The KS1 Teacher – Whole Class Reading Planning – Winnie’s Big Bad Robot

As promised, here is another example of my whole class reading planning for Year 2 using DERIC.

This is my second consecutive year in Year 2, however, at the beginning of the year I had a large number of children who were just not ‘year 2 ready’.  This meant that I had to dramatically rethink my planning for reading compared to the year before.  The children needed to develop their reading fluency and confidence, especially when reading at length.  Not to mention their love of reading!  So I started the year with picture books with an aim to engage and inspire a love of reading initially.

The first text I decided to use was ‘Winnie’s Big Bad Robot’ by Valerie Thomas.  I chose this text as it wasn’t an overly familiar text for my class and it had lots of humour in the story which I thought would engage the boys in my class.  The boys in particular found reading a challenge, I wanted to make it a little more enjoyable.

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I felt like this text had just the right amount of writing on a page that the children could still practise their reading and build their fluency but without being put off!  The text is mostly phonetically plausible and accessible to their reading skill level but still had vocabulary that would challenge them and that we would be able to explore.  It also gave us a funny story that we could share and talk about and begin to develop other skills through.

When I plan for Year 2, I always have in the back of my mind that part of my teaching needs to be about exposing the children to different types of questions and different ways of answering questions, so you will see that I try and add variation from question to question.  I find that this has really helped children to access SATs at the end of the year as well as termly assessments but more importantly, it kept them engaged and interested.

So lets have a look at the planning.

Decode

As I said earlier, one of the main reasons I chose this text was because it was accessible for my children.  We always start our lessons with some kind of ‘decoding’ exercise or reading practise.  This could be as simple as model reading, shared reading, independent reading, peer reading or teacher led reading.  But I also liked to provide activities in which I know that all children would have to ‘have a go themselves’ and get involved.

I always photocopy the pages we are exploring (in colour) for children to explore as well.  I know colour is probably controversial, even photocopying these days, however, this is what engages my class, keeps their interest.  If I gave it to them in black and white, they would not be interested!  It is also important for them to have a copy of the text that they can write on or highlight as I will explain in more detail later.

Here are some decode examples;

Simply reading from the text or…

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Reading for a purpose.  The last two activities require children to read the text, understand what they have read and draw the picture.  My class struggled with writing at the beginning of the year,  they found it hard, however, drawing they enjoyed.  It also helped me to assess their understanding in their reading, as a whole class at one time.  I didn’t need to hear them all read individually, I could just listen and observe and ask them about their picture.

Obviously, if you do do these kinds of activities, they shouldn’t have seen or heard the text before.  If your children struggle with drawing,  maybe you are Year 1 or EYFS, you could provide them with a selection of pictures to choose from, even get them to cut them out to develop those fine motor skills.

Explain

There are many opportunities in the text for exploring the language used and helping the children build their vocabulary.  If you look on tes or twinkl, or even just google word building activities you will find loads of examples, like this one which the children love!

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But before you can use this, you might want to teach each section and focus on building it up that way.  For example, here are some of the activities I have done.

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This activity can be really practical initially, but you can also explore synonyms at the same time, just through discussion.  It is also a good way to talk about verbs and you could throw in questions related to authors choice of language.

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I use these kinds of activities to get the children to start thinking about up levelling the vocabulary they know as well as well as improving thesaurus skills.  A large vocabulary is so important.  There is some really interesting research and information relating to this on The Literacy Trust website.

Retrieve

Together with the standard questions where children write their answer on a line, which are most commonly used in reading lessons, I also try to take away the barrier of having to write an answer down.  Here are a few example;

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I always encourage the children to use their highlighters (which they love!) to highlight the answers in the text first, I found that this helps them keep track of their reading and their answers, especially if they are required to copy an answer from the text.

I hope you have found these ideas helpful.  If you would like a copy of this planning, you can find it on my tes account for free.  Should you have any questions or feedback, I would love to hear it.  I will also share more examples soon.

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Thank you for reading.

