcome pack with maps and clear directions. I had previously been sent instructions about how to download a phone app with GPS maps which all added to the sense of being in safe hands.”
Dominick nods in agreement and makes a point about The Loire Valley itself: “It really is geared up for cycling. Endless bike paths, signs and routes help the cyclist navigate with ease.”

What they make a point of selling is that throughout the holiday, Randovélo took care of everything as they cycled away: “Every day, when we arrived at our evening destination, we found our luggage waiting for us.”
So, every evening was the perfect end to a day out cycling … without a care dans le monde!
And the cycling? Magnifique, too? Well, oui!
“The route did not disappoint and took us along peaceful cycle paths running beside the Loire, through rolling vineyards and sleepy hamlets.”

Kate waxes lyrical about French drivers too: “The short stretches we did on country roads were enjoyable since the drivers seemed quite used to cyclist and were very respectful of distances and over-taking – necessary due to our relaxing pace of about 14km/hour!”
Dominick nods in agreement but adds an aside about country lane pedestrians:” There is a secret cycling etiquette that we knew nothing about, and which wasn’t mentioned in our welcome pack.”
“Which is?”, I ask with raised eyebrow.

“Well, don’t cycle up behind someone without ringing your bell. To our British minds it seemed rude to, but we soon learnt it was rude not to. And another unwritten law is always stay in one lane, even when on an uncrowded cycle path! Otherwise, a grumpy French man might shout at you!”

Kate laughs but gets back to being very entente cordial: “The Loire Valley boasts some incredible chateaux and the ones included in the tour were impressive testimony to France’s rich history”
Their tour included Chaumont, Chenonceaux, Cheverny and Chambord.

Chateau Chenonceaux

And Kate and Dominick didn’t miss out on one no matter what it took. Dominick explains: “We sometimes shaved a few kilometres off by diverting onto bigger D roads so we could fit the chateaux in. On our fourth day, two chateaux were included in the itinerary with 50 km to do, which seemed like an unattainable task. So, we cut out the very bumpy bike path and headed straight down the D road instead.”

One question I really wanted to know the answer to was ‘Was the cycling difficult? I mean, can anyone do it?’

Kate “I was quite apprehensive about the choice of difficulty (rated 3 stars out of 5) since I am not a regular cyclist. However, the tour was split over 4 days with an average 40km a day, mainly on the flat and just a few gentle hills – some sore bits the next day but absolutely doable!”
And Dominick cycles the point home: “All my fears of not being able to do it were alleviated after the first 20km. I realized it wasn’t as physically draining as my mates made out it would be.”

Now, I’m not a cyclist but that doesn’t sound too bad, and in the spirit of adventure, I’m still on the right track to French revolutionize a future holiday to ‘The Loire Valley’s Greatest Chateaux by Bike.’

Once I hear the competitive prices and what’s included Monsieur Bob’s your uncle!

  • 5 days / 4 days riding
  • Difficulty: Moderate – Round trip with daily departure from Blois
  • August – peak season
  • €895 total per person – includes 4xhotel B&B formula (€660), half board (€155), visitors’ pack (€80), bike, saddle bag and luggage transfer.

Kate adds some great advice: “The visitors pack cost €80 and included entrance to 4 chateaux enroute and wine tasting, but it turned out to be a good choice because we didn’t have to queue for tickets at the busier chateaux. The half board option was also a good idea since it meant we could enjoy a full day’s cycling without having to worry about where to eat on arrival”.

Aha! Now we’re parlering! Food and drink! We can’t leave that out, can we?

And with this Kate and Dominick have their heads (cork) screwed on!

Dominick begins: “We learnt the need to have a filling breakfast and not to skip lunch! A wine and goat’s cheese pit-stop became the norm to split the day up.”

Sounds like sound advice to a cycling novice like me!

Bistrot ‘Quai’, Chenonceaux

He continues: “For fun, we decided to do a list of our top starter, main and dessert from the half board menus we had tried that were all very French. We both agreed that the salmon tartare was the clear winner from the starter category, although we were both intrigued by the veal tartare that was served with an olive oil ice cream.”
Intriguing indeed!

” We didn’t know how to actually eat it. Do the French really put ice cream on their raw meat…? Well, it seems that they do, and this particular dish is quite famous across the Loire region”.

What strikes me throughout our conversation is how much fun they had, how enthusiastic they are about the French and France and how things had gone so cyclingly. And if anything did ‘go wrong’, it just added to the fun.

“One day we ventured into an orchard. After being surrounded by dogs and a very pleasant French man in a beret, we realized we weren’t in the right place, but in someone’s orchard!”

Almost sounds like the right place to be!

Kate and that awkward orchard moment – Where are we?

And that seems to sum up their whole holiday in the Loire Valley: the right place to be!

Final word goes to Kate:
“France itself was also a great choice as a destination and offers something for everyone together with quality services, great customer care and attention to detail, which all combine to turn a holiday into an unforgettable experience.”
To find out about your unforgettable experience in the Loire Valley and more visit:

Hope it all whets your appetite for your summer holiday 2023 as much as it has mine.

