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Pay it Forward

Posted on November 25, 2013 by kierandonaghy

pay_it_forwardThis EFL lesson plan is designed around a short film commissioned by Thai communication provider TrueMove H and the themes of giving, kindness and the Pay It Forward movement. Students predict a story, watch a short film, talk about giving and discuss quotes about kindness.



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Language level: Intermediate (B1) – Upper Intermediate (B2)

Learner type: Teens and adults

Time: 90 minutes

Activity: Predicting a story, watching a short film, talking about giving and discussing quotes about kindness.

Topic: Kindness, giving and Pay It Forward Language:

Vocabulary related to giving

Materials: short film and quotation slides

Downloadable materials: pay it forward lesson instructions     pay it forward quotes slides

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Step 1

Show your students the image of the boy above and ask the following questions: What does he look like? What do you think he’s like as a person? How is he feeling in this moment? What’s happening? Put students in pairs and ask them to discuss the questions for a few minutes. When students are ready get feedback from the whole class.

Step 2

Tell students that the photo comes from the beginning of a short film. Ask students to discuss with their partner what story they think they are going to see in the film. When students are ready get feedback from the whole class.   Step 3 Explain that the film is in Thai with English subtitles. Show the film.


Step 4

Ask students if their predictions were correct.  


Step 5

Ask students how the film made them feel.


Step 6

Put students into small groups and ask them to discuss the following question: What is the message of the film? When students have finished their discussions, get feedback from the whole class on the film’s message.  


Step 7

Write Pay It Forward on the board and ask students if they know what it means. If students don’t know, tell them that it means that if somebody does something kind to you, you should do something kind to another person without expecting anything in return. You may also like to explain that it has become a global movement. In 2000, Catherine Ryan Hyde‘s novel Pay It Forward was published and adapted into a film, Pay It Forward. In Ryan Hyde’s book and movie it is described as an obligation to do three good deeds for others in response to a good deed that one receives. Such good deeds should accomplish things that the other person cannot accomplish on their own. In this way, the practice of helping one another can spread geometrically through society, at a ratio of three to one, creating a social movement with the impact of making the world a better place.


Step 8

Tell students that the message of the film might be that we should pay it forward. The restaurant owner is kind to the child and expects nothing in return. However, his kindness has a profound influence on the young boy who subsequently dedicates his life to helping others and becomes an eminent surgeon. The restaurant owner’s life is saved by the surgeon who waves his fee because of the restaurant owner’s previous kindness to him.

Step 9

Pair students and ask them to discuss what they think of the pay it forward concept and movement.


Step 10

Read out some examples of Pay It Forward.

  • Collect cans of non perishable foods and give them to charities or organizations who would benefit
  • Collect books and distribute to needy groups
  • Buy the train or bus ticket for the person behind you
  • Donate some of your professional services to someone in need on the day, for example – free hour consultation
  • Buy a stranger a cup of coffee
  • On a rainy day, buy a few umbrella’s and give them to those who don’t have one and are getting wet.

Show this video in which a person paying for other people’s food at a drive through restaurant.

Ask students what they think of each deed and whether they would do them themselves.


Step 11

Now tell students that you would like them to thing of 5 Pay It Forward actions which they would be happy to do. Give them 5 minutes to write down their actions.


Step 12

When students are ready, put them into small groups and ask them to explain their actions to each other.


Step 13

Hold a plenary discussion on the students’ Pay It Foward actions.


Step 14

Dictate the following quotation to students: “Kindness, like a boomerang, always returns.” Ask students what it means.


Step 15

Put students in pairs and show each of the 6 quotations on kindness and life. Give them 3 minutes to discuss each quotation and then change to the next one.

mother_teresa_quote arabic_proverb gandhi_quote antoine_quote ali_quote william_james_quote  Step 16

Ask students which quotes they like most and why.


I hope you enjoy the lesson.


Support Film English

Film English remains ad-free and takes many hours a month to research and write, and hundreds of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy or value in it, please consider supporting Film English with a monthly subscription, or by contributing a one-off payment.

Monthly subscription

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30 thoughts on “Pay it Forward

  1. Thank you indeed for your fruitful and meaningful”FilmEnglish”.It pays off a lot to use films to implement Character Education.

    In fact, we are working, in the Kingdom of Morocco, to implement Character Education via the Six traits; namely Respect, Responsability, Caring, Truthworthiness, Fazirness and Citizenship. Thus, we would be very obliged to you to share any films, documents or materials that would be a plus in our 2014 action plan: “Share and Care”.
    Thank you in advance for”Sharing and Caring”.


