Energize Your Classroom: How Jim Cramer Made Me a Better Teacher of English Language Learners

I’ve become a better teacher of English Language Learners by watching one of my favorite TV Shows, Jim Cramer’s Mad Money. This is a show about buying stocks. If you’re not interested in stocks you might be turned off already, but Jim Cramer is an entertainer. He takes what could be boring and incomprehensible and makes it engaging and completely understandable for people who know little about stocks AND those who know a lot. Isn’t this what we’re trying to do in the classroom, particularly for English Language Learners and students with limited language exposure?


When talking about stocks he wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, Cramer brings in a ten foot pole. When recommending baby boomer stocks he wears a diaper. When recommending Energizer he wears bunny ears. When talking about the differences been Hasbro and Mattel he brings pictures of a HazMat team (Hasbro/Mattel…HasMat). Think about how you can take something that you’re teaching that’s incomprehensible and bring in something visual to make it comprehensible and engaging for people who may not understand what you’re talking about otherwise.

We need to bring something physical into the classroom. It’s not always the actual thing that you bring because it’s not always possible to bring an elephant into the classroom. But you can bring in a symbol of that thing. A teddy bear can substitute for a man about to undergo open heart surgery. A tossed bean bag quickly replaces a comet flying across the sky. When you’re talking to students who don’t have the academic language to understand everything that you’re saying, give them something they can see that’s not just you talking.

Vocabulary Objectives

Your lessons should have a vocabulary objective.

When Cramer wants you to know about PE Ratios (that is price to earnings ratios) he will put the word on the screen. He makes it clear at the beginning of the lesson that he wants you to understand “PE Ratios.”

English Language Learners’ have a much smaller lexicon of academic English. Teachers include new vocabulary in their lessons all the time but are not often explicit enough about the words they are teaching. A lesson might include the word persuasion without making it explicit that you want students to learn and use the word persuasion. Students can generally figure out the meanings of words long enough to understand your lesson but we’re trying to add new words to students’ long term vocabulary and so we need to make sure they understand that’s an expectation. We also need to make sure they know how to use the word. A linguistic frame works for this purpose.

Example linguistic frame for fossils unit:

Cramer provides these linguistic frames by applying new vocabulary to multiple stocks using consistent language and then provides the audience practice by having them call in the show and use the vocabulary.

In our rooms we need to write the new words on the board. Make it clear before the lesson starts that today students are learning the words X and Y. Give students opportunities to practice using the new words and help them by providing them with a linguistic frame. Get them to talk to each other to practice using the new vocabulary. We can then add another step that Cramer doesn’t have time for in a one-hour show and have students write with the new words. We’ve scaffolded it enough now to expect that they will use those new words in their writing.

Engage Students

I know some teacher have the attitude that they do not need to be entertaining. But couldn’t you be a little interesting to watch? One of my colleagues refers to teaching as doing a six hour one-woman show five days a week with props. Imagine yourself in the audience of that show. How good a show are you? Would you like to be in your class?

I’ve added a fake ear to my repertoire. When students are too quiet, I put it to my ear and say “I can’t hear you!” A rubber chicken helps to lighten the mood when no one is responding and even wait time isn’t working. One cluck and suddenly students feel comfortable enough to come forward and venture an answer.

Cramer makes it fun with all the props, the excitement in his voice, and even sound effects. Cramer shares his sound board and all his sound effects are available online. I use these when students are half-asleep (think math after recess). When a student gets an answer right you play the Hallelujah chorus. Today we’re going to talk about fractions…”Tah Dah sound”…applause…

Not all sounds are appropriate for the classroom but you can use your judgement. I’ve also used a free Mac download called Buzzer for much the same purpose.

Before using this I tell students that I’m going to be using sound effects that are silly but if they get too silly I’ll have to stop. And a couple times I have stopped when students got carried away, but most of the time it helps them pay attention. The sounds bring them back to the lesson when they wander off.

Link to Sound Board

The Take Away

Teachers are entertainers whether we want to be or not. Use your post to be interesting. It’s true that it’s not your job to entertain but when students are entertained they pay attention, they comprehend, and your classroom management is stronger.

Also recommended: Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Model by Echevarria, Vogt, Short

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27 Responses to “Energize Your Classroom: How Jim Cramer Made Me a Better Teacher of English Language Learners”

  1. Jane Says:

    Thanks to the link to the sound board. I use a staples Easy Button for some things in the classroom and am very excited about the chance to add more sound rewards.

