Shark Tank: An innovative pitching event using the CLIL approach, with a touch of gamification.

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Written by Stephan Plat
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 Karelia UAS and HAN UAS (University of Applied Sciences)


In this project we create opportunities for students and teachers for Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). The CLIL approach is conducted in this project through a collaboration of content and language teachers. Universities are working jointly to enable interaction and communication practices within the international context. And as teachers we have a great opportunity to learn how to seamlessly connect language and content teaching. In this article we introduce the Innovation Pitching Event 2023 which was inspired both by the CLIL approach in learning and the Shark Tank TV series. We will first introduce the Shark tank construction and CLIL wheel model. Then the implementation and observations, followed by an evaluation and future improvements.

Shark Tank setting in a nutshell

We played the Shark Tank simulation with the students of Karelia University of Applied Sciences (UAS) and HAN University of Applied Sciences on December 4th, 2023. Karelian UAS student teams pitched their innovative project ideas online over MS Teams to the sharks that were played by the students and teachers of HAN UAS.

The CLIL wheel

All pilots in this program are composed, evaluated and measured by means of the CLIL wheel. By using this CLIL wheel dimensions and parameters from the figure below, we can outline our Shark Tank pilot more specifically.

Figure 1: The CLIL Wheel with 4C’s and 10 parameters (Source:

Sequence: Karelian students were prepared in advance with a rehearsal pitch. The content of the pitch itself is derived from multiple lectures that supported the students to scope their project idea, build a functional project management model and consider project outcome vs. investment and customer value. The project management course ran from October to December 2023 and the final pitches took place on 4 December.

Concept and Task > Language: The CLIL tasks required students to apply business terminology and concepts in their communication. Karelian students had to develop their pitching skills to present their ideas to a potential investor audience. HAN students, in contrast, sharpened their questioning techniques to evaluate the viability of the entrepreneurial proposals.

Guided multimedia input: Multimedia had a key role, since the interaction was online. Therefor we made a set-up within MS TEAMS, multiple screens, and business style lay-out of classroom.

Key language: The importance of English as a common language was evident to all participants, as it was the only shared medium of communication. Additionally, due to their respective roles, the students were not permitted to resort to their native tongues, as this would have diminished the professionalism of their pitches or their perceived credibility as potential investors.

Instructions: The Karelian students were well briefed in advance, while the HAN sharks were given the necessary information just before the start of the Shark Tank. The length and pitch structure were also instructed to ensure that the sharks had similar experience to ensure the objectivity of the judging.

Interactions: Student-student interactions were facilitated per location, meaning Karelian students got to practice amongst themselves in preparation for the final pitch.Also read ‘sequence’.The HAN students were not specifically prepared to play the role of shark, but they are used to giving peer feedback and asking questions.

Thinking:  Karelian students needed to consider the target audience and how to sell their project idea for them. What would be the project value, how they would create revenue and how much the investors would be investing in it? With the instructions and tools they used to construct their idea they needed to create an appealing presentation and prepare to answer the questions from the sharks.

Students were engaged physically and mentally to perform in this learning process. In both cases, Karelian and HAN students had to be present and use their body, posture, movements etc. as part of the pitching and investing process.

Supported output:

The Karelian students got support in both written and oral outputs. During the pitch the focus was on oral output, but also written aspects like reports and the content of the presentation were included. For HAN students there was also a focus on oral outputs and in a minor way on written outputs. See appendix 1 for evaluation criteria and assessment forms.

After each 5 min pitch the sharks at HAN UAS asked questions to the teams in Karelia UAS to define and detail the project ideas. With the given assessment criteria, the sharks voted for the winning pitch by making the following score card of each of them. 

Also, the Karelian students from the other teams were participating the Q&A session after each pitch and they filled the same evaluation score board. Interestingly, their scores were very similar to the sharks at HAN UAS. Maybe a little bit higher scores since the presenting teams were their classmates but overall the same teams were scoring the highest.

Implementation and observations

Impressions by Karelian students:

The Innovation Pitch Event was the highlight of the course Project Management. This course is part of the first year studies of International Business Degree at Karelia UAS.