    The Moroccan Association of Character Education ; hereafter MACE

    Prof. Bouchaib Zahawi
    Cell phone:(212) (0) 6 59 36 31 30

    • Dear Bouchaib,
      Thanks for the kind words. You can certainly use the films and lessons plans from Film English in your project and association.
      Best wishes,

      • Dear Sir,
        Thank you indeed for your acceptance! It will be an honor to connect your great work to our daily endeavor to share and care about Character Education in our Kingdom and all over the world.

    • Hi Michal,
      Thanks a lot for the kind words. I’m really happy that you enjoy the lessons so much. I hope you’re students enjoy it too.
      All the best,

  2. I’ve used both of these videos before in class to generate discussion but you do a much better job of creating a lesson plan around them. Thanks a lot! I’ll actually be using it in the morning tomorrow!
    By the way, here is the link to the original posting by TrueMove.
    It’s slightly higher quality and has less of a chance of being taken down in the future. Cheers!

    • Hi Mark,
      Thanks a lot for the kind words. I’m really happy that you like the lesson so much. Thanks for the link too, much better quality.
      All the best,

  3. I already knew the film.

    Wonderful work using this film as a lesson (both for English and for Paying it forward!)

    Thank you so much!

  4. Pingback: Paying It Forward | The Literacy Council of Central Alabama

  5. Fantastic. I did this lesson yesterday and one student cried because she was so moved by the video! And the quotes are excellent, some of my favourite. The students said they would put them up in their house to remember to pay it forward. Thanks for the lesson!

  6. Another great lesson!
    In Israel, the poem “Count That Day Lost” by George Elliot, is in our high-school required program for EFL students. These films connect well with this poem as well.

    • Hi Naomi,
      Great to hear from you. Thanks for commenting and for the kind words. I’ve just out Count That Day Lost, which I didn’t know, and it’s really beautiful and connects really well with the films.
      All the best,

  7. Hi Kieran,

    I am deeply impressed by your commitment and work in Film English. Your videos and the lesson plans are excellent. I am going to try out “Pay it forward” tomorrow with my adult student. For the second video I will use There is no dialogue in the film and is more suitable for my A2 level adult student. I am sure this is a theme which resonates with her. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Janell Lia-Breitmayer

  8. A very touching and inspiring lesson. Some of my students were openly in tears. I took screen shots of the movie and crafted some in-depth and soul searching questions for them. At the end of the lesson, there is nothing more powerful than sharing my personal story. A good lesson makes you think. A great lesson makes you have more than a cerebral exercise. It reaches into your soul and emotion. You have enabled this experience for my students. THANKS!!!

  9. What a fantastic job you are putting on here! I used this lesson with one of my students, and must confess I was a bit anxious about it, because it was my first time using a lesson devised by someone else. But seriously, it paid off the anxiety.

  10. I live in Thailand and i just love this video. I have used it in my lessons before. Thank you Film English for recognising this video and using it in your lesson plans.

    Another video i have used and love equally it the following by Thai life insurance called “Unsung Hero”. Maybe you can adapt this into a lesson plan also

    Thanks again


  11. Pingback: Pay it forward | Pearltrees

  12. I was very happy to find this kind of informative website. This is the best website I’ve ever seen.

    I’ll be using this material for my Korean Adult Student in Basic Class…

    Hats Off Film-English! 🙂

    More Powers and God Bless…

    • Hi Ana,
      Thanks a lot for commenting and for the kind words. I’m very happy that you like the site and I hope your students like the lessons too 🙂
      All the best,

  13. Hi,

    I was having a hard time to find a new document to work with this with my students prior to the tragedy in Paris on Friday. I could not bear to continue working on the previous document we started… I’m really grateful I came across this one this morning… I believe my students want to talk but also to find a way to stay hopeful for the future. I believe that this optimistic lesson might bring them a glimpse of hope, something they can do and grasp. One that may affect their own lives and the people around them in a positive way. This has never been more important.

    Truly thank you…
    (An English teacher in France)

    • Hi Ingrid,
      Thanks for the kind words. I’m very happy you like the lesson and that it helped you and your students feel a bit more optimistic.
      All the best,

  14. I’ve used some of the videos on this website in my ESL classes and the results are always positive. Thank you very much for these wonderful videos and resources!


  15. Pingback: Pay it forward | Pearltrees