14 January 2017

Blurt Beans

I was browsing Instagram a couple of weeks ago, and came across a post about classroom management for chatty classes. I was hooked right there, because my class is CHATTY. There are some days when I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle to get them to stop talking out of turn and blurting things out. Lucky for me, they're also really sweet kids and not behavior problems. I mean, they're chatty, but they're totally not acting out. They just like to talk. I've been tearing my hair out, trying to find ways to channel that energy into more appropriate times and places.

The post I found (and which I cannot find again because I don't remember who posted it, and I wasn't smart enough to save it at the time) was a photo of a Teachers Pay Teachers product called 'Blurt Beans'. I visited the shop and read the description of the product. There were a lot of great ideas, but not a lot that I felt like my class would respond to. I decided to modify the idea to suit my needs.

I took one morning to introduce the concept, and my kids were intrigued. They'd never heard of blurt beans, and honestly didn't even understand that they had a problem with blurting. I know, half a year of NO TALKING WHEN I'M TALKING didn't settle. You can begin to see my frustration. I explained that I loved hearing them talk, but that I really needed them to do it appropriately. I promised them free talk time during the day, when they could talk about anything they wanted, as long as we kept things focused and on task during instruction and work time. (Here's something ironic: the first time I gave them free talk time, it was SILENT. WHAT.)

We spent that afternoon practicing. I'd be teaching, and any time someone blurted something out or was caught talking to a neighbor, I'd give them the blurt sign. I make the shape of a lowercase b and show the talker. The first afternoon was spent giggling every time someone got blurted. Then it started getting quieter as they realized just how often someone was getting blurted. I honestly don't think they really understood how bad it was.

The second day, I brought in a quart jar and a two-quart jar. I labeled the smaller jar "I Blurted," which they think is hilarious. The bigger jar is the prize jar. We took some time in the morning to talk about what types of rewards they'd like to work towards. I let them choose by voting. I was pleasantly surprised at the things they felt were worth working for.

That day, a lot of beans went into the blurt jar. A lot of beans went into the prize jar. Each day has been a little better than the previous day (usually). In fact, on Thursday, we didn't have a single bean go into the blurt jar! The kids were SO excited. Of course, Friday, everyone had to put a bean in the blurt jar because they couldn't line up without talking, even after being asked to try it again twice. It is what it is. We'll continue to get better, and before long, I think we'll be at our first reward.

Here are a couple closer looks at how we're doing:

This was on Thursday, before we all to put a bean in the jar.
It's fuller now.

We're making great progress towards our first reward!
If the blurt jar fills up, *I* get a prize, and it's going to be a fantastic treat that I'll have to eat at school, darn it.

I've really been amazed at how well this works. You wouldn't think fourth graders would be so excited about putting beans in a jar, but they are. Oh, they are. I love how excited they are about this. Now, when someone gets blurted, I can pretty much guarantee a couple of hours of really solid work time. It's awesome. The kids also love that they're getting more prize beans than blurt beans. It's been SO motivating for them. They're policing each other, and all I have to do is the blurt sign. If someone is in another class and gets blurted (yes, I allow my team teachers to blurt them, because it was necessary to keep things on task), the kids remind each other. They've been super honest and are trying so hard.

I occasionally slip a couple extra beans in the prize jar when I feel like they're being exceptionally quiet and really working hard. I make sure to let a couple of kids see me, and motion to them to keep it a secret. Naturally, when it comes to free talk time, word spreads like wildfire and I see the excitement in their eyes that they earned bonus beans. I love it.

Here are the logistics of the project:
1. Each kid gets 5 beans a day, no matter what happened the day before. They could have lost every single bean, but they still get their 5 new ones. I don't believe in carrying a hard day into the next day. I have random bags of dried beans, popcorn kernels, sunflower seeds, etc. that we use. The kids love seeing what types of "beans" we're using that day.

2. We keep them in small cups on the tables. The first day, I didn't have the cups and the beans were everywhere. The kids take their cups when they go to the other teachers for trades, because the other classes were messing with them.

3. Any beans found on the floor go into the blurt jar. My kids are SO protective of their beans, and the second they spot one on the floor, it's back in the their cup. I've told them that if they catch it before I do, they keep it.

4. If I catch them playing with their beans, they lose them. No one plays with their beans.

5. At the end of the day, all remaining beans go into the prize jar. I get asked at least 3 times per afternoon when it's time to put the beans in the jar. It's become one of their favorite parts of the day. Who knew?

6. As they reach the different levels on the prize jar, they earn that prize. They do not have to fill the jar the whole way to have a reward. They get it as their beans hit that level. I think this is way more motivating, because they can work towards small and large goals at the same time. They WANT to fill the entire jar, but they get rewarded along the way. It's a win-win for us all.


  1. I love this idea! What a fantastic motivator and really visual way for them to see a difference in their actions!

    1. Thank you! One of the reasons that I display both jars prominently is for the kids to measure their progress. They compare jar levels every day! It's hugely motivating for them.


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