 

The Primary Teacher/Leader – Improving work-life balance through Collaborative partnerships

I truly believe that the only way to succeed as a teacher (in today’s world) and to reduce teacher workload, creating a better work-life balance, is to work collaboratively.  Not only internally within schools, clusters and MATs but also externally, online, through teacher resource sharing pages like TES and blogs!  Teacher’s need to work together and share their ideas, there is no point in everyone reinventing the wheel thousands of times.  Lets do it once and share it thousands of times!

Budgets are also getting tighter within schools which often hinders good quality CPD for teaching staff.  This good quality CPD can often be the first thing to go sadly, as it is expensive.  However, this is when standards can start to slip and teacher’s are left feeling unsupported and isolated.  We wouldn’t expect a child to progress in reading without reading lessons!  Therefore we cannot expect our staff to become better teacher’s without quality CPD.  This is something that is a never-ending cycle, you can always learn more and improve your practice.

This is why I think collaborative learning is so important, I’m sure that many of you already do it.  In fact I know you do because that is where some of my ideas have come from.  All schools will have staff that have a lot to offer in terms of school improvement.  CPD isn’t just going out on a course (and having a nice lunch, although that is definitely a perk!).  Sometimes you don’t need to use external CPD providers, you may have the expertise in house already!

Here are some ideas on how you can keep within budget yet ensure all staff have quality CPD that meets their needs (and the schools needs).  Just things that I have used or come across on my journey to reduce workload and create a better work-life balance;

  • An obvious one but often forgotten or lost, you need to prioritise.  What does your school need to improve first?  Ensure all staff understand this and that they are on board.  Set milestones to achieve over the course of the year.
  • Showcase lessons – Use the skills of existing staff.  Pick out strengths and development points for all members of staff.  This should be done with that staff member.  Then hold open classrooms internally so that Teacher 1 (who wants to develop their Phonics teaching) can watch Teacher 2 (who is a strong Phonics teacher).  Allow all staff to share their strength in some way with others.  We found that the teacher’s responded much better to each other than SLT.  It is helpful to have a debrief session after this to discuss what they saw and to ask questions.  A word of warning, just ensuring that teacher’s are showcasing what you want them to.
  • Provide good quality books and time to explore the content.  We used a book called ‘Making every primary lesson count’ by Jo Payne and Mel Scott and we built this into our staff meetings.  You could also buy copies for the staff room!
  • Pair up teacher’s in Year groups or Key Stages for PPA.  Sometimes all you need is someone to bounce ideas off.
  • Team plan – Get your subject leads to plan and teach lessons together to build confidence and consistency in teaching and learning across the school.  Also, use your ‘stronger’ teacher’s to team plan.  If Teacher 3 is really good at adding challenge into Maths lesson, pair them up with Teacher 4 who needs support with this.  Again, teacher to teacher support is always much more effective than SLT to teacher support.
  • Share planning – Create a central platform to share planning and resources, like Google Drive.  You can also share out planning responsibilities for some subjects.  For example, in Reading and Topic, our Years 5 and 6 teacher’s take it in turns to plan.  One teacher plans Reading one half term while the other plans Topic etc.  That’s one less subject to plan each week.  Bonus!
  • Provide teacher subscriptions like Twinkl.  Although you don’t want endless worksheets and no thought going into planning, Twinkl can be a lifesaver and dramatically reduce workload, the same as TES.  Paying for this as a school rather than expecting teacher’s to pay for it themselves or always make everything for scratch, will go a long way to support staff well being.  Happy staff, happy children!
  • Make staff meetings relevant to all staff and don’t have them for the sake of it.  Also, ensure that staff understand how this is relevant to them and the purpose.  Make sessions practical so that they actually get time to ‘do’ the things you are telling them about.  For example, if you leading a meeting on improving spelling, give them time to plan a lesson or play with the games and resources, or make them.  Use this time wisely and ensure that the staff see this as CPD.  Get them to feedback on it’s effectiveness.
  • An obvious one, but if you are paying for someone to come in and provide CPD, such as an Inset session or a twilight, invite other local schools or even your MAT schools to split the costs.
  • Create subject teams – I got this idea at another school recently.  Based on strengths and interests, teacher’s join either a Maths or an English team.  These subjects will still have a leader, but they also have a number of other teacher’s on their team to help create more of a whole school approach and responsibility for that subject, improving accountability too.  It helps to get everyone on board.  It is helpful to have representatives from across the school on each team so that all key stages (including Early Years) are represented.  This way, when new changes are implemented, the lead can have feedback from across all year groups as to what worked well and what didn’t.  Teacher’s will also feel like they are part of the process rather than feeling like it is just being ‘done to them’ and that they have no freedom as a teacher.  It is also helpful from the leaders perspective to have that support network and fresh ideas.  Provide times, such as briefings or staff meetings (not additional though) for teams to meet.
  • Hubs – Join and sign up to working with your local Maths Hubs or school improvement projects in your area.  These are often free and are a really good way to get high quality CPD and new, fresh ideas.
  • Reach out to other local schools, visit them, talk about practice and what works or doesn’t work.  Look at their planning and books.
  • Attend or create network meetings.  For example, I created an EYs network as a support group for our NQTs who were new to Early Years.  They visited each others settings to look at provision, timetables, planning and to moderate.  I just sent out emails to other schools to see who was interested.

