Part 2: Shark Tank: Developing and Delivering a Business Pitch (See Part 1 for Project-Based Curriculum)

By Julie Vorholt & Erica Harris

This blog post shares our experiences co-teaching a high-intermediate communications course, in which we developed an engaging project-based learning experience connected to our textbook. Both of our classes used the same textbook, Four Point Listening & Speaking 1 Intermediate by Folse and Lockwood (2010). In addition to using the textbook, we wanted to do add a project that would appeal to our prospective undergraduate and graduate students from Japan, Korea, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. After deciding to develop a project-based lesson, we began to brainstorm topics by reviewing our textbook.  We focused on Unit 3, Business: The World of Entrepreneurship, which includes 3 parts: Characteristics of an Entrepreneur, Developing a Company, and Analyzing a New Business (p. 79-117).

The topics in this unit would allow us to support students in teaching the objectives outlined on our syllabus:  

  • use communication skills to give formal and informal presentations on academic topics;
  • take notes and summarize lectures on academic topics;
  • practice and improve note-taking strategies;
  • practice and improve discussion and interview skills with classmates and native speakers;
  • use clear and comprehensible pronunciation.

A project-based unit on entrepreneurship would be ideal because many students have a great deal of interest in the topic. Some of our students will study business in the future and many other students want to learn about it as consumers and/or as relatives of business owners. In addition, learning about entrepreneurship is popular on our campus. Lewis & Clark has now opened the Bates Center for Entrepreneurship and Leadership, a center which supports undergraduates interested in connecting their interests in their fields of study to creating business or non-profit solutions to today’s challenges.  Thus, studying entrepreneurship was a great way for the AES curriculum to connect with the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and contribute to the ongoing goal of greater integration between the CAS and our Academic English Studies Program.

In our planning discussions, Julie commented that the textbook’s topics reminded her of the reality television show Shark Tank, in which entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas and try to convince investors to fund them. Using that as our inspiration, we created a unit on business that included some of our innovative, supplemental activities and also some tasks from the textbook. We developed nine steps that students followed to complete the unit:

  1. Introduction
  1. Guest Speaker
  1. Vocabulary
  1. Shark Tank Clip
  1. SWOT Analysis
  1. Impromptu Speeches
  1. Assessment
  1. Group Project: New Business Venture
  2. Presentations & Poster Session

Feedback from our students was very positive. Almost everyone liked studying entrepreneurship, and some students expressed that the unit increased their interest in business or would be helpful for their future plans. Students benefited from the authentic experience of participating in this project. They completed this project in teams, just like students in a business course or employees at a company. They may find themselves in this situation one day, designing a company or developing a product or service. Certainly everyone benefits from using persuasive skills in their speaking and learning to work with diverse group members, no matter what their future  aspirations may be.

Have you used projects in your classes successfully? Share your ideas in the comments!


Folse, K., & Lockwood, R. (2010). Four Point Listening & Speaking 1 Intermediate. Ann

Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.


This blog entry is adapted from “Entrepreneurship and Student Motivation”, an article that we wrote for English Teaching Forum, a publication by the United States Department of State. The article describes an innovative three-week unit that inspires students to think and communicate like businesspeople.

Interested in more details? Read the full-length article here.

Erica Harris and Julie Vorholt are core instructors in the Academic English Studies Program at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon.