Hands-on Learning with Bean Counting

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By Laraine Lyons, Kindergarten/1st Teacher

In my 30+ years of teaching, I have come across many different teaching strategies. Some are better than others, but I have found that when the children can actually touch objects and move them around they are more engaged.

Bean Counting is a hands on activity that teaches the student Place Value.  It starts at the concrete level. Students have fun, while they are learning.


The first thing I do, is give the child a bag.  He is able to decorate the bag any way he would like.  Then I give him beans to put in his bag. He is able to play with the beans for about five minutes. That is Day One.


On Day Two, the students are again given their bags.  This time they are given ten small cups and one large cup.  They are also given two strips .On the strips are 3 columns: ones, tens, and hundreds. Now the fun begins.

The students are told to take out one strip, a handful of beans, and a pencil.  At this point they usually ask if they can play with the beans again, but this time I say “No”.  Anyway, the student is told to put one bean next to their strip.  As they do, they are told to go to the one’s column on the strip and write the number one.

Then they are told to take out another bean and again place it next to the strip.  I now ask how many beans are there and hopefully they will answer “Two.”  Next they are then told to put a two under the one and so on until they get to ten.  I tell the students that they can never have more than one digit in a square, so I ask them what do we do now?  Some answers I have gotten are, “Go back to the top and put a one in the ten’s column”, “Throw the bean away”, “Start over with the one in the one’s column again,” etc.  Finally someone says “go to the ten’s column and write a one after the nine” and you can breathe a sigh of relief.  They got it!!!!

Anyway, that is how this activity works.  The students continue counting each bean and recording it on their strip.  When they get to another group of ten, then again put it in another small cup.  We talk about how many groups of ten that they have, and record the information on the strip. When the student has ten small cups filled, something new happens.

The student takes his ten small cups and pours them into the large cup, counting each cup as he does so, example ten, twenty, etc. The student again looks at his strip and is asked what now?  After many answers, most of them incorrect, usually a student will say to go the hundred’s column of his strip and put a one.

He will then be asked what goes in the tens and again you are hoping to hear “0”. The same is asked about the one’s column and again you are crossing your fingers that someone will again answer “0.”

The process starts again with the one’s column. The student is now at 101.

There are lots of benefits to Bean Counting.  Beside the main benefit of learning place value, the student can work at his own rate.  If he is really understanding the process he can work on his own.  If he isn’t he can get help while the others are soaring along.

One thing I forgot to mention is when you begin the process of Bean Counting…make sure you have help!  Bean Counting is a little confusing at first, and without help you will get a massive headache.  Everyone has a question at once.  But all in all, I have to say it is worthwhile.  When everything clicks you see it in their eyes.  It is AMAZING!!!.

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