In advance, fill a large jar with as many dry beans, candy or other small items as you possibly can, and tightly twist the lid on.
Place the jar in full view of your group, and prepare to issue a series of graduated challenges.
Ask each individual to estimate the number of beans in the jar, and record their answer on paper.
Next, each person joins with another to form a pair to compare notes and calculate a new consensual estimate.
Continue to repeat this process with ever-increasing group sizes, recording a new consensual group estimate each time.
Eventually, ask the whole group to agree on one final estimate, and then compare this figure with the correct answer.
Discuss what your group noticed about this process, and what it may mean in terms of decision-making and successful teams.
How To Play Narrative
Most of us have seen this classic count the beans exercise played out at various fetes, county fairs and fund-raising events. But rarely has it been used as a group initiative.
In advance, fill a large glass (or plastic) jar with as many dry pinto or navy beans, candy or other small items as you possibly can. Fill the jar to its brim, and then tightly twist the lid on.
Place the jar in full view of the group, and then issue the first in a series of graduated challenges. The first task is for each person to individually estimate the number of beans in the jar. Ask everyone to record their guess on a sheet of paper they are holding.
Next, ask each person to join with another to form a pair. In pairs, ask each person to justify to the other how they arrived at their estimate of beans and compare notes. After a minute or two, ask each pair to agree on a new consensual estimate, and write this figure on their paper.
Depending on the size of your group, you can continue to repeat this process with ever-increasing group sizes – from two to four to eight, etc – recording a new estimate (reached via consensus) each time.
Eventually, ask the whole group to agree on one final estimate, and then compare this figure with the correct answer. Don’t be surprised if the final group answer is the closest to the correct answer.
Take a few moments with your group to review and compare each level of estimates with the correct answer. What do you notice? Explore the debriefing tips in the Reflection Tips tab for some processing questions which may transform this activity from a fun exercise into a valuable lesson about synergy.
Practical Leadership Tips
This should go without saying, but it is very important that you actually count (and not guess) the number of beans in the jar before the activity starts. It’s an integrity thing.
There is no limit to the type of items you could stuff into the jar. Nuts, bolts, any type of small or large dry beans and confectionery, etc. On one occasion, I even saw a rope stuffed into a jar (you had to guess how long it was) – now, that was tough.
You could let your group touch, weigh and hold the jar, or not – it’s up to you. It’s clearly more challenging if the jar is not able to be touched or handled.
You could integrate Count The Beans as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand the perspectives of others from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Use Planning & Organisational Skills
Taking Other’s Perspectives
Recognising Strengths In Others
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Seeking and/or Offering Support
Resolving Conflict Constructively
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Making Reasoned Judgements
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits of solving an interesting problem as a team.
In a small way, you could argue that as a very simple team-building exercise, there are opportunities to explore the development and demonstration of certain social and interpersonal skills, eg consensus and decision-making skills and cooperation (see Social-Emotional Learning tab for more.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Count The Beans could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Jar Half-Full: Stuff the jar with less than a full complement of beans. This provides a greater opportunity to view the entire contents.
Variety: tuff the jar with various sized items, such as different sized confectionery. The task becomes even more difficult now because no one can know for sure what size items are hidden from view in the centre of the jar.
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Useful Framing Ideas
We’ve all seen the classic Count The Beans game at various local fetes, country fairs and fund-raising events. But, today, I’m going to add a new spin on it for you…
Some people have the insane ability to know exactly how many items there are of something just by looking at the collection. I do not have that ability, or anything close to it. At best I need to study the item closely, and then hope my estimate is close. Welcome to today’s challenge…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this classic group guessing-game:
What did you notice about each progressive round of estimates?
How difficult was it for you to compromise or let go of your estimate to agree to a new figure?
What does this teach us about working with others?
Do more heads often arrive at a better solution? If not, why not?
Creative ‘Team-Building’ Session
What You Need:
4+ people, 60 mins, et of Alphabet Equation cards (Print+Play), jar filled with beans, shoes worn by participants, play-dough