How I Used Beans—Yes, Beans—to Transform My Students’ Behavior

I was struggling with my students’ behavior. But out of desperation a winning strategy was born.

How I Used Beans to Transform My Students' Behavior

Have you ever had a moment where you feel like you’re completely at a loss for how to address an issue in your classroom?

I was there the other day. I realized I was getting on my kids way too much in the hallway as we were walking. “Sally, get in line.” “Jimmy, stop talking.” “Sam, keep your hands off the wall.” It never ended!

While walking down the hallway, I told a coworker, “I need something to help with this. I need to give them something, like–I don’t know– beans or something!”

That night, I went in my cabinets and pulled out a bag of lima beans.

Lima bean gamification for better behavior in the hallways

Classroom management magic: bean babies your students have to take care of.

(Why lima beans? Well, that’s the only small object I had quite a bit of that I could draw on.) I took a sharpie and transformed them to lima bean babies. Their names are on one side of the bean, and drawings are on the other. Because this was a random idea thrown out and put together in the span of a few short hours, most drawings are random. (However, I have a few that are special – for example, my super energetic boy has a dabbing stick figure on the back of his, since he dabs ALL. DAY. LONG.) And thus, lima bean babies were born.

I teach fourth grade, so I was concerned at first that they wouldn’t buy in to the idea of the lima bean babies.

However, I loved watching the kindergarteners take care of eggs in their penguin lessons in our building, and I wanted them to take better care of them than just random beans. They sleep in the nursery at night, and they return to their home (my red jar) when a student is caught.

Students have two lima bean babies each.

Mrs. Rivera puts lima bean baby instructions on the board

They get their babies at the start of the day, as they’re unpacking and sharpening pencils and settling in. They are responsible for keeping their lima bean babies safe. Any lima bean babies found on the floor or desks have to go right back to the nursery.

Every time we exit the classroom (bathroom breaks, recess, lunch, specials, dismissal), lima bean babies are up for grabs.

It becomes a challenge for the kids. I watch them carefully to see whose lima bean babies I can take away. They have to face forward, be silent, and walk quietly in the hall. If I see any conversation or movement away from the line, I can take one of their lima bean babies away. It’s their job to keep both lima bean babies all day long. At the end of the day, they get one point per lima bean baby they kept. (So each student can earn up to two points per day.) As soon as they hit 10 points, they can have lunch in the classroom and enjoy a treat from me.

The reason they start with two is I wanted them to have a chance to fix their behavior before getting zero points for the day. I felt like one would be too few chances, and three would be too many. Like the majority of this plan, it was mostly random ideas thrown together, but somehow turned into something awesome.

This has had an immediate and profound effect on my class in the hallway.

WeAreTeachers blogpost about lima bean babies

Mrs. Rivera’s students line up in an orderly fashion.

I no longer have to speak to them. Transitions are silent and painless, and my students are cracking up (silently) as we go down the hall.

After a few transitions, I only had one lonely lima bean baby in my jar! They’re way too into it.

They do so incredibly great.  I absolutely believe this can easily be adapted for upper grades. Just give out poker chips or slips of paper or anything that’s not geared towards younger kids. There’s the game element of it, which makes it more lighthearted.

An almost empty jar of lima bean babies is a good sign

One important note: I am a firm believer in responsive classroom and positive behavior interventions. I have a great relationship with my kids. I know this is negative, in that it’s taking things away for negative behaviors. However, they don’t view it as punishment. It’s very much a challenge, where I’m trying to “get” them. They’re determined to hold on to those lima bean babies, so they smile and shake their heads and stifle laughs as I eyeball them in an attempt to catch them off guard.

In short, I love my lima bean babies. I think your students would, too!