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!

Tova Rivera

Posted by Tova Rivera

I have taught for around 12 years in three states and two different countries. I am currently teaching fourth grade in a beautiful school on the outskirts of Nashville. I love all things flexible seating and project-based.

13 Comments

  1. Kacieevans

    Love this…thanks! What do you do if they lose their bean in transition times, like if they set it down and lunch or recess or the bathroom and can’t find it?

    1. Tova Rivera

      Thank you! I told them from the beginning that their beans must be kept safe and with them all day long. If they don’t have beans with them, they can lose both points just for not having them. Students have kept up with them really well so far!

  2. Jgubbels

    How do your students take care of their baby beans throughout the day? Do they carry them with them during transitions? If you “catch” a student in the hall do they immediately pass over a baby bean or is it only upon return to the classroom?

    1. Tova Rivera

      They carry them with them throughout the day. I take beans immediately in the halls. If students don’t have beans with them, they can potentially lose both (I give a little grace the first time). Students are expected to keep up with them.

  3. Mgillispie97

    When you leave the room what do the students do with their lima beans?

    1. Tova Rivera

      The beans are in Ziploc baggies. Most kids put them in their pockets before leaving the room.

  4. Carlee Skinner

    Hi! I love this idea…I also teach fourth grade. We do use PBIS, and I know that this isn’t PBIS “kosher”, but other teachers have other classroom systems that they need to implement in addition to PBIS. How long does it typically take the students to reach 10 points? I don’t want to make it too easy…but want to make it obtainable.

    1. Tova Rivera

      It’s taking my well-behaved kids five days flat to make the ten points. So about every six days I take them up to the classroom. For my kids who struggle, it is taking them a bit longer. I don’t mind going back up once a week or so, so ten works fine for me. I hope this helps!

  5. Jessica Novakj

    I love this idea!! One question…what do you do if a student loses their bean?

    1. Tova Rivera

      Thank you! 🙂 I have had a couple students lose their beans. I replace one time, but then they’re out of luck. I have to take the hard line approach, or students will constantly lose their beans! I do bring kids up to the classroom periodically (every few weeks), so it’s not like they’ll NEVER get to come up. They just lose this extra incentive. Because I don’t replace constantly, I’ve only had to replace one student’s beans so far. 🙂

  6. Jules 82

    I have mixed feelings about this. It is definitely clever, and while I agree students need feedback, as well ways to monitor their behavior, I’m not really in tow with an external rewards system, which this is. I would like to see more teachers going beyond these types of structures in helping our children to be the best version of themselves.

  7. Maria Gilles

    I’d like to try lima beanie babies. I teach first grade. Do the students keep their beans in the bag all day and carry the bag with them wherever they go? Or do they just carry the beans with them? Thanks for sharing your idea!! =)

  8. Essie129 .

    have you run into a problem when say its PE class or recess and a student doesn’t have pockets? I love this idea but so many of my kiddos wear dresses and leggings that I don’t know where they’d keep their beans.

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