Everyone’s okay to Kayak

I started kayaking in September last year. And who would’ve believed it? Well, not me. Who was I kidding? Kayaking!? Yeah, sure!

You see, I’m the sort of person who needs to be press-ganged into any sort of water sports, and to date had done very well to avoid them.

But when my friend and great kayak enthusiast, Federica, finally convinced me to give it a try, I sceptically went along with it.

Kayaking course

So, there I was enrolling to a kayaking course with Carlo Coni who runs the Olè Kayak club at Poetto Beach in Cagliari, Sardinia, where I live.

Over the next month, I learnt the basics.

Everything from:

  • Rules about safety at sea.
  • Getting into and out of a kayak
  • Picking up a kayak, carrying it, putting it down
  • Paddling techniques and steering, forwards and backwards
  • Jumping out of a kayak at sea and getting back in
  • Kayak care, cleaning it down after use, and loading it for transportation
Doing the course – September 2020

And to my surprise, I could kayak!

Yeah, sure, I had a few hiccoughs on the way like losing my balance and tripping over while getting out of the kayak once. Maybe twice! Or needing three or more attempts (and help) to get back into the kayak out at sea for the ‘now jump out and get back in exercise’.

But all in all, I was actually not bad. And I really looked forward to each of the seven two-hour lessons twice weekly with the other four ‘classmates.’ All helped by the balmy summery September evenings we get here in Sardinia.  

By the end of it all I was hooked on kayaking.

Pink skies on course – September 2020

What you get from kayaking

There are many pros to kayaking:

  • It gets you away from your normal routine
  • It helps you make-believe you are a salty seadog
  • It gives you the chance to talk to cormorants up close
  • It makes your day so much better mentally
  • It provides physical exercise but at your own pace
  • It helps you meet new friendly people for a seaworthy chat
  • Or it just gives you a chance to not speak at all, and just think.
Cormorants and kayakers ahoy

Big family of kayakers

And everyone really is okay to kayak.  

Kayakers come in all shapes and sizes. All ages.  All types of backgrounds. They’re introverts and extroverts.

And they all get what they want from kayaking whether as a pleasant pastime or as a means to pushing themselves physically.

All types on a day escursion to Pan di Zucchero, south-west coast of Sardinia

What you need to get kayaking

Kayaking’s pretty cheap as a sport.

To start with, get yourself the appropriate waterproof attire. I went along to Decathlon with Federica, my trusty kayak kit consultant, and got the following for more or less €150:

  • Shorts
  • A wet suit top, and long trousers
  • Kayaking shoes (you could just use flip flops)
  • A couple of short sleeved tops, and one long-sleeved
  • Swimming trunks
  • A roll-up rain jacket
  • A roll-up beach towel
  • A dry bag to put your stuff in (like water, food and any of above)
  • A plastic phone holder
  • A life jacket is top of the list for what to wear while kayaking. They’re not expensive but I haven’t splashed out on one yet because I borrow one of the club’s.
Some of my attire with phone holder, dry bag and roll-up beach towel

Becoming a club team member

Joining Olè Kayak as a member of the club cost me €35 and I had to get a doctor’s certificate as a bill of health. The course cost €100. And the regular three-hour (usually morning) excursions from the beach at Cagliari to nearby Cala Mosca and beyond cost €10 a shot. Day excursions to spectacular places around the Sardinian coast cost €25. Carlo provides the kayaks but some members have their own, which they load on his trailer for transportation if they so wish.

Prices may vary for 2021, and high season kayak excursions for tourists will be subject to Carlo’s tariffing.

Sunday escursion to Pan di Zucchero, Autumn 2020

This year and new horizons

By starting kayaking in September, I regularly went out on excursions until January. Since then, some factors stopped me going:

  • The weather got a bit worse
  • Heavier lock down restrictions came in
  • I had a problem with my shoulder (not kayaking’s fault)

Now, I’m looking forward to going out kayaking very soon.

Break time

Take my word for it: Everyone’s cut out to kayak

I’d recommend kayaking to anyone.

It has its dangers, of course. The expression ‘Worse things happen at sea’ hasn’t lasted for nothing.

However, I personally have always felt safe while kayaking. By going out with Carlo and other Olè Kayak club members, you are never without help at hand should you need it.

You do always have to be careful on the sea but, to be honest, most of the time, you just don’t have a care in the world out there.

Peace and quiet

Kayaking’s made me feel much more positive about life in general. The sea and its magical world really rubs off on you.

And I’ve really got to know those cormorants. They have a lot to say.

Catch up soon, Cormorants!

Contact Carlo Coni on 0039 3478281145 for further information.

Visit facebook page Olè Kayak sport and recreation

Follow the buzz to ‘Il Bombo d’Oro’ – ‘The Golden Bumblebee’ restaurant in Sardinia.

Eating at an agri-risto out in the countryside of Sardinia is an absolute must if you’re visiting the island or live here. An agri-risto (agri-restau in English) is a picturesque, agricultural restaurant that offers high-quality dishes with food that has been locally produced using eco-friendly farming techniques.

