First Day of School in Asia: Where Teaching Meets ComiCon

Never has it been so professional to wear a cape and a crown to your first day on the job.

In Asia, English teachers often dress up in costume to welcome students on their first day of school. The practice may seem silly to Westerners, but ironically the silliness is seen as a sign of respect on the part of Chinese and Taiwanese parents.

Along those lines, here are some pix from our first days in Taipei, Taiwan and Kunshan, China:

Elementary teachers in Taipei dressed like Minions... and took pictures with each student as they arrived!

Elementary teachers in Taipei dressed like Minions… and took pictures with each student as they arrived!

Kindergarten teachers on the first day of school in at BGL/Tsai Hsing's new campus in Kunshan, China.

Kindergarten teachers went with a regal theme for the first day of school in at BGL/Tsai Hsing’s new campus in Kunshan, China. They also gave out stuffed bears with golden capes filled with lollipops.

Kindergarten teachers at Tsai Hsing in Taipei, Taiwan.

Kindergarten teachers at Tsai Hsing in Taipei, Taiwan went for a superhero / princess vibe.

Kindergarten Field Trip to the Taipei Zoo

With all our virtual field trips it’s sometimes easy to forget the value of a traditional, in-person field trip. The following is an account from BGL‘s Teacher Simon about a great trip to the zoo with his kindergarten classes:

As the sun finally made its way back out after a week full of rain, we found ourselves departing for the Taipei Zoo on a beautifully warm Thursday morning. We had three classes (about 90 students) piled into 6 fun-filled vans for the short ride down Muzha Rd. to the other side of the river. The day was warm, the sun was bright, and the kids were more than excited to share this moment with each other and their teachers.


The zoo here in Taipei is filled with a variety of animals from tropical environments, dense forest habitats, African Safari, and even the arctic (scores of penguins hang out in their nice, cool, indoor habitat). One of the great things about Taipei, or Taiwan for that matter, is the ease of accessibility to enjoy the simple things in life. From the zoo to flower gardens, the gondola rides to the paddle boats, Taipei has a variety of affordable options that suit all walks of life. Where else can you find yourself spending the day in the presence of a few gorillas, some cuddly pandas, or some rather boisterous Kangaroos for the whopping price of 40 Taiwanese dollars (or roughly $1.25 US)?


The agenda was rather unscripted as we let the students take the lead. The red class and I found ourselves getting to know the greatest and by far the most popular at the zoo: the panda. I don’t know what it is about those creatures that seem to capture the hearts of all young boys and girls in Asia, but a classful of giggling five year olds interacting with the gentle giants sure was a fun site to see. Granted the pandas just eat and roll around for the most part, those little balls of fluff were quite enjoyable. After the panda, we made our way up to the miniature train station and boarded the zoo’s funnest form of transportation that took us up to the Penguin House and the African Safari.


Within the African Safari were some more popular animals including the lion, elephant, giraffe, and the kangaroos. The kids were having such a blast watching the penguins, posing for all of their goofy pictures of the animal structures around the habitat area, and complaining about the stinky smell of the elephants. Of course, as is the case when taking care of groups of small groups of kids anywhere in the world, eventually their interests were reduced to a singular goal: eat food. So, we found a nice picnic area at which to reenergize after all the walking. Cookies, crackers, gummies, milk tea, seaweed wraps, and chips of all shapes and sizes were consumed in a way not unlike the little hungry pandas. 5 and 6 year old children are without a doubt some of the most unselfish little angels on Earth. I loved watching them share their snacks with each other and I couldn’t help but accept some of their offers of a cookie here and a cracker there.


After our snack and our newfound source of energy, we made our way to the koala habitat and finished the day off with some camels, guinea pigs, birds, and these incredibly active creatures called Coali Mondis (Brazilian Weasel). The kids absolutely loved seeing these little guys running around, jumping on each other and climbing through the railway system above our heads.


All in all it was a great afternoon spent at the zoo with the kids. We have been studying animals for months, so the kids were incredibly excited to apply their newfound knowledge with us in the presence of the animals. Opportunities such as this – that afford our students authentic ways to communicate in English outside the classroom – are truly special. It creates a sense of fulfillment to see all of our hard work paying off and to see those beautiful smiles glow even brighter than before.


Children’s Day – A National Holiday in Taiwan

Kids love holidays, but kids in Taiwan actually get their own holiday. Celebrated on April 4th by schools all around Taiwan, Children’s Day is public holiday that shows appreciation for Taiwanese youngsters and promotes the bond between parents and children.

The holiday dates back to 1925 when a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland brought 54 countries together to discuss children’s physical needs, spiritual well-being and educational opportunities. Many of these countries went on to establish Children’s Days to call attention to these issues and to celebrate the future leaders of the world.