  2. elona Says:

    I’m going to absolutely freak out my grade 12 students using the sound effects. I can just see them now -sitting there lethargically period one tommorrow and the suddenly …. I can hardly wait. Thank you so much. I have to have fun too, you know.

    I have stuffed animals in my class that the kids like to hug and talk to.

  3. elona Says:

    I just want to say something about ” I know some teacher have the attitude that they do not need to be entertaining. But couldn’t you be a little interesting to watch?’. I think it’s difficult because I do not have the training of a stand up comic. Maybe they should include a course in that during teachers college. I’m serious. How can I compete against TV with it’s special effects and commercials.

    I try to use humour in the classroom and usually at my expense. I tell them stories about when I was young back in the day (1970’s) . They seem quite interested. I have no idea why. I tell them I had the most boring life- they seem to like hearing that. then I tell them what life was like on the farm. I guess what I do is show them my feet of clay. It’s amazing what connections you can make by doing that. I’ve had the kids say they would lie for me so that I wouldn’t get into trouble because I’ve done something way outside the box. I guess there’s no greater “honour” for a teacher that to have students cover for them. 🙂 It’s a long grind if you don’t find a way to have some fun.

  4. Mathew Says:

    I hope it goes well for you Jane.

    Thanks Elona for your comments.

    Engaging students is one of the California Standards for the Teaching Profession.

    I don’t think teachers necessarily need to be funny. But I do think the days of lecturing students and writing notes on the chalkboard for six hours a day are long gone. Any use of realia, video, visuals, kinesthetic opportunities, chances to pair share all go a long way toward making the day more engaging and more comprehensible to second language learners. Yet many teachers are still lecturing and making notes on the board.

    Your efforts at getting to know students and sharing yourself with them also go a long way toward engaging students by letting them know you care by developing relationships.

  5. Speaker Sue Says:


    This is so great! As a former 7th-8th grade English teacher, you just have no idea grateful I am that there are teachers like you out there!

    I’m new at this blogging thing but definitely want to refer my readers to your post.

    Thank you!

    All the best-

  6. Brian Says:

    EXACTLY the kind of research/blog entries I’m looking for for the Feb. seminar I’m giving for the state level! Too bad you’re not down the hallway from my office to bounce ideas off of, but this is close enough. I shall put you in my resources list.

    YOU ROCK, DUDE! (can you tell I have teenagers at home??)

  7. Mathew Says:

    Thanks Brian for your kind words.

  8. Mrs. Whatsit Says:

    This sounds like a great lesson for native English speakers as well. Thanks!

  9. Jennie Says:

    That’s an interesting article. Thank you for sharing it.

  10. Creating Lifelong Learners » Blog Archive » Finding Inspiration Where You Can Says:

    […] wrote previously about how Mad Money’s Jim Cramer has inspired my teaching in the way he uses explicit language objectives, realia, and a […]

  11. Creating Lifelong Learners » Blog Archive » Teachers As Salespeople Says:

    […] to not get a big head but Speaker Sue has posted a very nice write-up on my entry about using Jim Cramer as inspiration for my teaching.  Whereas I have been working with the metaphor of teacher as entertainer, engaging an audience […]

  12. Creating Lifelong Learners » Blog Archive » Teachers As Salespeople Says:

    […] to not get a big head but Speaker Sue has posted a very nice write-up on my entry about using Jim Cramer as inspiration for my teaching.  Whereas I have been working with the metaphor of teacher as entertainer, engaging an audience […]

  13. Shulamit Leibou Says:

    Thanks for sharing the sound board. It will definately wake the bored, the tired, etc.

  14. Sharon Ferrar Says:

    Great inspiration. All teachers need a mentor and to feel like they can make a difference.

  15. Claire Says:

    Jim Cramer is clearly an excellent teacher.

    I fully agree with your colleague who says that her job is a six-hour stand up one woman show five days a week. That is good teaching (but it IS also exhausting). As a teacher of French, German and ESL all of the points in your article rang true.

    In response to Elona’s comment about teacher training – my minor was in Drama and it has sooo helped me in my teaching.