I’ve lived in the island’s capital, Cagliari, now for twenty-five years. So, I’ve been to a few of these ‘in-the-sticks’, rustic restaurants in my time. But last Saturday 1st February, for my birthday, I struck gold.
‘Il Bombo d’oro’, translated as ‘The Golden Bumblebee’, is an agri-risto just outside Cagliari.

Il Bombo d’Oro

In just a few minutes, you find yourself in the characteristically idyllic countryside of this beautiful Mediterranean island. By the way, the restaurant is also ideal for families with children. Though close to the main road, it is tucked away nicely for your little ones to play safely.

Run by Viviana, the restaurant’s convivial chef, you get everything you want on your menu for a great lunch out: fantastic food, quality ‘Monica’ Sardinian wines, and service par excellence of the friendliest order. Viviana is Estonian and has been cooking Sardinian cuisine for years. And the word going around is that she’s mastered it better than her local counterparts!

Viviana (centre) with two of her staff

Okay, so let’s talk turkey! The menu.
Everything you eat is locally produced Sardinian fayre. Viviana is a firm advocate of eco-friendly produce, all naturally bred and grown.
Last Saturday, this is what me and my friends got on the menu; slices of cheese, cold meats, aubergine parmesan, mint-marinated courgette, tuna carpaccio, mussel soup, malloreddus alla campidanese, seafood scampi fregola, and roast piglet. Red/white wines, and beer. Fresh fruit, coffee and liquors (e.g. Mirto, Limoncello, grappa).

Fruit beautifully presented

Malloreddus alla campidanese is a typical Sardinian pasta dish with sausage/tomato sauce while fregola is a seafood pasta-based soup, again typical of Sardinia. My friends, who are a mix of English teachers and Italians/Sardinians, gave both dishes the thumbs up; ‘The best I’ve ever eaten’ was commonplace round the table.
The litmus test for any Sardinian restaurant is its roast piglet. This is the island’s signature dish, and it was cooked to perfection by Viviana.

Cooking roast piglet – called ‘porcheddu’ in Sardinian language

I asked her how the agri-risto got its name. “There used to be tomatoes grown here. Bumble bees help polinate tomato plants, hence the name Il Bombolo d’Oro.” Though not used anymore, the greenhouses by the restaurant add their countryside charm too.
I will always remember my 56th birthday thanks to my friends, and Viviana and her great staff. We paid €30 each, which included all drinks and liquors.
I’m trying to find something to fault. I can’t. Even the weather for February was gorgeous – blue skies and sun. Oh, and if you are vegetarian or vegan, Viviana will come up with a delicious menu for you too.
I’ll be going back as soon as possible, and thoroughly recommend you follow the buzz to the Golden Bumble Bee.
Best book for lunch or dinner.
You don’t want to be buzzing outside without a table now, do you?

Il Bombo d’Oro, Telephone (Italy 0039)344 241 2745, Via Leonardo da Vinci 115
09045 Quartu Sant’Elena, Sardinia, Italy. Follow il Bombo d’Oro on Facebook.

Your table awaits you!

Note; You may also hear the term’ agri-turismo’. This is the same as an ‘agri-risto’ but the difference is it breeds its own animals and grows its own vegetables too. It may also offer accommodation.

Il Bombo d’oro, at your service. We look forward to seeing you here.


One of the first things I wrote while on the CMP course was to write a slogan that ‘reflects your character.’

Mine was ‘Ticking the funny boxes since 1964.’

It was an interesting, and surprisingly difficult, exercise!

Can thoroughly recommend it if you have time to reflect on yourself and create a slogan.


Last summer, I taught English for Academic Purposes or EAP at a UK university for the first time.

It was on a 10-week pre-sessional course at Birmingham University from 11th July to 20th September 2019. I had a class of fourteen Chinese undergraduate students aiming to get onto the Money, Banking and Finance degree course.

What is a pre-sessional course?

Pre-sessional courses are held by many universities across the UK during the summer months. They are for foreign students who are about to start a degree course in various faculties but whose English is not yet quite up to scratch. They have a conditional offer based on their level of English. As a teacher, your aim is to help students improve their English. And give them an insight into the core academic skills they’ll need to cope with studying in Britain at university level.

Who gets to teach on these courses?

All sorts. All kinds of backgrounds, nationalities, ages and personalities.  If you have a DELTA or equivalent teaching qualification, all the better. But don’t despair if you don’t. On paper, my TEFL certificate wasn’t enough but my teaching experience counted.  

Why Birmingham University?

In March, I was visiting a friend, and ex-colleague of mine at Cagliari University, Nicky Baptist – who teaches English and co-ordinates at Birmingham University. In April, I was filling in the application form for the university’s pre-sessional course. Thereafter, completing two written tasks on teaching practice.  And in May I was being interviewed on Skype and being told I would have a job, either as an ‘EAP Fellow’ or as an LST (Language Support Tutor).

EAP fellows are responsible for their own class, whether UG (undergraduate), PG (postgraduate), or BME (Business Management English). LSTs don’t have a class but provide workshops and seminars on various aspects of academic English as well as give extra lessons to pre-sessional students having difficulty in any aspect (speaking, writing, reading, listening). In any case, whether an EAP fellow or an LST, the pay is the same – about £640 a week. By the way, if you need it, there is accommodation available on campus.

