this is a chronicle of our adventures
in education + business

Innovate: How the Reciprocity Ring Can Be Used in the Classroom

Innovate: How the Reciprocity Ring Can Be Used in the Classroom

Last week, I was overwhelmed from looking at accelerator applications and trying to succinctly develop a one-page collateral for our edtech product. I needed to take a brain break and thought listening to a non-education related podcast would help, so I put on Season 2, Episode 3 of Adam Grant’s Work Life. The episode was called, “Networking for People Who Hate Networking.” I thought, “Hey, that’s me!” ‘cause I’m so socially awkward when I have to meet new people.

Anywho! Listening to the podcast Grant introduced “The Reciprocity Ring,” and my mind immediately started buzzing–not because I felt that I could suddenly network with ease, but because the idea seemed so easily applicable to the classroom.

You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can never take the classroom out of the teacher!

So I went home and started reading up on it. It made me want to teach again just to try some sort of variation with my own students. Here’s a quick run-down:

The Reciprocity Ring

The Reciprocity Ring is a dynamic group exercise that applies the “pay-it-forward” principle to your team or group while creating and cementing high-quality connections. A group is gathered for the purpose of members asking for something important for them in their personal or professional lives. It typically takes about two and a half hours and the results can be very powerful. The request is put out to the group and participants make connections, offer introductions, contacts or more tangible help with achieving member’s goals.

Developed by Wayne Baker, sociology professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and his wife, social scientist, Cheryl Baker, the exercise is built on asking for and giving help. Baker says, “It taps the collective knowledge, networks and energy of a group to meet each person's request.” This exercise is usually done in workplaces. It’s advertised for organizations.

When I was reading about it, the clincher of John Boldoni’s Forbes article about the Reciprocity Ring struck a chord with me:

Sharing what you have with colleagues creates a more engaged workforce. It invests your purpose in the collective purpose of the enterprise – one colleague at a time. That leads to a greater sense of cooperation and ultimately collaboration – the kind that only arises when people trust each other implicitly.

Substitute “colleagues” for “classmates,” and the words “workforce” and “enterprise” with “classroom.”

Teachers dedicate months to cultivating a positive classroom community and then spend the rest of the year nurturing it. I imagine a modified Reciprocity Ring would have amazing implications if applied to the classroom.

I think of how exhilarating (and terrifying!) and validating it has been to network and receive help in the business and tech worlds. Someone going out of their way to think of me, reach out, and dedicate their own time to be of assistance to me has been a great gesture of welcoming. It’s a way of being embraced into the community.

I also think about those times that I’ve been able to help someone else. If I say “I’d like to” or “I can” help, I genuinely mean it. Being useful is a great feeling.

In such a consumer-driven world, I think it’s so important to foster a culture of giving. If everyone’s daily job in class was to help someone who hasn’t been helped, wouldn’t everyone end up being helped? It’s the premise behind the BALLOON ROOM story. Haven’t heard it?

The Balloon Room

There were 50 people in a room with 50 balloons. Each person was asked to write their name on a balloon. The balloons were moved to another room. The 50 people were told they would would have five minutes to go into the other room and find their balloon with their name on it. The result was chaos. Not a single person found their balloon.

They repeated the exercise. 50 balloons, 50 names. This time, the 50 people were told to pick up the first balloon within reach and look for the person whose name was written on that balloon. Before their five minutes were up, everyone had their balloon.

This exercise is often an allegory for how people search for happiness or how companies can’t find the real solution to the real problem. Apply this story to a classroom. If everyone is giving, in the end, everyone gets as well.

Inspired by the Reciprocity Ring, Jack and I have put together a few ideas of how you could incorporate a 2GIVE + 2GET culture in your classroom.

Morning Routine


Students put up post-its of their ASK for the week. Class looks at each other’s asks. People try to help.

  • Some student examples:

    • Can someone edit my story?

    • I need a ride to the basketball game next week.

    • I don’t understand decimals. HELP!

Tuesday + wednesday

Students update the ASK wall: take down their requests if they’ve been met, adjust their requests if they’re too lofty or not specific enough, see who else needs help, try to help.


There should only be a few post-its left on the ASK wall. Hold a Class Meeting to discuss what students can do to help meet those remaining needs or adjusting their requests.


Build in an accountability piece: Who gave help? Who got help? Make a class chart or tally. See “MATH” idea below.



Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 7.44.37 PM.png

Create a double-bar graph charting how each student has been giving and getting help.


If you’ve just studied a particular culture or time period, assign roles to your students and have them generate contextual ASKS and SOLUTIONS.


Use your asks to leverage each other’s expertise, materials, or skills.

peer tutors

Maybe you have some sort of peer-tutoring program in your class or at your school. You could use the Reciprocity Ring to encourage “asking” for help, and not just the “giving” of it.


According to Baker, “It's easier to ask for what you need when you learn that asking an intelligent request actually increases others' perception of your competence to use SMART criteria: specific, meaningful, action-oriented, real, time-bound.” You could use the Reciprocity Ring to teach the SMART goal framework. Apply it to term goals or New Year’s resolutions.

Why I think it’s worth trying

It has implications for all Personal and Social Competencies. This is how I see it working for the BC Redesigned Curriculum:

Positive Personal and Cultural Identity

1. Relationships and cultural contexts

Students work on building a class culture of reciprocation. Students build their identity in relation to others, understanding their role as both “giver” and “receiver” in a community.

2. Personal values and choices

By asking for things, students are identifying what they value: what they want to achieve, what they want to work on, what they want to explore.

3. Personal strengths and abilities

Students learn how their talents can be of service to others. They can also help identify and affirm each other’s.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility

1. Self-determination

This exercise can help build confidence in your own abilities. It helps students be okay with asking for help since everyone’s in the same boat. Students can safely to advocate for themselves.

2. Self-regulation

Students need to take ownership for helping. If their goal isn’t realistic they have to learn to readjust.

3. Well-being

This gives them the opportunity to make well-being a priority, and safely identify that need to their peers. It encourages compassion.

Social Responsibility

1. Contributing to community and caring for the environment

The expectation is the same for all students. Everyone must contribute--ask for help and strive to give it. Everyone’s needs must be met and as a class you work together to meet those needs.

2. Solving problems in peaceful ways

Everyone’s asks must be granted. If they can’t be, then they must be adjusted so that they are granted. It’s a great opportunity to creatively come up with solutions to problems. Or, to help another person realize that their ASK is problematic.

3. Valuing diversity

Everyone’s ASKs are to be respected and honoured. They don’t have to be academic related. The exercise allows for diversity.

4. Building relationships

You’re striving for the same goal. You’re looking for ways to help and be helpful. The goal is to give.

2GIVEIMAGE  (1).png

Someone please try this in your classroom and tell me how it goes. If you want help fleshing out the details more, feel free to contact me.

We’ve put together a few ideas that we’d use in our classrooms to help get you started.

What to Do with those Wonderings

What to Do with those Wonderings

How to Foster a Class Full of Design Thinkers

How to Foster a Class Full of Design Thinkers