I hope this was helpful and I’d love to hear your ideas.  Work collaboratively with me, follow my blog and social media for more teaching inspiration, resources, ideas and planning.

Thanks for reading.

The Primary Teacher – How to implement Whole Class Reading successfully!

Last academic year, Reading was a huge priority area in our school.  Our children were achieving well in EYs and KS1 in both Reading and Phonics.  But throughout KS2 children were starting to slip behind age related expectations and this was reflecting in our KS2 results.  We also wanted to promote that love of reading and enjoyment when reading.  We wanted our children to choose to read and to read for pleasure.

Our English lead led the changes in our school, she has a real passion for Reading herself and is very driven.  This has been important for our journey as school, she has been the backbone and the support that has kept everyone afloat and she is one of the reasons that this change has had such a positive impact on the children, parents and on school results.  I think this is the first important step, the person leading the change needs to have a real passion for it, they need to be doing it themselves and they need to believe in it, modelling it and sharing their practice, setting that example.

At the end of the day, it is not about results on a piece of paper (although this does help get people off your back and give you back the freedom to teach properly!), but it is about the children and whether they have all the skills they should have to allow them to be successful in the next part of their journey.

I think, in our case, it wasn’t that the teaching was bad in KS2 or that assessment was inflated in EYFS or Year 2, it was that the expectations were just constantly getting higher and more challenge needed to be in our lessons.  All children needed to be exposed to that high quality challenging text too.  We needed to be teaching (and modelling) reading more explicitly and the skills involved, not just phonetically but with a focus on comprehension, especially for those children who are not necessarily practising and being exposed to wider reading opportunities at home.  This is when we decided to teach reading as a whole class.

Using quality texts 

If you follow my Instagram then you would have seen examples of the quality texts I am talking about.  I will write a blog post with example quality texts that work well for each year groups too, so look out for this and follow my blog if it will be of interest.  The quality text is the starting point, but an important one.  If possible, your text should;

  • Link to your topic or theme but without comprising on quality.
  • Be challenging yet accessible for all children in your class.
  • B appealing and interesting to the children, to motivate and inspire that love of reading.
  • Most importantly – be an unfamiliar text that the children wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to in their home life.  Therefore, not a book you would find in a supermarket etc.  We need to be introducing them to something new and different.  Look out for the next blog post to help you find these books!

When you have found your text, you need to read it thoroughly and consider how you want to use it with the children.  You need to consider your children’s needs, what do they struggle with?

I know this sounds time consuming and in a way it is, but this will be planning that you will be able to reuse the following year (with a tweak).  It is also important that you share whole school, especially if staff move year groups.  We plan in key stage teams at the moment and have a rolling two year plan, this helps reduce workload as the teacher’s take it in turns to plan Reading.  The planning does take time BUT it’s worth it, planning and teaching in this way is really enjoyable.  I love teaching whole class reading and I look forward to the lessons.  We all know that if the teacher is enjoying the lesson, the children are more likely to enjoy the lesson too.  It’s like that contagious smile!