Picture 1: Welcome to the Shark Tank – Are you ready? @ Karelia UAS

This was a really exciting event for students – most of the 50 participating Karelian students were pitching for the first time ever. The Karelian students were mainly (74%) the first year International Business students (and some exchange students and 2nd & 3rd year students (26%)). The students had very versatile backgrounds. Most of them had moved to Finland during this autumn and within the class we had amazing 17 different mother tongues in use. This made the teams to experience cultural differences already during their teamwork and they had to adapt to different English accents and pronunciations. The students feedback revealed that they found this course activity, Innovative Pitch Event, to help them in developing their intercultural communication skills which they will need in their future study projects.

The student teams put a lot of effort and dedication to build their project proposal into a winning pitch. As a teacher, I introduced the key terminology, used different tools to scope their project ideas and coached them during the previous week about the structure and contents of a good, clear, and engaging pitch. We also discussed the importance of the team involvement and answering convincingly and promptly to the questions that investors are asking after the pitch.

We made a survey for the students after the Innovative Pitching Event. According to their responses (total 50 responses), they felt that the Shark Tank task mainly improved their

  • intercultural teamworking skills (48/50 agreed or strongly agreed)
  • spoken communication skills in English (48/50)
  • verbal comprehension skills (47/50)
  • verbal expressions skills (to express ideas or opinions) (45/50)
  • presentations skills (44/50)

The Project Management course with CLIL tasks managed to enhance also their

  • project management terminology (50/50 agreed or strongly agreed)
  • time management skills (49/50)
  • understanding project phases and tasks (48/50)
  • ability to prepare project documentation in English (47/50)
  • skills in project management techniques (47/50)

After the Innovation Pitch Event, we discussed together locally in Joensuu about the best practices in pitching and students’ observations on what they learned from this activity. We also discussed the lessons learned: What was interesting for the investors (sharks) and how they could have prepared in advance even better? The feedback concerning this discussion was mainly positive, and most students felt this helped them understand how to improve (figure 1). Overall 94% felt the feedback session was very beneficial or beneficial for their personal development.

Feedback session after the Pitch Event: Feedback and discussions supported me to

Figure 2:  Students’ perceptions of the Feedback session

Here are some written observations from the students:

“An excellent final step involving outside observers for evaluation.”

“This feedback form is really good and useful because this is my first time when I experience this kind of feedback format and is comfortable to give my ideas. Thank you.”

“I learnt more skills in collaborating with others especially from different nationalities. moreover, I can handle project effectively in a professional manner.”

Picture 2: Sharks @HAN UAS concentrate on listening the pitch.

HAN UAS teacher observations of the implementation and CLIL method

“I was initially surprised to observe a degree of hesitation among our Dutch ‘sharks’, leading us to rely on a few proactive individuals to break the ice and pose questions. With this initial hurdle overcome, the remaining ‘sharks’ gradually gained confidence and engaged more actively. It was also noteworthy how the language proficiency level of the Karelian UAS students impacted the way our ‘sharks’ formulated their questions. Their English language usage subtly adjusted to match the level of the presenting students. At the moment when language presented a barrier for the presenters, the number of questions decreased, and those that were asked tended to be simpler, both in content and language usage.” (Stephan Plat, Lecturer Cross Cultural Management)

“The students at HAN UAS could recognize the presented business concepts, definitions, and models. When these students (as sharks) communicated in English about the project ideas and the aforementioned aspects the CLIL-method was really represented within this setting. The students needed to perform in English, since they were not able to fall back on the Dutch language due to the setting of this project. As participating content and language teachers, we observed our students in communicating and asking related questions based on the project ideas. Furthermore, we could also get insights in how they perceived the project ideas based on the questions that they asked. The collaboration as Sharks between the students and teachers was also valuable in this setting”. (Erkan Yalcin, Lecturer International Economics) 

“From a relational point of view it was nice to experience to be on the same side with the Dutch students. Normally it is teacher vs student but now we were one team. This had a nice feel to it. From a cultural perspective it was a great experience to meet foreign students”. (Robert Westra, Lecturer International Law)

