Teaching Business English and Project Leadership With Shark Tank

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

As we move forward with the ESP project leader profiles, I have become increasingly interested in how ESP project leaders get the “buy in” (i.e., support) of stakeholders for ESP projects. In this connection, I have found the TV program Shark Tank to be relevant. In this TESOL Blog post, I share how I have used specific episodes of Shark Tank to teach my students how to more effectively promote their business ideas in English.

What is Shark Tank? The show is described on its website as follows:

Shark Tank, the critically-acclaimed reality show that has reinvigorated entrepreneurship in America, has also become a culturally defining series. The recipient of the 2014 Emmy Award for Outstanding Structured Reality Program, the business-themed show has returned to the ABC Television Network for its sixth season.

The Sharks — tough, self-made, multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons — continue their search to invest in the best businesses and products that America has to offer. The Sharks will once again give people from all walks of life the chance to chase the American dream, and potentially secure business deals that could make them millionaires.

For additional details about these tycoons, click on the show’s website link above.

There are three episodes of Shark Tank that I initially discovered on YouTube and shared with my students. Two of the episodes are success stories for the entrepreneurs seeking investments from the Sharks.

I used the three episodes with my classes at Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS) in Chiba, Japan. In one of my KUIS classes, the students are required to work in teams to come up with original business ideas. In this class, I use Kickstarter as a model for a crowdfunding video and presentation. (See an article about the top-10 crowdfunding sites for fundraising here.) The students in the class must also create presentations about business plans, and that is where Shark Tank comes in. In another KUIS class (my leadership seminars), the students must make presentations about their leadership projects (before and after these projects have been done).

By watching the Shark Tank episodes, the students are able to learn valuable lessons for making their presentations above. These lessons include:

  1. Have a strategy. Know what you want from your audience, and go out and get it! (“Grace and Lace”)
  2. Be sure that your plan is: 1) strong enough to overcome any attacks and 2) sufficiently attractive to investors! (“Coffee Meets Bagel” – the first 14 minutes)
  3. If someone tells you that you are going to fail, don’t necessarily believe the person! Get the buy-in of stakeholders by connecting with them on a personal level (“Simple Sugars”)

In addition to providing the lessons above, the three Shark Tank episodes can be taught as business case studies in the following way:

  • Set up a Shark Tank episode as a business scenario that your students must discuss in teams.
  • Then show your students the Shark Tank episode and explain how the Sharks responded.

For example, on the board in the classroom, list information about the entrepreneur in the Shark Tank episode. Such information could include: company, product, price, distribution, promotion, competition, financial data, entrepreneur’s educational background and professional experience, etc. List also the amount of money that an entrepreneur is seeking from the Sharks in exchange for what percentage of the entrepreneur’s company. Then have your students talk in pairs or small groups about the following as if they were the Sharks:

  1. Do you have enough information to know whether you would be interested in investing in the company?
  2. In view of the above, what other information (if any) would you want to have?
  3. What kind of deal would you want to make with the entrepreneur? Why?

After your student teams have answered these questions and shared their answers with the rest of the class, show in class the relevant Shark Tank episode. In this connection, I have found that it is helpful to talk about details of the episode in advance, take notes on the board while the students are watching the episode, and then go over the notes on the board as a class.

If your students are interested in business and/or leadership, check out Shark Tank. In my opinion, it’s educational and a lot of fun!

All the best,


About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.