Induction training days

If I remember rightly I found out I would be an EAP UG fellow on July 11th, the first day of induction training. On arrival, there are four days of induction for all pre-sessional staff before lessons start. These four days give you an overview of the ten weeks ahead with teaching objectives and give you a chance to meet coordinators and staff. These days are also there to get the administrative stuff done and get staff used to the all-important university platform called Canvas. You also get your Birmingham University I.D. card.

Pre-sessional courses and the Russel group

Birmingham University is part of the Russell group, and so the vast majority of undergraduate students on these courses are going to be Chinese. Big money flows in from this corner of the market for UK universities. 

 My UG class and English level

All pre-sessional classes are made up of fifteen students in each group. I had fourteen students – all Chinese – one student never turned up! My class were from different areas of China, didn’t know each other beforehand, and came from fairly well-to-do families. Motivation to do well was high on their agenda, as falling short of the requirements of the pre-sessional would mean going back to China, or at least a big rethink of what to do next. At the start of the course, my students were averaging 6.0 on the Cambridge international IELTS exam scale and needed to get up to 6.5 by the end of the pre-sessional. Birmingham University uses IELTS as a starting point to assess students’ English level (because students will have taken this exam) but the pre-sessional course assessment is based on the university’s own scales. Therefore, my students started in the 50-59% band range and needed to get to 60-69%.

Every teacher will be told the starting point for their students and the English level they should reach; this will vary depending on the faculty/course students are going on to after the pre-sessional in October and the start of the academic year.

EAP course content

Teaching English for Academic Purposes means focussing on the skills students are going to need to stand them in good stead for their upcoming degree course. In brief; research and reading academic articles, writing essays, citing sources, and acquiring the all-important buzzword skill of critical thinking. Critical thinking, put simply, is being able to independently analyse, select sources and support the academic work you produce during your degree course. 

As a teacher, you will have been given a plan set out with suggestions for what to cover each week. For example, week one will introduce critical thinking, week four referencing, week five using abstracts and so on.  You have course books, and materials on Canvas to choose from. I found the materials on Canvas most useful as they had been prepared by experienced teachers from Birmingham University (e.g. Alison Tinker) who know what students really need on the pre-sessional. It is up to you what you choose to do in your lessons, and you have plenty of guidance and backup whenever you need it from your course co-ordinators.

Lesson observation

During week three, every teacher will be observed by a co-ordinator. I was observed by Alison and joked with her, ‘The last time I had a lesson observation was when Tony Blair was leader of the opposition!’ A joke, and a fact! Observations can be nerve-wracking but Birmingham University emphasises they are peer-observations between professionals with the aim of teacher development. You write your one-hour lesson plan, send it to your co-ordinator, and then teach it, of course. Mine was on reading academic texts and a very interesting approach suggested by Nicky. My students were great, I actually felt very relaxed, and Alison gave the lesson the thumbs up in her feedback.


All classes involve nineteen hours of teaching a week. UG classes; Monday and Wednesday mornings 9am-1pm; Tuesday and Thursday afternoons 1pm-5pm; Friday mornings 9am-12pm. You team teach with another teacher on Wednesdays. Staff meetings are held on Wednesdays 2-3pm. As a teacher, you must also fix fifteen-minute individual tutorials with your students every two weeks to keep up with their progress and give them a chance to talk to you about their studies, difficulties etc. Wednesday afternoons also see useful and interesting training sessions on different teaching themes.

Exams and assessment

To reach pre-sessional course requirements, students are graded on exams which they take at the end of the course (Reading, Listening, and Writing). During lessons, you will be giving them practice in all these skills including assessed speaking seminars.  Students have to produce an ARP (Academic Research Paper). This is a 1000-1500-word typed essay that they research for, organise and write. There is also a spoken presentation of 8-10 minutes that each student must do on a topic suggested by the university or on the topic of their choice if they should so wish. Mark weightings are 25% Reading exam, 25% speaking (15% presentation, 10% speaking seminar marks), 25% writing (15% ARP, 10% timed essay), 25% listening exam.

Results and final assessment grades

It is unlikely that a student will fail a pre-sessional because; 1) Students have already received an offer (conditional or unconditional) from the university and arrived in the UK 2) They will be motivated to improve their English 3) They have ten intensive weeks of English geared to passing the various elements of the university’s assessment. 4) The university itself will not want to fail/lose a student from the monetary aspect.

That said, students do fail and, importantly, there are external checks to ensure that a university’s standards are maintained.

My students all passed and nearly all managed to get into the 70-79% band overall. So, a band higher than required. They were a great bunch of students. Some shy, some extrovert. They had a great team spirit and I felt honoured to have been there at the start of their university career. I wish them all the best for their degree at Birmingham University. 

Hard work!

