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

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

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. Mathew,

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

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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

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