The Skills

There are many different schemes and programs you can use, I know VIPERS by The Literacy Shed is very popular but we use DERIC.  This is not something we developed ourselves, we ‘borrowed’ it from another school who supported us on our journey.  I believe that it is used in quite a lot of schools now.  It stands for;

  • D – Decode – Focus on the reading and fluency of reading.  This is mainly an EYFS/KS1 skill.
  • E – Explain – Looking at vocabulary and the meaning of words and the skills to help children unpick new language.
  • R – Retrieve – Looking for answers that are in the text (or pictures).  You can highlight the answer.  This also covers skills like summarising.
  • I – Interpret – Reading between the lines and finding clues in the text (or picture).  This also covers skills like prediction.
  • C – Choice – Looking at the authors choices.  Why they have used the vocabulary, language, sentence structure, colours, pictures, font etc.  This is a skill that we focus on more in KS2.

There are little symbols that go with skills, we put these on our planning to help the children relate to the skill that they are learning how to do.

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Stay tuned and follow my blog for example texts/songs and planning that I have made and used over the last two years, coming very soon.  Here is an example we were given when we first looked into it as a bit of a taster.

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A whistle stop tour of Pisa!

What can you see and do in two hours in Pisa?

Our stop in Pisa was an added bonus to our city break to Florence.  As you know, travelling in the school holidays can be expensive, especially at Easter, so to keep within budget, we decided to fly to Pisa instead of Florence.  This reduced the costs dramatically.  We also flew midweek, on a Thursday, which also bought the costs down.

Anyway, Pisa!  Flying to Pisa actually meant that we not only got to spend two nights in Florence as planned, but we also got to see Pisa for a few hours and then explore the stunning Tuscan countryside as we travelled via train to Florence.

So of course, as a newbie to Pisa, what do we all want to see?  The Leaning Tower!  Before we left for Italy, we had watched Italy’s Invisible Cities which was actually about Florence, however they also talked about Pisa and The Leaning Tower and how it was constructed.  It was fascinating!  But I will leave you to watch that if you want to know more.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was about a 20 minute walk from the train station, through the city.  It was actually a lovely stroll, through the buzzing cafes and bars and across the peaceful river Arno.  You want to head towards the Piazza dei Miracoli, this is where you will find the Leaning Tower, situated in a picturesque, immaculate square and surrounded by other beautiful buildings like the Duomo.

You can go into the tower if you wish, however if you are short on time, like we were, the view from the square is also pretty incredible.  You will be surrounded by like minded tourists all posing for the ‘lets hold up the tower’ photo, it’s a must isn’t it?  The buildings surrounding the tower are just as impressive and if it is a beautiful sunny day, it’s a great place to stop and take in the views.

On our stroll back to the train station, we stopped in another lovely little square and enjoyed a spot of lunch.  It was so tranquil and quiet, the perfect start to our trip!

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Then we headed back to the station, ready for our next leg of the journey.  Top tip, head to the back streets, further away from the Leaning Tower to eat and drink.  Although you don’t get the spectacular views, you do get great food (often better than in the tourist areas anyway), ambience and traditional Italian cobbled street views and what’s more, the food and drink is actually affordable!  So you can have two glasses of wine instead of one!

24 hours in the beautiful city of Florence!

There is so much that you can do and see in Florence, much more than one days worth, however, it is possible to experience Florence in all it’s glory within 24 hours, but you need to be organised and prepared!

Firstly, if you intend to go into the art galleries like the Uffizi or to see Michelangelo’s original David in the Galleria dell’Accademia you need to book in advance, at least a week in advance!

ALSO, I highly recommend a good map and travel guide.  We bought the Lonely Planet Pocket Florence and Tuscany guide book with pull out map.  It was a great little guide and the map was super clear and easy to use.  We used the guide alongside our phones and Google maps!

We stayed in a beautiful four star hotel to the north of the city, Hotel Rapallo a bit of affordable luxury!  (See the photos).  I thought this hotel was fantastic, the staff, the food, the facilities and I couldn’t of asked for more, I would definitely stay there again.  The location was fantastic too, it is just outside the centre which is what makes it affordable without compromising on the luxury.

I will start my ‘things to see’ list in relation to our hotel so that you can see the path we took.  With only one day, you won’t want to be back and forwards too much, not only because of time but because of your poor feet!  We love a good walk, but core blimey!