Though I’ve been teaching since 1992, teaching a pre-sessional course is a lot of hard work. There’s a lot to take in the first time you do it.  Preparing lessons takes a long time. There’s a lot to focus on. Every lesson counts. It’s very intense. The ARP in particular was high stress in the final weeks not just for students but for teachers too.  I spent a whole weekend reading the first drafts, to be able to give students useful feedback to then write their final submission. There were times when you wondered whether you’d ever get away from ARPs. Definitely true for teachers new to the game like me, but it’s pretty tough going even for those ‘old hands.’  You drill into students the need to cite sources, quote, paraphrase and write in their own words to avoid the big bogey monster; plagiarism. The university uses a programme called Turnitin which can spot plagiarism a mile off! While it’s hard, challenging work, it’s also very rewarding and you spend a lot of time exchanging, comparing and sharing ideas with colleagues in the various computer hubs scattered around the campus as you prepare lessons.

A holiday too!

It’s not all work. It’s a lot of fun too. Birmingham University campus is fantastic. There are plenty of places to eat and cafes to sit in. There’s also the main campus pub, the Bratby. And every week there is a social event organised for teachers and LSTs. At the end of the pre-sessional there is a dinner organised. Though the academic year proper hasn’t started yet, the campus is pretty lively in the summer months. On arrival in July, there were lots of graduation ceremonies going on with the iconic ‘Big Joe’ clocktower in the background, for example. 

Take-aways for me

As my first pre-sessional EAP course, it was a very worthwhile, keep-yourself-on-your-toes kind of teaching experience.

I’d recommend it to any teacher. I plan on doing it again myself.  

It was great being in Britain again. Birmingham is in a great position to get to London, get North, and get down south. I must say I didn’t get much time to get to know Birmingham that well as during the week I was working and at weekends I was off to other places to visit friends and family. However, the canal area is very picturesque, the city library is fantastic and the exhibition on 50 years of Black Sabbath was well worth seeing!  

What I appreciated most was the chance to make friends with some great EAP fellows, LSTs and other Birmingham University staff, learn more about teaching academic English, and be blessed with a motivated class. I learnt some names and a few words in Chinese too!

My class on last day of course. Success underneath Birmingham University’s famous clock tower, ‘Big Joe’.

Teaching kids at UP school -helping pupils get the balance right

This is the story of a school. A school that’s going in one direction only, just like its name; UP. A story set on the island of Sardinia, in the city of Cagliari. A story of pupils, from nursery school age through to middle school, who spend their day at one of the three school sites around the city. Each site with a building and grounds more elegant and greener than the last. Where the day starts with thirty minutes of yoga. A school that grows its own vegetables. Which, when possible, get onto the plates of its school dinners.

A school whose motto is ‘Designed in Italy. Inspired by the world.’

And whose reputation of combining the latest in teaching technology with traditional values is taking Cagliari by storm.

The ethos of equilibrium

So, when does our story start? In 2015, to be exact. That was the year that UP School’s founder, Enrica Corbia, started the school she had been dreaming of setting up for over twenty years. Having been working with children in the education sector, her dream was to create a school that not only taught core subjects but also a way of life. Values that would stand its pupils in good stead for their futures.

The basis of UP’s ethos is equilibrium. The balance between;

  • the body and mind
  • the cognitive and emotional
  • knowledge and skills
  • tradition and innovation
  • homeland and the world.

The school’s aim to help each pupil;

  • become a complete person
  • understand the importance of wellbeing, fitness and diet
  • think for himself/herself
  • be responsible and trustworthy
  • share and learn together
  • see how knowledge and know-how make the difference to the ecosystem.
  • dare to dream.

It is a dream that has caught the imagination of parents in Cagliari as demand for places at UP steadily rises. All willing to pay over €500 a month to send their child there. By the way, UP school hopes and believes that a school such as theirs should be subsidized by the government as in countries such as Sweden.  Eventually what they are teaching should be free for parents.

The environment of learning

There are three UP schools in Cagliari. Each one teaches pupils either at pre-nursery school age, nursery school age, or primary school age. Let’s take the site in Viale Trento, in the city centre, where the primary school kids go. The school building is a 1920s villa, surrounded by trees, grass and plants. As with the other school sites, Enrica asked a team of young architects to make sure the external beauty was matched by modern, innovative, airy classrooms and specially designed spaces in which to learn. Latest state-of-the-art digital teaching technology such as smart boards followed. It makes for an exciting and elegant environment for learning.

Teaching and learning English at Up

To find out more about UP, I spoke with one of its English teachers, Kate Jenkins. I’ve known and been friends with her since the mid-90s. I had an idea what she does at the school in Viale Trento but I wanted to quiz her a bit more.

Kate’s been at UP since its opening in 2015.

She says, “When I took the job, it was a great challenge because teaching kids is a whole new ball game compared to teaching adults.

It’s not just about English, it’s about caring for the pupils and understanding what they need. You’ve got to build up their attention span, so lessons have to be varied, fast-moving and always geared to keeping their interest.”

In 2015, she took on the first intake of pupils for Year 1 and Year 2 of the primary school. Ages five, six and seven. Now, she’s just completed Year 4 and Year 5 with them and seen the progress they’ve made first-hand. “You really get attached to them. It’s hard work teaching but when you’re teaching this age group it’s very fulfilling.”

