Trash or Treasure?

6, 7, 8

Can a young person truly make a difference in our world? Learners will carry out an act of philanthropy by cleaning up a park. Learners will reflect on their experience and, through the use of literature, understand the importance of philanthropy, thus realizing that one person, a young adult, can make a difference in our world.

PrintThirteen Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • analyze the theme of a piece of popular music as an encouragement to make a difference in the world.
  • perform a service learning project involving the cleaning of a local park, reflect on the experience, and describe this act of philanthropy as a means of improving the common good.
  • using excerpts of a novel, describe in an essay how individuals made a difference in their world.
  • Permission slips for park experience
  • Camera to take pictures at event
  • Trash Bags, Ziploc bags, Plastic Gloves
  • Pay It Forward novel (see Bibliographical References)
  • Power of One video cassette (see Bibliographical References)
  • TV / VCR, Audio CD Player
  • "Dare You to Move" Song Lyrics available from (see Bibliographical References)
  • Responsibilities of Learners to Prepare for Cleaning the Park (Handout One)
  • "Reacting To Trevor’s Idea" Essay (Handout Two)
  • Pre-Event Reflection Handout (Handout Three)
  • Post-Event Reflection Handout (Handout Four)
  • Pre- and Post-Event Reflection Evaluation (Handout Five)
  • Peer Evaluation for Essay (Handout Six)
  • Self Evaluation for Essay (Handout Seven)
  • "Legacy" Song Lyrics available from (see Bibliographical References)
  • Final Evaluation for "Reacting To Trevor’s Idea" Essay (Handout Eight)

Hyde, Catherine Ryan. Pay it Forward. NY: Pocket Books, 2000. ISBN 0743412028.

Nordeman, Nicole. "Legacy." Woven and Spun, (2002). Audio CD.
ASIN B00006JJ34, song lyrics found at

Power of One. John G. Avildsen, Director. Warner Studios. ASIN: 0790740850 

Switchfoot. "Dare You to Move." The Beautiful Letdown. (2003). Audio CD
ASIN: B0000891YW, lyrics available from available from


  1. Day One:

    Anticipatory Set:

    To focus the learners’ attention say, "I’m daring you to move outside of your normal routine to make a difference in our world." Write the quote "Think of an idea to change the world and put it into action," on the chalkboard. Discuss what the phrase means. Brainstorm ways a person can change the world.

  2. Listen to the song "Dare You to Move" by Switchfoot and/or distribute "Dare You to Move" Song Lyrics . Have learners write how the song relates to the quote and explain what it means to them. Share the ideas.

  3. Lead a discussion on the idea of volunteering and the importance of volunteering in our society. Have paired learners describe the characteristics of someone who helps out in the community. Share the ideas.

  4. Introduce Pay It Forward to the class. Remind the learners: "I’m daring you to move outside of your normal routine to make a difference in our world." Ask learners if they are familiar with the book or the movie. Explain that the teacher in the novel begins every school year challenging his learners to make a difference in our world, and one learner does something rather extraordinary.

  5. Day Two:

    Read the following pages from Pay it Forward aloud to the class: 29-34 and 46-52.

  6. Teacher Note: Because of certain language in the book, I would strongly encourage you to read the assigned pages first to be certain you will be able to use the book in your class. I block off certain passages and skipped those parts that I feel are not appropriate for middle-level learners.

  7. Reinforce the concept of pay it forward- the idea that one person gives a "big help" to three other people, expecting nothing in return. Then those three do three helpful things for three other people until everyone gets helped. (Drawing a diagram on the chalkboard will be a helpful visual aid. See the front cover of the book.)

  8. Have learners write down the names of three people they might be willing to help and describe what they would be willing to do to help them. Ask them what would be the benefits and challenges of doing this. Have learners share their ideas.

  9. Begin to transition into a "make a difference" project. Remind the learners that the main character (Trevor) is a twelve-year old boy who intends to change the world and that they are approximately the same age as Trevor. He serves as an example of how a young person can do his or her part and be responsible. Brainstorm ideas for projects the class can do to make a difference.

  10. Day Three-Four:

    Shorten the list of possible ideas through discussion. Have learners vote for the project that is most feasible and ultimately a park clean-up can be chosen for this lesson plan (lesson can be adapted for other ideas). 

  11. In groups of three or four, have learners develop a list of responsibilities associated with the project. Create a list, making sure the most important responsibilities are included. See Responsibilities of Learners to Prepare for Cleaning the Park (Handout One) for a sample list.

  12. Prior to the experience, break learners into as many groups as tasks which need to be completed. Learners will then make phone calls, write letters, etc. during class time.

  13. Day Five:

    Recap the key points of pay it forward since it has been a few days since the discussion of the topic. Pair up the learners. Have Partner A briefly write down what pay it forward means and have Partner B create the diagram. Walk around the room to see responses and briefly share the responses with the class.

  14. Transition into the Power of One video. Remind learners of the power that one individual has to make a difference in our world using Trevor as an example. Show the twelve-minute video to the class. Discuss the images they see. Ask the class what these people did to change their world.

  15. Day Six:

    Connect back to the previous day by asking the class if they thought the great people in the video had any obstacles to overcome in their efforts. Have learners share responses.