So here is our hotel…

  • If you want to see the Michelangelo’s original David then you need to head to the Galleria dell’ Accademia, remember to pre-book.  It is about a 10 minute walk from the hotel and opens at 8.15am.  We didn’t go in but wandered past.
  • From here you can head to the Medici Palace (Palazzo Medici-Riccardi).  To find out more about the Medici’s before you go, I definitely recommend watching Italy’s Invisible Cities on Florence.  It also helps you to visualise the city and plan your trip so that you don’t miss anything.  There are lots of hidden secrets in Florence!
  • Continue walking to the San Lorenzo area which is full of market stalls and my favourite the food market!  This is a good place to stop for a coffee and a bite to eat, it would be rude not too right!  Head upstairs for all the cafes and bars.
  • Next head to the Duomo.  This is one of the most incredible and stunning cathedral’s I have ever seen.  It is free to go inside but you will need to buy tickets to climb to the dome and bell tower.  Again, like everywhere, you have to queue, however the line does move quite quickly.  Make sure your shoulders and knees are covered as a sign of respect or you will be turned away.  We came back to the Duomo in the evening for a meal too, the Duomo is even more impressive in the evening.
  • After the Duomo there are a number of squares and streets to wander through or even stop for a cheeky Chianti especially when the sun is out.
  • For lunch, we headed to the Santa Croce area which is towards the river, near the Uffizi.   There are loads of little cafes and bars that you can stop in.  Also, check out the Basilica di Santa Croce while you are there.

 

  • Head back to the river Arno and the Ponte Vecchio bridge.  This is a definite must see in Florence.  This beautiful bridge dates back to 1345 and is like no other.  Lined with expensive jewellery shops, a great place to cross the river and get some beautiful views of the Arno or splash out!  Also the perfect spot to enjoy a tiramisu gelato or any gelato come to think of it!  There is a lovely little window in between the Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio!
  • The other side of the river is a more traditional area of Florence and is equally as beautiful.  You will find the Pitti Palace here and the Boboli Gardens.
  • My absolute favourite, and a sight not to be missed during your day in Florence, is the Pizzale Michelangelo.  A spectacular viewpoint of the whole city.  It is about a 20 minute walk from the bridge and up a very steep incline.  You can get buses too I believe.  The views from the top are incredible.  Many people visit at sunset (very romantic) however we went in the late afternoon.

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Whatever you choose to do in Florence will be memorable and an absolute pleasure.  If you are staying for longer, why not check out my Pisa blog.

Have a fantastic trip!

Are you looking for stylish, luxurious yet affordable breaks in the school holidays?

So am I!

As a teacher with a young family, who loves to travel, I find it hugely frustrating when travel companies increase their prices just because of the school holidays.  I totally understand that there is a higher demand at these peak times and even that some, smaller travel companies or private accommodation owners make most of their money in the school holidays, it keeps their businesses going.  However, it seems unfair and unjust that it is at our expense!  Like we somehow earn more money than everyone else so can afford to pay double the price than the people who had exactly the same holiday but left the day or the week before us!

With my teacher head on, it also encourages parents to take their children out of school in term time to be able to afford these fantastic and memorable experiences for their children, I totally get it!  It also encourages parents (and children) to lie about going on holiday, like it is something they need to hide of because of the fines they may incur.  Not only that but the children are then missing out at school and have to ‘catch up’ when they return.  It is amazing how much content is actually missed in a weeks absence from school.  Children shouldn’t have to fall behind.  Parents should be able to take their children on holiday in the school holidays for the same price as term time.

Holidays are amazing opportunities for children and families and can teach them a lot about the wider world and themselves.  It all feels so wrong, like we are sending the wrong message to our future generations.  With so much focus in schools on the wider curriculum at the moment and health and well-being, you would think that this is something that could be addressed.  Although it appears not!

Therefore, I have made it my mission to continue our love of travel (as a family) by finding deals and solutions to help us dramatically reduce the costs of a family holiday in school holidays.

 

Follow my blog to see how we get on.  I would love to hear your ideas too.  The government may not be able to change inflated school holiday prices for parents, children and teachers (yet), but maybe we can!

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How to get from Florence to Pisa Airport with ease!