I ask her to give me an idea of the teaching materials she uses in class.

“Well, I’ve been using ‘Kids Box’ books published by Cambridge. I like this series because it contains a lot of activities and songs. The kids like that, too. The series also prepares them for the Cambridge exams they take. This year for Year 4, we used Kids Box (levels 5 and 6) and the class took the ‘Flyers’ exam*. The kids in Year 5 have just taken the Cambridge KET exam and we used ‘Complete KET*’ as the book. We’re waiting for the exam results to come through from Cambridge. “

She adds, joking;” But I’m quietly confident, as football managers say”

*School children can take internationally renowned University of Cambridge exams that get gradually more difficult. The names are ‘Starters’, ‘Movers’ and ‘Flyers’. Then KET which stands for Key English Test.

At UP, the school states that 60% of all lessons, whatever the subject, are done in English. Kate backs me up on that.

Teaching subjects in English is being a CLIL teacher rather than simply a TEFL teacher. CLIL stands for ‘Content and Language Integrated Learning’ and means teaching a subject in a foreign language to pupils. An English CLIL teacher will, therefore, teach pupils a subject in English rather than in the pupils’ own language. TEFL is literally teaching the English language (grammar etc) to pupils.  

English lessons and technology

I move on and ask Kate about her lessons.

She says; “I really enjoy teaching at UP because I’m fairly free to decide the syllabus myself. Based on what other teachers are doing with their subjects. For example, this last academic year, I added History for Year 4 and Geography for Year 5. Next year, I’ll be introducing literature, so very exciting .”

An example of any lessons?

“Sure. When we were studying the Egyptian culture, we made a 3D model of Ancient Egypt in papier-mâché. That was great, creative fun for the kids who really enjoyed working together on it. Visually very impressive.”

“Or with geography, we did biomes. The kids had studied them in Year 3 and 4 in Italian with their Geography teacher. I got the kids to brainstorm what they already knew about them. I gave them my input which they took notes on. Then I got them to do more research on their computers in class. By the end of the week, the class were doing PowerPoint presentations on the biome they’d chosen to focus on. In their small groups, you know.”

“Oh yes, I know.” I nod. And then add “What are biomes?”

If any one of you reading this is as ignorant of geography as me biomes are different types of environment found around the world which share the same characteristics. So, for example, you get a desert biome, and grassland biome etc.

That cleared up, I echo; “Presentations? With PowerPoint?”

Kate looks at me as if I’m mad for the second time in two seconds and says; “Of course. The kids know it like the back of their hand.”

Silly me. That’s what being up on technology means in practice for UP school.

The trip to London

I know that Kate has just come back from a week in London with some of her Year 5 pupils.

“Yes, the kids had been begging me since Year 3 to take them to London. But they were a bit too young. Never been away from their parents. Well, anyway, this year, me and the parents decided the time was right. Parents paid for the trip. A few came too. It was great fun. Though it rained all week! I told the kids it was all part and parcel of the British spirit, as they trudged around in their anoraks like wombles!”

“We went to the British Museum. They loved that as it reinforced what they’d learned about Romans and Egyptians in my classes. We went to the Natural History Museum too and saw the dinosaurs. We also went to the Science Museum which was great because the science teacher had done lessons on electricity and matter. The kids really enjoyed seeing these things ‘in the flesh’ so to speak and literally threw themselves into the interactive Equinox Gallery.”

She adds; “And you know, one of the pupils took his mum shopping. She doesn’t speak English. But her son helped her buy some stuff. That’s what being able to speak English is about!”

Any funny stories?

“Well, it’s not that funny but the kids loved repeating ‘Please do not obstruct the doors’ – the automatic voice message in the hotel’s lifts. At any time, wherever we were. And ‘Mind the gap’ of course. The classic!”

“Talking of funny, the funny thing was that one of the great highlights of the trip was seeing the squirrels in St James’s Park. The kids were mesmerised and didn’t want to leave!”

“It doesn’t take much to please them!”, she jokes.

I’d say the kids at UP know a good thing when they see it. And know how lucky they are to be at such a fun, forward-thinking school.

New Kids on the Blog

UP school has had its blog for the pupils since October 2016.

First thing to say is what a great title for a blog (from a copywriting point of view). Got all the key words in there and it sums up what the blog will be about. It’s got humour too.

The blog has a lot going for it;

  • Plenty of frequent, up-to-date posts
  • Pupils producing the posts
  • Posts in Italian or English
  • Varied posts reflecting the school’s ethos, values and activities.
  • Loads of photos

What strikes me about the blog is how important the environment, nature and green issues are to the children at UP. This, of course, fits in with the school’s ethos. For example, class 3 has its club where they meet in a corner of the school’s garden. The post (in Italian) says pupils in Class 3 Club make orange cake or orange fruit salad from the orange tree there. And, importantly, take seeds from the oranges to plant.

Or, another of the green posts highlights the Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg’s fight against global warming. The post ends with ‘Save the Planet!’ and ‘Help the Planet!’