This year, Tsai Hsing School honored their students with a fun-filled day that focused on the kids. The school extended the length of the 10-minute breaks between classes to 20 minutes and as a result it seemed that children’s laughter filled the campus all day long. Students performed on the great lawn – singing songs and dancing – while others played diabolo (like a Chinese yoyo) and basketball. The energy and excitement was zapping through the air as students laughed with their friends and teachers during some hard-earned free time.

In the classroom, Teacher Chad celebrated with his first grade class by doing an interactive read aloud with The Class from the Black Lagoon.

Teacher Chad reads The Classroom from the Black Lagoon on Children's Day.

Teacher Chad reads The Classroom from the Black Lagoon on Children’s Day.

How did your students celebrate Children’s Day? If you don’t celebrate this holiday, how would you do it if you had the chance?

Teacher Chad gives his students a lift.

Teacher Chad gives his students a lift.

From all the teachers and staff at Banyan Global Learning, Happy Children’s Day!

Discover Chinese New Year Traditions By Teaching English

Genuine cultural exchange is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching students from other cultures. This year, students have about 3 weeks off from school for Chinese New Year, and some of our junior high students recently shared some of their personal traditions for this special holiday.

New Year’s Eve

Similar to New Year’s Eve celebrations in America, Taiwanese families have a great midnight celebration. One student explained, “ the later you stay up on the first day of the year, the longer your parents will live.” Some are fortunate enough to witness the magnificent fireworks display at Taipei 101. Others may enjoy fireworks at home with their families while they reminisce about the past year.

New Year’s Day

After staying up into the early morning hours and eating a large traditional meal, the first day of the new year is one of rest and relaxation for Taiwanese families. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins gather together on New Year’s Day to enjoy the company of one another, and to exchange the ubiquitous red envelopes . From their elders, children receive small amounts of money in these red envelopes, which symbolize luck, peace and safety in the new year.

red envelopes


During the holiday season, families gamble with pocket change: Taiwanese coins worth anywhere from pennies up to about $1.50 (USD). Card games like poker and dice games are a favorite, along with mahjong, an old Chinese game of strategy. Many people look forward to winning money from their family members.

Have you ever played mahjong?

Have you ever played mahjong?



Many Taiwanese families travel due to the long break. Some travel to the warmer southern cities of Tainan, Kenting and Kaohsiung to visit family and enjoy traditional food. One student will take a bike ride in the mountains of Pingtung, and another looks forward to the beautiful scenery of Yilan. But not all families stay on the island for the holiday. Many travel to other countries nearby, like Thailand, Korea, Myanmar and Guam. A popular destination is Japan, where families can have a fun, snowy holiday. Some students will even travel as far as Israel and America.

Yilan is one of the most popular travel spots on the island of Taiwan.

Yilan is one of the most popular travel spots on the island of Taiwan.


Aerial view of Taiwan at night.

Aerial view of Taiwan at night.



A reunion dinner brings Taiwanese families together for the holiday. Many families eat hot pot: fresh vegetables and meat cooked in a delicious broth. Other families enjoy fish and rice cakes, which are considered lucky for the new year. Dumplings are often eaten just after midnight. One student will partake in the custom of wrapping a coin inside a dumpling. As the family eats the dumplings, whoever finds the coin inside is said to be the luckiest for the new year.

Mmmm... dumplings...

Mmmm… dumplings…


Religious Ceremonies

Some families take part in religious ceremonies during the Chinese New Year. They visit temples to offer food and to burn sticks of incense and paper money in order to honor their ancestors and bring good fortune in the new year. Some people sweep tombs, which involves cleaning the graves of family members.



While Taiwanese families celebrate with rich customs and traditions, many students most enjoy the modern comforts during the Chinese New Year break. Playing video and computer games, shopping with friends, and watching movies and sports are some of the students’ favorite activities. The Taiwanese are a hard-working people even from a young age, so many students just look forward to relaxing and having a break from school.

Bao An Temple in Taiwan.

Bao An Temple in Taiwan.

5 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in Taiwan

At BGL we find that celebrating holidays is a great, authentic way to teach culture. Here are five ways we’ve been able to communicate our love for the holiday season with our students in Taiwan.

1. Talk to Holiday Shoppers on a 4G Field Trip to an American Mall

Our Field Trips Live are one of the most popular elements of our program. It’s always fun to see two cultures merge, especially so during the holidays. Here are some images from this year’s trip to Glendale, CA’s Americana:


Students watch a holiday-themed trolly drive by at the Americana mall in Glendale, CA.


A friendly family answers questions from our students, and asks some of their own. The mom is a high school art teacher and thought our field trip was super cool!


A man with a Santa hat pauses from his holiday shopping to ask our students how many of them celebrate Christmas with their families at home.


Teacher Seth shows the students their reflection in his iPhone.