  16. Transition back to Pay It Forward. Explain that today’s reading will involve Trevor sharing his idea with others. Read pages 61-65 and 119–123 with the class.

  17. Distribute "Reacting to Trevor’s Idea" Essay (Handout Two) and go over the directions. Allow learners time to work on the essay in class. Be sure to follow the steps of the writing process.

  18. Connect back to the Power of One video and Pay It Forward. Discuss how both the adults and young adults responded to his "utopian" plan. 

  19. Day Seven:

    Discuss the following questions in groups:

  20. Since the young people seemed to be so negative in their response, what does that say about many teenagers’ outlooks on life?

  21. Why were many of the adults like Jerry and Mr. St. Clair more open to his idea?

  22. Based on people’s reaction (including your own group), what can we say about society’s view about people trying to make a difference in our world?

  23. Does this influence people’s choice to make a difference? Why or why not?

  24. Be sure all of the issues are covered and have a reporter in each group share their findings with the class.

  25. Provide time to work on the essay in class (Handout Two: "Reacting to Trevor’s Idea" Essay).

  26. Distribute and assign Pre-Event Reflection Handout (Handout Three) to be completed before the project. 

  27. Teacher Note: Since the rubric for the pre- and post-event reflections are pretty general, spend time having learners highlight or underline the key parts of each question which they are addressing. This will help learners become aware of what they are expected to include in their reflection.

  28. Day Eight:

    Meet at designated pick up location. Load buses. Take attendance. Be sure to take gloves, trash bags and Ziploc bags. Have learners perform prearranged tasks while teachers supervise.

  29. If you're doing a clean up: Have learners select one sample from their trash collection to use later in their visual arts project. Put it in a Ziploc bag and write their name on it. Collect Ziploc bags and put them into a clean garbage bag to be delivered to the art teacher upon return.

  30. Return to school and collect trash bags and gloves.

  31. Share your reflections/observations of the experience with the learners.

  32. Day Nine:

    Distribute and have the learners complete the Post-Event Reflection Handout questions (Handout Four).

  33. Ask learners to share one observation they made during the experience.

  34. Collect Pre and Post Reflection Handouts and use Pre and Post Event Reflection Evaluation (Handout Five) as a rubric to assess learning during the activity and reflection.

  35. Have learners read over the rough drafts of their "Reacting to Trevor’s Idea" Essay (Handout Two) and make any last minute corrections.

  36. Day Ten:

    Divide learners into peer review pairs. Distribute Peer Evaluation for Essay (Handout Six) and go over the information with the learners. Allow the teams to review the essays. When the teams are finished, have learners share an interesting observation from each essay with the class.

  37. Discuss how it felt to be a responsible citizen by doing something for the common good of our community. In what ways was this act of their project or cleaning a park an act of philanthropy?

  38. Day Eleven:

    Transition back to Pay It Forward. Explain that our project was a success, we definitely impacted our world, and now we are going to read about what happens when Trevor realizes pay it forward was a success. Read pages 252-265 and 273-275.

  39. Discuss the positive results of Trevor’s project. Have learners share the rewards Trevor received for his idea. Discuss how Trevor reacted to his new fame. Ask them how his reaction is consistent with his attitude.

  40. Have learners predict what will happen to Trevor next. Remind them that Trevor said this was the best day of his life. Ask them to predict what Trevor will do next in his life. Read Pay It Forward pages 282-305.

  41. Day Twelve:

    Have learners write a few sentences about the ending of the book. They should reflect on Trevor’s death and the impact it had on the world. Have them address the issue of why people agreed to pay it forward.

  42. Homework Assignment: Have the learners complete the Self Evaluation for Essay (Handout Seven) for "Reacting to Trevor’s Idea" due Day Thirteen.

  43. Recap key points of Day Twelve’s reading. Remind learners of Trevor’s last selfless act. Introduce the concept of legacy (leaving your mark). Let the learners describe Trevor’s legacy and how he will be remembered.

  44. Day Thirteen:

    Explain to learners that they leave a legacy at our school. Ask them how they would like to be remembered.

  45. Listen to "Legacy" song or use "Legacy" Song Lyrics. Have learners respond to the song by writing down the legacy the singer wants to leave behind and then what legacy the learners want to leave behind. Have learners share their ideas.

  46. Connect legacy to the focus question: Can a young person truly make a difference in our world? Explain that we can all leave a legacy by doing great things.

  47. Collect the completed essays and evaluate them using Final Evaluation for "Reacting To Trevor’s Idea" Essay (Handout Eight).


The teacher will assess the park cleanup with pre- and post-event reflections using a rubric (Handout Six). The teacher will assess the Pay It Forward essay using a rubric (Handout Eight).

Cross Curriculum 

Learners and teachers will carry out an act of philanthropy by cleaning up a local park. Specific directions are listed under Instructional Procedures.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.5 Describe the responsibility students have to act in the civil society sector to improve the common good.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Provide a needed service.
      2. Benchmark MS.3 Describe the task and the student role.
    3. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Evaluate progress on the service-learning project before, during, and after the project.
      2. Benchmark MS.3 Identify outcomes from the service.