This post like many are in English. Kate says the kids write them themselves. With mistakes corrected if necessary. There’s humour too. For example, one post sees the kids imagining what the names of the plants are in the school grounds. It’s not important what their real botanical names are but more important to be creative and make up the plant’s names. Like for example, a squishy medlar (the shrub whose fruit has the same name).

The blog touches on all sorts of subject matter. There are posts on games for technology, poems written by the kids, articles on the Bermuda Triangle, the history of comics, football, dogs and cats, and physical exercise. There are more ‘obscure’ topics such as ‘Epirus – a forgotten civilisation.’ Or more serious topics such as on Holocaust Memorial Day.

Creativity, respect and honesty leap out from the posts. I was particularly impressed with the ‘moral dilemmas’ post coming from philosophy teacher Joe’s class. The post explains that a moral dilemma is when there are two possible answers but neither one is necessarily right or wrong. A series of ‘Would you rather….? questions follow like ‘Would you rather save 100 old men or one little baby?’ Result; sixteen pupils said one little baby, and three said 100 old men. Another question is ‘Would you rather do an important but boring lesson or do a fun but superficial lesson?” The whole class voted for the important lesson!

I’d say they probably think the important lesson won’t be that boring anyway or, if it is, fun will be just around the corner!

Check out UP’s Facebook page, too. Another example of how social media is being used well.

Last word goes to Kate

In talking to Kate, she emphasises how Teachers at UP school continually draw on their own passions and personal experience which they then reinvest in the classroom.

“Last year I went to Australia and got precious material for workshops on rainforests and reefs. This year I’m heading off to do voluntary work in Madagascar. I hope to document my experience so we can do some conservation projects when I get back. It’s all about inspiring the children and broadening their minds.”

And if she had to sum up UP’s teaching philosophy in a nutshell?

“Our job is to give our pupils the tools to grow up with the best possible chances in a difficult world. It’s not about telling them what to think but teaching them to think for themselves”.

Hear! Hear!

Before today, I knew UP school was doing well in Cagliari. Now, I know why.

Hope you’ve enjoyed finding out about UP school, especially if you teach kids yourselves.

School site

School blog

Copywriting – the word is your oyster

Copywriting is about words that open up a whole wide world.

It uses words to sell. And if it’s done right, it can go global.

Words and oysters

When it comes to words and oysters, where better to start than with David Ogilvy’s ‘Guinness Guide to Oysters’ advert.

It’s an icon of 50s advertising.

It’s as brilliant a concept for an advert as, say, ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ is as a concept for a rock album cover.

This link by Mike Schwaur sums up why it works so well as an advert – if you don’t know;

I’m new to the copywriting world, so I only saw Ogilvy’s advert this year. And I thought it was brilliant. Inspiring.

It made me think about all those copywriting possibilities.

One of the reasons why I enrolled to the CMP (College of Media and Publishing) copywriting course was I thought I might be able to use my creativity with words in a new context.

I’ve been writing poems most of my life. Over the years tried my hand at songs. A few scripts.

Since enrolling at CMP in September 2018, I’ve learnt how Copywriting is a very different kettle of fish. A good copywriter has to be clear and concise. There’s little room for shades of meaning like there is in poems and songs, for example.

Getting into copywriting

I’d been thinking of getting into copywriting for a few months.

Surfed the web for degrees, diplomas, courses in copywriting at British universities.

It was all quite expensive. And would have involved a great deal of upheaval. Moving. Leaving my job. Seemed a bit of a risk.

Then, last September, I started looking at online courses.

CMP grabbed my attention right away. It looked very professional.

I was sold by a mix of things;

  • CMP is a recognised college
  • You qualify with a recognised certificate
  • You do the course at your own pace; there’s no deadline to finish it.
  • The lessons and assignments cover a wide range of copywriting skills.
  • You have a tutor for advice
  • The course doesn’t cost the world.

I took the plunge immediately and enrolled.

Once enrolled, the online CMP platform called OLA (Online Learning Area) is easy to use and reliable. No technical problems ever.

There are eighteen lessons and assignments. I’m on number 15. Once you finish an assignment, you send it to your tutor who marks it within three working days. Without fail. Sometimes quicker.

It’s no mickey mouse course. If you don’t do an assignment to the standard required, you are asked to do it again. Your tutor will tell you where you can improve your work.

It’s a challenge. But that’s what I want. And it’s great when you get a grade A. You know you’ve earned it.

You can see what lessons are coming up in the course, but you have to do each assignment one by one. There’s no skipping back and forth. The course is well structured and builds up nicely.

The lessons are full of clear, concise information and links for you to read up on in order to grasp the concepts. On SEO, writing headlines, leaflets, press releases,  for example.

It’s perfect for me because I work a lot in my teaching job. I can get on with the copywriting course in my free time. Whenever I feel like it.

I’m very happy with CMP. And would recommend it to any of you thinking of getting a recognised qualification. See link to find out about their courses.

At the end of the course, assignment 19 is about getting a job. CMP will, no doubt, give me some great advice.

I would welcome any further tips and advice about getting a job in copywriting. And any feedback on my copywriting on this blog.

TEFL – the word is your oyster

Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is about words that open up a whole wide world to you.