Want to know how to get back to Pisa Airport from Florence?  This post will hopefully make your journey that little bit more stress free!

When you arrive at Firenze SMN train station (Florence train station), head to the ticket office.  It feels like it is hidden away (when busy) due to the huge crowds.  But, about half way into the station along the back wall, where the shops are, you will find doors that take you into the large ticket office.

Head to the machine, its quicker and easier!  Choose the language you require, time, date, destination (Pisa Centrale) and buy your tickets using cash or card.

IMPORTANT – Check how long the train is going to take, you don’t want to get stuck on the 2 hour train!  I also highly recommend giving yourself at least 10 minutes to get to the platform, we (my husband!) decided that 4 minutes was plenty of time to find and get to the platform, but guess what?  We had to run!  The trains don’t wait around and they get so busy.  If you want to sit down, you need to be first on the train when it arrives so book a slightly later train and wait on the platform.

You will need to check the departure boards above your head to find your platform.  It is likely that the end destination is not Pisa Centrale.  Therefore it will display another location.  The easiest way to find your train is to find the right departure time and then check the scrolling information to the right of the final destination and it will scroll through the stops, one being Pisa.  Then simply head to the platform.

We were platform 1A which is hidden away with a few others.  As you come out of the ticket office (looking at the main platforms ahead), walk to the left, all the way to the end, turn right and then left and then right again.  You will see it!  There is someone there to check tickets and to ask if you are unsure.

IMPORTANT – BEFORE BOARDING – DON’T FORGET TO VALIDATE YOUR TICKET! Machines can be found on the platform, after the ticket check gate but before the platforms.

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Then wait for the train, and get on.  Find any seat and enjoy the view of the Tuscan hills.  If you keep an eye on the time then you will know roughly when to expect to arrive in Pisa.

They will announce the stations over the tannoy ‘Pisa Centrale’ but you can also track it on your phone.  Ask Google, “where am I” and it will show you on a map!

When you arrive at Pisa Station, head downstairs and look for the Pisa Mover signs overhead.  Head in that direction (just follow everyone with suitcases!).  It’s exactly the same process as on the way there (see blog).  Buy a ticket (if you didn’t get a return) and get on the shuttle train, the 2nd stop is the airport.

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When you arrive at the airport, there will be check in A and B entrances.  If you don’t already have your boarding pass or need to check in bags, use the screen to find your flight and check in desk.  Check in desk A is straight ahead and check in B is to the right. Both really clearly signposted above the doors.

If you don’t need to check in bags and already have your boarding pass, head forwards, through check in A doors until you reach security.  The fast track priority lane is on the right if you have booked this, otherwise just join the queue.  It was relatively quick and easy (especially compared to English airports).

When you reach departures it’s a bit confusing as there are two levels.  The ground floor has gates 1 to 20 and upstairs is gates 21 to 25.  You need to find out which gate you are departing from, you will get this information about 1 hour before boarding opens, again use the screens.

At this point, you still haven’t actually been through passport control, which feels odd but go with it.  There are cafes, bars and shops on the lower floor if you are early.  Or you can book the escape lounge.

We flew from gate 21 so headed upstairs, this is when we went through passport control and then into another, smaller, departure lounge.  It had a small bar, cafe, sandwich shop and duty free shop.  It also had a children’s area which was great if you have very young children.

Then you just simply wait for your flight and board.

Enjoy your flight!  Any questions, please ask.

How to get from Pisa Airport to Florence, an easy step by step guide!

So I recently booked a surprise weekend break for my husband (for his 30th!) to Florence. We were travelling toddler free, from Manchester to Pisa, for two nights.  To find out how to get a good deal in school holidays, head to my blog School Holiday Travel City Break in Florence at Easter.

It took a very long time searching the internet to find out how to get from Pisa Airport to Florence and even then the advice I found wasn’t totally clear.  We had to suss it out when we got there.  Hopefully, this blog will be clear and helpful to any other fellow weekend breakers, especially for people like me who haven’t been to Italy before!

So when you arrive in Pisa and head through passport control, collect your baggage and then head towards the exit.

Before you leave the airport (straight ahead) turn left inside the airport, following the  signs for the Pisa Mover.