“Engaging with international students in a Shark Tank setting to explore their projects has been an enriching experience. The diverse cultures that were represented in the digital room has added a unique and vibrant dynamic to the questioning process. It’s very interesting to witness how various cultural backgrounds shape the way teams cooperate and generate ideas. Gradually our Dutch sharks (students) gained momentum and asked some interesting questions. In combination with the teachers’ questions this created a real shark tank experience, which was fun and educational.” (Hendrik Brasjen, Lecturer International Marketing)

“Personally, I found the project to be a stimulating and enriching experience. The interaction between the HAN ‘sharks’ and the Karelian groups added a layer of authenticity that is difficult to replicate in a setting where all the students speak Dutch. I observed a genuine commitment from both sides, which greatly enhanced the overall experience. It was very interesting to see how our students approached the task and enjoyed the process!” (Ilse de Wit, Lecturer Business Communication) 

Conclusions and future improvements

Based on both student- and teacher experiences a couple of learnings, conclusions and improvements can be extracted:

Key Language. The language proficiency level of the students significantly influenced the quality of their pitches and the depth and nature of the questions posed by the ‘sharks’. One potential solution is to assess the language skills of the participants earlier in the process, allowing for additional practice and preparation. This enhancement is linked to the improvement of interactions discussed below.

Interactions. To enhance communication and rehearsal opportunities, we can introduce more student-to-student interactions in future scenarios. By connecting students from both institutions earlier in the process, they can collaborate and develop their pitches together. However, the dynamic of presenting to the ‘sharks’ for the first time is distinct from a scenario where the students have already worked together. Therefore, the peer review teams should be separate from the ‘sharks’ group.

Instructions. For the HAN participants, more detailed instructions on the role of a ‘shark’ should be provided. This communication should occur earlier in the process to allow for better preparation and understanding. Additionally, to alleviate the ‘cold feet’ anxiety that can arise when presenting, students could be given a few general opening questions that could be assigned to specific teams or individuals.

Supported Output. From the HAN perspective, requiring students to write written feedback to the pitching teams could provide valuable constructive criticism and insights. This feedback could be used to further refine the pitches and enhance the overall presentation experience.

Final notes and future pilots

Another CLIL initiative concerning the dimension of Key Language that came out of this pilot is regarding business vocabulary that is specifically used within a course or project. The idea is to create a basic list of words that is added to over time by teachers and students. The list can be personalized by each student individually.  This can be done in five steps:

  1. Language teachers sketch a list of words that students find hard to pronounce in general.
  2. Content teachers sketch a list of words that are used frequently in a business situation.
  3. Within a class setting teachers and students can add to this list.
  4. Students can personalize the list (with help of a teacher) by adding words or highlighting those words that they experience difficulty with.
  5. During formative assessments and/or final presentations students can try to explicitly use those words that they found difficult at the start of the course, but hopefully master at the end.



Varpumaria Jeskanen, Karelia UAS

Stephan Plat MSc BA, HAN UAS

One Response

  1. Dear Varpumaria and Stephan,
    Thanks a lot for sharing this blog on the Innovation Pitch Event. Certainly seems that everyone enjoyed and learnt a lot from participating. I do something similar with the Business students in my Business English class at TH Wildau. It is always useful to switch the dynamic away from the lecture format of teacher-student interaction and get the students to interact among themselves. I would be interested to know what kind of pronunciation issues arose. My students have problems with lexis such as ‘deteriorate’, for example and I warn them against using too many French-Latinate words. And what kind of cultural differences arose too? Most people might assume that Dutch and Finish students are relatively similar in cultural orientation but perhaps this is not correct. Many students are much freer in writing down feedback rather than directly voicing it to fellow-students. although this takes a bit of time it can be well worth giving students the opportunity to write comments down and giving them to other students (the teacher does not necessarily need to see what these comments are). Lots more questions to ask about the relationship between langauge skills and the quality of the pitch and the way that language practice may facilitate this. This is, of course, the heart of the CLIL approach. Maybe you will tell us more in Wildau, Germany, in our April workshop.
    Best wishes,

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