The Chalk Blog

10 Ways to Pay it Forward

Ideas for Students & Teachers

Pay It Forward (1)On May 20th, Robert Smith, a billionaire philanthropist, shocked the 2019 graduating class at Morehouse College by pledging to pay off all of the graduating students’ school loans. His only requirement? Pay it forward. Decked out in gowns and mortarboards, witness how the students react to Smith’s generosity:

Graduation Video Screenshot

In October of 2000, the film Pay It Forward was released. The film, along with the book by the same name, became the pop culture instigators to the pay it forward phenomenon.  The opposite of paying someone back, paying it forward means doing something nice for someone else because someone has done something nice for you. In this clip from the film, watch how the teacher explains the assignment to pay it forward:

Looking for ways to pay it forward? Here are 10 ideas for students and 10 ideas for teachers!

10 Ways to Pay It Forward: Students

  1. Plant a vegetable garden at your school and donate the produce
  2. Write letters and mail them to those who may be lonely, or create pen-pals
  3. Create art and leave it as an anonymous gift (art abandonment)
  4. Go for a walk and pick up garbage
  5. Set up recycling in your school then visit a recycling center to learn how recycling works and what you can do to reduce waste
  6. Compost
  7. Build a rainwater collector         
  8. Plant a tree, or trees in your community
  9. Write a letter to someone to thank them, or to tell them how much you love them
  10. Reach out to clothing companies and ask for donations (like *socks (*see what Hippy Feet is doing!) mittens, jackets, *hats (*see what Love Your Melon is doing!) and give them away to those in need

10 Ways to Pay It Forward: Teachers

  1. Everything listed above, plus...
  2. Buy a cup of coffee for someone in line behind you
  3. Bake or buy a pie/cake/cookies and drop off at a neighbor’s
  4. Call for help on someone’s behalf
  5. Buy chocolate and give it away
  6. Put a thoughtful note on someone’s car
  7. Set up gym equipment for others at an exercise class
  8. When paying and you have the chance to “round up,” do it
  9. Donate books by leaving them on the train or subway (add a note if you wish!)
  10. When going to fill up your water glass, fill up someone else’s too


Take a look at what Daniel Milarch has to say about paying it forward to the year 4012!

No matter what you decide, paying it forward is fun, feels good, and is a great lesson for our students!

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