Continue to follow these signs, out of the airport towards a large green staircase (enclosed staircase in like a green perforated metal, you can’t miss it). You can climb the stairs or get the lift up to the shuttle platform.

When you get up there, you can buy your single or return tickets either with cash or on your card. It was €2.70 for a single per adult.  The machines are really easy to use, you can select the language first.  There is also an attendant near by to help if you need any.

When you have got your ticket, head to the entrance, scan your ticket and the clear doors (barrier/gate) will let you through.  Again, the attendant helps everyone here, top tip, suitcase first through the barriers!

Then simply wait for the next shuttle to arrive, get on it and stay on it. It takes you straight to Pisa Centrale train station (2nd stop).

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When you arrive at the station, you will head down stairs and then to the left to exit from the main entrance.  There are other side doors on the way which you can exit from if you wish.

When you arrive in Pisa, either spend some time exploring (see Pisa blog post) or continue on to Florence.

To buy train tickets for Florence, head to the main Pisa Station entrance.  Find the Red machines situated all around the entrance or you can buy directly from the ticket office.  I would highly recommend using the machine, it’s much easier unless you can speak Italian!

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Again, as with the shuttle, select the language and follow the instructions, picking the destination, Firenze SMN (Santa Maria Novella), the time and the date.

One thing to note, Florence is called Firenze!

You will notice that some trains take longer than others, the quickest being about 49 minutes and the longest upto 2 hours!  Unless you love trains, you don’t want the 2 hour slow trains, they are so busy and you may have to stand!

Select the number of tickets you want and pay as before.  Wait for the tickets to be printed, the machines are slow!  Top tip, when booking a time slot, give yourself plenty of time to find and get to your platform, at least 10 minutes!  Sometimes they are harder to reach, especially when busy!

Next, look for the platform you need, this information will be on the big screens overhead.  Bare in mind that the destinations displayed are the end destination, like in England, it might not say Firenze SMN if that is just a stop on the way.  However, it will list (just to the right hand side) all the stops.

The best way that we found is to look for the time of your chosen train journey.  This information is NOT displayed on your ticket so remember it when you buy your ticket. Find the train time, double check it stops in Firenze SMN and look for the platform number.  Then simply head to that platform, all clearly signposted.

IMPORTANT! You must validate your ticket before you get on the train or you will get a fine. 

To do this, find a machine, as below, they are small and mounted on the wall.

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They can be found as you leave the main station entrance to head to the platform or on the actual platform. There are loads and easy to find! Just pop your ticket in as shown, wait for the green light and then you are ready to get on the train.

Just wait on the platform, again, like England, there are clear signs and information boards to tell you which train is arriving.  Then jump on the train.  Top tip, try and get on first if you want a seat, they fill up very fast even though they are big double decker trains!  The trains were immaculate and looked brand new, very well kept and looked after.  It was a really relaxing and comfortable way to travel and a great way to see the beautiful Italian countryside.

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Stay on train until you arrive at Firenze SMN (the 2nd Firenze stop). Get off and head to the exit.  Florence train station is big and the surrounding area is lovely unlike most train stations.

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The station is located in the centre of Florence so you can then walk to wherever it is you are going.  You can also get taxis, trams and buses from directly outside the station.

First on the agenda has to be good food and a large wine in the sun!

To find out how to get back to Pisa Airport with ease or what to do while in Florence. See my other blog posts!

School Holiday Travel – How to find an affordable City Break to Florence at Easter!

So my husband and I have just returned from a lovely two night city break to Italy.  Here are my top tips to keep the trip affordable in the school holidays.