  16. Thing 4: Blogging Begins With Reading | Learning About Using Technology in Education Says:

    […] “Engaging your Classroom:  How Jim Cramer Made Me a Better Teacher of English Language Learners.&#82… by Mathew Needleman, was the third blog that I read.   Mathew Needleman models his teaching of ELL students by watching  Jim Cramer on the “Mad Money” show.  Mathew uses props (physicals that are used as symbols) and sound effects to engage the ELL students that he teaches.  He makes the statement in his blog that teachers today need to “entertain” their students in order to get them to pay attention in class.   There were many comments in this blog from teachers agreeing that teachers need to be more entertaining in the classroom.  Several teachers thanked Mathew for the link to the “Sound effects board” […]

  17. Thing 4: Voices in the Blogosphere | Math of the Future Says:

    […] suggestion of giving regular, practice, and challenge work.  From Matthew Needleman’s post, Energize Your Classroom, I also took ideas and inspiration.  Never heard of Jim Cramer’s Mad Money before, but you […]

  18. Ana Lizarraga Says:

    I am learning how to blog and I have the task to leave a comment on a blog I feel inclination for. I am learning how to link and permalink sites, but for some particular reason I am unable to do it embedded in the words. My apologies.

    I agree with you Matt. We, as teachers, have to energize our lessons http://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/teachersatwork/328/. We have two big competitors nowadays, video and span attention. We have to buy our students back from the video zone and increase their attention to levels where they can not only remember something but learn and produce. Most of the students nowadays are in a cataleptic state. they just think the video games are the most entertaining pass time they ever had but they do not realize how nocive this is. They have created a virtual reallity far away from the real world. Thanks for inspiring me.

  19. Thing 4: Blogging Begins with Reading – Post 3 | Learning in the 21st Century Says:

    […] Creating Life Long Learners had an interesting post on “Energize Your Classroom…”  This post was directed mostly for ELL students, but I don’t think it matters if the student is ELL or not.  I say many of the things in my class that are on Mr. Cramer’s soundboard.  I didn’t know there was anything like that (soundboard) — you learn something new everyday.  I use my “Price is Right” voice, and the students have the opportunity to win washers and dryers if they answer questions correctly.  They always want to win cars, but I only give out washers and dryers since they are too young to drive.   I went to a workshop at Region IV and the presenter shared his ideas of teaching he got from a book, Acting Lessons for Teachers:  Using Performance Skills in the Classroom, that helps teachers connect with students and enhance student learning.  […]

  20. Thing 4…Blogging | Marlo's Blogs Says:

    […] I really appreciated the blog on Creating Lifelong Learners. This brings me back to Thing 1 and the 7 1/2 Habits…Having FUN. He uses a lot of visual, […]

  21. Thing 4 | World Traveler Says:

    […] #3 Creating Lifelong Learners (Mathew Needleman): Energize Your Classroom: How Jim Cramer Made Me a Better Teacher. […]

  22. Thing 4: Blogging Begins with Reading | Using Technology with Special Needs Students Says:

    […] Lifelong Learners (Mathew Needleman): Energize Your Classroom:  How Jim Cramer Made Me a Better Teacher….  – I have found when classroom lessons […]

  23. Sheryl Says:

    I have always felt that my classroom is like the stage and the more”entertaining” I am, the more the students pay attention. They love props and different sounds always grab their attention

  24. Thing 4 Explore Blogs | HSESShawnBrown Says:

    […] also published web sites to go to for more information pertaining to the subject. The blog about energizing your classroom had links to sound boards you can use in your classroom which were given by the people posting […]

  25. celtic tiger - Thing 4 – comments on other blogs. Says:

    […] style projects/labs that encourage self thinking. The previous blog was very related to the blog- Creating Lifelong Learners (Matthew Needleman). It was a learning experience for me and after 43 years of teaching I still am […]

  26. Post 1: From Thing 4 | L. Conner Web 2.0 Says:

    […] teachers do not get the notoriety that actors do”. Glad to see someone else sees it that way, http://creatinglifelonglearners.com/?p=201. Although, I can’t see me being that silly. I enjoyed reading the teaching resignation letter […]

  27. Thing #4 | Summer of Learning Says:

    […] or another.  We all need  reminders from time to time about good educational practices. Using Jim Cramer as a model for becoming a better Teacher brings to my attention the need to sometimes use many cues in an effort to […]

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