In colorful classrooms up and down the hallway of the second floor of East Elementary School Friday morning, high school students were teaching third-graders Mandarin.

"Simon says touch your `duzi,' " one high school student said to a group of younger children, some of whom (correctly) touched their stomachs, some of whom stared on in wonderment.

Linda Rosenthal is a Mandarin Chinese teacher at New Canaan High School, and was in charge of the teaching session that morning.

"All (high school) Chinese students are participating," Rosenthal said, of the approximately 42 students there, who address her as "laoshi," which means "teacher." "We started it last year as a public service project. They teach things like colors, the weather, family members. Usually it's with pictures that encourage recognition. They have teams and games."

The lesson coincided with the third-graders having just finished a unit on China, she said.

Rosenthal studied Mandarin for nine years, and has traveled to China three times. She is also certified to teach Russian, German and Spanish and is fluent in Japanese.

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"I studied Mandarin because I realized a while ago that it would become one of the most important languages to learn," she said.

In one third-grade room, a group of seven third-graders sat on the bright blue floor as a team of four high schoolers played Mandarin bingo.

Harrison Besser is a senior who's been taking Mandarin for four years. He was playing a memory game with the third graders.

"This is a lot of fun... They haven't been exposed to Chinese before so it's interesting to see their reaction," he said. "I think that it's a good language to know given the climate of the world today. It's a different way of thinking from Western languages. It's logical in that the characters are combinations, like the word `fire' is a combination of `hot' and `wood.'"

A global perspective has become part of the district's outlook in recent years. On its 2013-14 budget documents, the district included "global citizenship" as one of its foremost expectations and aspirations.

Mandarin was added as a language offered at Saxe Middle School this year. Thirty-six sixth-graders, 28 seventh-graders and 17 eighth-graders have enrolled to learn the official language and most popular language of China.

In another classroom, a high school girl was lying on the carpet holding a flashcard with a foot on the back of it. A circle of third graders surrounded her.

"Come on!" she said. "This is easier than pizza!"

The high school students would go to all three elementary schools during the morning, before piling into a school bus for a lunch at Pearl East in Stamford.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews