Pay It Forward Lesson Plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

What does it mean to 'pay it forward?' Use this lesson plan to help you explain the concept to students. In it, a text lesson is paired with a film to illustrate the idea and an activity clarifies how paying it forward works in real life by literally getting them in on the game.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • explain the concept of 'paying it forward'
  • summarize the plot line of the film Paying It Forward


  • This lesson plan is based on the film Pay It Forward, which is 2 hours 3 minutes long. The viewing of the film can be broken up into several smaller segments over a period of days for flexibility in instruction.


  • 15-30 minute for the opening instruction
  • 2 hours 3 minutes for the movie
  • 30-45 minutes for interim instruction
  • One week for students to complete their pay-it-forward acts
  • 15-30 minutes for closing instruction

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).


Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.



  • Begin by asking the class if they have heard the expression 'Pay it forward'. For those who have, what does it mean?
  • Pass out the paper copies of the text lesson now, one per student.
  • Instruct the class to read the 'Where It All Begins' and 'What Does Paying it Forward Mean?' sections of the text lesson.
    • Were we correct in our descriptions of 'paying it forward?'

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