It’s about teaching a language. And when you get a certificate in TEFL, you can literally get a job anywhere. And quickly.

This article is for those of you thinking of getting into TEFL.

Who gets into TEFL

Most people who get into TEFL tend to be in their 20s or 30s, but there are no age limits at all.

I’ve worked with many different types of people as colleagues. Some people do TEFL for a couple years’ break. Some people get into it and choose to go on an adventure, working in different countries for a time. Some decide to settle down and end up living abroad their whole lives.

Getting qualified in TEFL

Whoever you are, and whatever your reasons, you should get qualified first.

Get a certificate in TEFL. It is also called CELTA which stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults.

It’s important you get a certificate that will be recognised.

You can’t go wrong with a training centre recognised by a big fish like the University of Cambridge. Here is a link to start your search;

A full-time TEFL, or CELTA course will last one month at the training centre you choose. There’s no final exam. It’s continuous assessment.

Such courses are offered all year round. Expect to pay about £1500.  

You don’t need any teaching experience to enrol.

You don’t need a degree, though it helps. And if you do have a degree, it can be in anything. It doesn’t have to be in foreign languages.

You are trained to know how to teach only in English in class. Even with beginners. It’s frowned upon to speak to the students in their own language during lessons.

The advantages of a full-time TEFL course are that it’s;

  • Enjoyable – you’re with trainees like you on your course.
  • Practical – you get real teaching experience.
  • Comprehensive – you learn many aspects of language teaching in a short, intensive, period.
  • You are very likely, (if not guaranteed) to get a job in a private language school after qualifying.

You can get a certificate online too. Make sure it’s recognised and serves your purpose. Online courses are much cheaper than full-time courses.

However, keep in mind teaching is a ‘people’ job. On a full-time course you will meet teacher trainers, fellow teacher trainees, and most importantly, foreign students. You will miss out on this aspect online.

My full-time TEFL/CELTA course is typical

I did my full-time course in April 1992 at International House, Hastings because it had a very good reputation.

And got the RSA Certificate in the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language to Adults, recognised by Cambridge University. It ticked all the boxes listed above.

When I started the course, I had no teaching experience. I couldn’t explain English grammar. And I’d never spoken in front of a group of people.

All that changed in a matter of weeks!

Be prepared for a pretty intensive month. It’s full on.

It’s full-on fun too. I met so many people from all over the world.

Lesson observations

The most useful, and most stressful, part of the full-time course is ‘observation’ lessons.

These are when your tutor sits in on a class that you are teaching. And then gives you feedback on your strengths. And weaknesses to work at. It’s nerve-wracking. You’re under the microscope.

After my first observation lesson, my tutor commented on various parts of the lesson, and pointed out one major thing to work on; TTT (teacher talking time). i.e. cut it down. The objective is to get your students talking. Teachers should never talk too much.

My next observations went much better. You learn a lot from observations. I went minimalistic with teaching talking time, for example.

Course content

Like any industry, teaching has been changed by internet. But the content for TEFL/CELTA courses is still very much the same as it was in the 90s.

Today, you’ll be graded on much the same as I was more than twenty-five years ago. For example;

  • Planning coherent lessons
  • Awareness of language terms and concepts
  • Identifying, selecting and adapting appropriate aids and materials
  • Establishing rapport and creating a motivating classroom atmosphere
  • Willingness to benefit from feedback from course trainers, colleagues and students

Getting work after the course

Getting your TEFL certificate is like when you get your driving licence.

You’ve had all the right techniques drummed into you, but you still lack ‘road sense.’

You’re going to spend the next year in your first teaching job learning a hell of a lot.

But you gain in confidence.

I spent the summer of ’92 in Hastings having got a job at a private school.

Meanwhile, I was sending out applications to private schools in Italy.

I got a job at the British Institutes in Monza. And started their academic year in September 1992.

That first year at Monza was brilliant because the school I worked for was extremely well-organised and up on training. So, lesson observations continued. Only once a term though.

When you apply for jobs at private schools, wherever it is, apply to those with a good reputation. It’s important you work for someone that is going to help you develop as a teacher.

For a first job teaching in Italy, pay averages €1300 a month. You can expect to teach 20-25 hours a week. And you’ll have lessons scattered over the week. Almost certainly you’ll be working late; 8.30-10 p.m. Adults finish work at 8p.m so private schools offer that as a popular slot. You’ll probably be sent out to do lessons in companies too. Teaching kids is getting to be a big market.

Other countries such as Saudi Arabia or China offer higher salaries.

Check List for considering a job in TEFL;

  • All ages start in TEFL
  • Work may be a temporary break or turn into a permanent career.
  • No teaching experience is necessary
  • You don’t have to have a degree. Though preferable.
  • Do a recognised certificate in TEFL (I recommend full-time course.)
  • Be prepared for an intensive month on full-time course.
  • Online courses are cheaper. Make sure the course is recognised. Or serves your purpose if not.
  • Choose a reputable private school to work for. Helps your career.

If you’re looking for a change of scenery, the world of TEFL really is your oyster.

I recommend it even if just for a year or two. You won’t forget the experience.