  • Firstly, before I begin, you must sign up to Top Cashback.  This is a website recommended to us by our mortgage adviser.  Once you have created your account, simple search for your deals as you would normally BUT before you book them, look on top cashback’s website to see if they offer any deals for that company.  For example, I found the cheapest deals for us on the Easy Jet website, so I searched for Easy Jet on the Top Cashback website, it offered 4% cashback.  I clicked the link, this took me back to the Easy Jet website and I found the deal again and booked it.  Once I had paid for our holiday, I received 4% on the cost of the holiday back!  A little bit of extra spending money!
  • Fly to Pisa and get the train to Florence – Flights to Pisa were much cheaper than flying directly to Florence.  It was really easy (and cheap) to get from Pisa to Florence, see my step by step blog post for more information.
  • Either book flights and hotel separately to get cheap deals OR book as a package to pay in instalments to spread the cost.
  • I found that booking directly with flight airlines such as Easy Jet rather than a package holiday company was much cheaper.
  • If you are based in the Midlands, like me, I found it was much cheaper to fly from Manchester, then Birmingham, then East Midlands.
  • I found Easy Jet and Ryan Air to be the cheapest airlines for these airports!  You can also get good deals with Jet2 from East Midlands.  Jet 2 is also a great website when comparing flights only, compared to packages.
  • Parking at Manchester Airport – There are lots of options but we found the Holiday Extras website great for deals and huge discounts when pre-booking parking.  I would definitely recommend parking at Terminal 1 Multi-Storey Car Park for ease of travel, especially if you live south of the airport.  You just pre-book, turn up, the barrier recognises your number plate, you find a space, park and walk to the terminal.  Easy! No shuttles required, no waiting around and all the walkways are undercover.  It only took about 5 minutes!  It is also really easy to find and very easy to leave from, no complicated one way systems.
  • Don’t book your transfers from Pisa to Florence in advance!  It is so easy and cheap to buy train tickets when you arrive at the stations in Italy, in fact, it is less stressful as you don’t need to worry about times constraints!  See my blog post on how to get from Pisa to Florence with ease.
  • When choosing your flights, look at midweek flights, specifically Tuesday to Thursday departures, as I found that these were much cheaper.  We travelled on a Thursday (before Good Friday) and came back on the Saturday (before Easter Sunday).  Not only was this significantly cheaper than Friday to Sunday/Monday but it was so much quieter, no queues at security and passport control!  Bonus!
  • Fast Track!  These are tickets that allow you to skip the long lines at security.  You can buy them for £5 online before you travel, which we did.  However, due to the times we travelled (midweek), it was relatively empty at security.  However, we later found out that you can buy the tickets at the airport also, there are machines as you arrive at security.  So you could leave it until you arrive at the airport and if it looks busy, buy your tickets!  Check the link for more details as there may be restrictions!
  • Hotels – If you’re booking your hotel separately to your flights, I highly recommend Booking.com, Trivago or airbnb.  Another way of getting a good deal is to book direct with the hotel, it is always a good idea to check this first as you often get extras and discounts thrown in.  For example, at our hotel, you got free bottled water, wine and chocolates when booked directly with the hotel.
  • I found the best deals for hotels on the Jet2 and Easy Jet websites this time.  Also, when booking your hotel, look at the hotels that are just outside the city centre.  We got a four star hotel with breakfast for the same price as a three star hotel without breakfast in the centre.
  • Our hotel was called Hotel Rapallo and it was located about a 10 minute walk north of the Duomo.  The staff were fantastic, so welcoming and friendly.  The breakfast was also delicious, a great continental selection and a range of hot food too such as bacon, sausages and eggs!  It was also spotless, the decor was modern, a real attention to detail throughout the hotel, it was immaculate!  I would highly recommend it!
  • Easy Jet offer lots of different services as extras, but we actually found that we didn’t need to buy them as we got them anyway, I’m not sure if this is always the case though.  For example…
    • We considered paying about £7 each to go Hands Free which enables you to drop off your bag before security and not have to worry about your luggage through security and into departures.  It would also help with things like liquids and toiletries and not being able to find space for it on the plane, however, it started to up the costs dramatically so we opted out of this service!  When we got to the airport however, Easy Jet were asking people to opt to put their hand luggage into the hold (for free) to allow for faster boarding!  This was after security though, but it made me glad I hadn’t paid for this service.
    • We also expected to have to pay extra to sit together and reserve seats on the plane.  However, when I logged in to check in online, it had already assigned us seats which were together.  I did check in online quite early, like as soon as it opened, so I’m not sure if this is why.  I could have still paid extra to change the seats or upgrade them, but it was only a 2 hour flight so it didn’t warrant the extra cost.  Another great saving, that’s an extra glass of Chianti!

Please feel free to message me with any questions you might have.  Enjoy your trip!