2. Read our Adaptation of A Christmas Carol

We adapt many classic novels so that we can challenge our Taiwanese students with sophisticated concepts while making sure that the texts are at an accessible language level. Our sixth grade classes read the classic Dickens tale each year, and this year we added a song and music video to reinforce the story’s main concepts of reflection and redemption:

3. Have a Teacher Holiday Party

Teaching abroad can be tough during the holidays. Getting together with other expats – and locals – to celebrate can make it all seem just a little closer to home. Teachers Audrey and Sarah did just that: image (6)

4. Listen to BGL’s Family Christmas Song

And, of course, our original Christmas song is a perennial favorite:

5. Celebrate on Campus

Tsai Hsing School’s birthday is 12/25, so in December the campus is filled with Christmas decorations, costumes and pageants. Here are some charming shots of our 4th grade bilingual class and some of our American teachers feeling the Christmas spirit:










Merry Christmas, everyone!


Building Google Sites is Super Easy (And Other Technology Training for Teachers)

As an educational technology company focusing on English as a Foreign Language whose products include distance learning, teacher training, edtech consulting, curriculum development, and summer camps, Banyan Global Learning (BGL) must stay on the forefront of education technology. Our DL teachers use the latest technologies to deliver unique lessons to students thousands of miles away. We also support our on-site teachers in Taiwan through through distance training using the same video teleconferencing approach we use with our students. Additionally, our LA employees fly to Taiwan and deliver unique in-person training, sharing new tools with ubiquitous application along with personalized technology that suits their specific classroom. Teacher Travis recently delivered a distance training session and followed it with an on-site training session in Taiwan. What follows is his account of that session and represents BGL’s blended approach to teacher training:

By the time you finish reading this blog post, an edtech company likely will have launched a new product, app or website. Ok, maybe that is an overstatement, but the only consistent characteristic of the edtech landscape seems to be that it is always changing, and quickly. We make it our business to keep up with those changes as best we can by connecting with other bloggers, following on Twitter the best education hashtags (as well as those for specific edtech conferences), and keeping an open dialogue with our many collaborative partners. Armed with the latest edtech knowledge, I prepared some training modules for our teachers in Taiwan.

#edtech screengrab

A screen grab of a few items on the #edtech Twitter stream

A week before classes began in the fall, I gave my first distance training session. The focus was on productivity and tips for using an iPad in the classroom. One of best websites on which to find useful information for iPads in the classroom is Kathy Schrock’s iPads4teaching site. Using the same H.323 teleconferencing system we use for our distance learning English courses, I projected my iPad on one screen in the Taiwanese classroom and myself on the other.

Our first task was to create a webpage for each teacher’s class. Because we rely heavily on Google Apps, we built the websites using Google Sites. In less than 30 minutes, each teacher had a welcome page, a class calendar and an ‘About Me’ section. I think they were all shocked at how quickly and easily this was done. There are many other ways to create a website for your class, but if you want to make one with google sites, check out this video tutorial. This is perfect for us – at BGL, we want to give targeted training that results in products or skills that can be used immediately.

Google Sites classroom screenshot

A screenshot of the easy classroom template on Google Sites

Next, I wanted to show them some hidden iPad tricks that are useful for teachers in single-iPad classrooms. Hidden gestures of the iPad can drastically improve your speed and productivity using the device. Quick swipes to change programs, the hidden zoom function and airplay practice were new skills for some of our teachers. Check a guide to new iOS 8 tips and tricks here, and a guide to all the iPad gestures here. While the session was relatively brief, our teachers all were very pleased with the practical knowledge they gained. For the next session, we would focus on quality content delivery.


Our elementary teachers preparing for the new school year.

At Tsai Hsing, our elementary students are all English-as-a-Foreign-Language Learners. One of the world’s experts in language acquisition, Dr. Stephen Krashen, argues that “comprehensible input” is the primary way we learn a language. Only when a student understands the message does learning take place. My goal was to provide our on-site teachers with apps or programs that could help them deliver more comprehensible input. I focused on iOS apps and programs that could increase comprehensible input for a variety of lessons.

I presented two groups of apps: standalone apps designed to be shown directly to students and apps that can augment existing lessons. One app that excited all our teachers was Sock Puppets. With it, you can create an animated sock puppet video that has movable props and scenery in minutes. In terms of comprehensible input, this app creates scenes that have meaning for students and is easy to understand–exactly the sort of video that Dr. Krashen would approve when teaching English Language Learners. Another app we used is called Haiku Deck. It looks like a powerpoint-like presentation app, but its beauty comes in the modern visual display. If you are making a slide about clothing, it automatically searches for clothing-related pictures that you can insert into the slide. Again, the key is creating visual cues that make the language easier to understand. Other iPad apps we discussed included Splice, ShowMe, Educreations and Popplet. By the end of the training session, our teachers were very animated. One teacher exclaimed, “We need more of this!”

We give teachers surveys after all our training sessions. We found that on-site training versus distance training had very little effect on the teachers’ satisfaction. The technology is so seamless that distance training doesn’t feel very distant. What matters is the content you provide. As we continue to plan our professional development for the year, we will always ask our teachers what they would find most effective and stay up-to-date on the latest technologies, apps and pedagogical techniques.