Developing ESP language skills in Business and Economics through business model simulations

Katriona Fraser and Rachel Lindner
International Business Studies, University of Paderborn, Germany,


In this paper, we outline the rationale, design and practicalities involved in setting up a business model generation course for students of International Business Studies (IBS) at the University of Paderborn (UPB). This learning scenario aims to help students develop the language skills necessary to create a business model in teams, to autonomously write a business plan and to pitch their business model to “venture capitalists”. The course incorporates aspects of the book Business Model Generation (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010), which provides a flexible framework for students to create an original business model in the English language.


The process of generating a business model is taught in business schools worldwide. Authentic learning of this kind involves engaging with “complex and realistic learning tasks” (Herrington, Reeves & Oliver, 2014) that equip students with the competences needed for real world practice. Business English teachers can equally use this methodology in their classrooms with particular focus on the specialist language required for developing and presenting business models. At UPB, teachers of English for IBS decided to align one of their courses with business modules taught on entrepreneurship and business model generation to create synergies between content and language teaching. The result is the course described in the following.


Business English is a mandatory course component for the IBS bachelor degree at UPB, with a curriculum that runs over five semesters comprising 25 ects points. The course described here is aimed at students in the sixth semester of their degree, is taught at C1 level and is worth 2.5 ects points. IBS English classes typically have 32 students per group, and the activities, which have been tried and tested over six academic years, have been designed to meet the demands of this group size.


The course comprises two main aspects: firstly business model generation, which is summarised in a business model executive summary, and secondly a business model presentation in which students pitch their business model to other students who assume the role of potential investors. Working in teams of four, students are provided with resources to generate ideas, e.g. crowdfunding websites or entrepreneurship projects undertaken at UPB, and are encouraged to be creative as they autonomously develop their business models.

Osterwalder & Pigneur’s (2010) Business Model Generation provides a flexible framework for teams to create an original business model in the English language. By using the book’s Business Model Canvas to help them develop their business model and then mapping this on to their executive summaries, students are facilitated in concretising their concept in a credible written format.

The nine building blocks of the business model identified by Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010) are as follows:

1.Customer segments: the groups of people or organisations an enterprise aims to reach and serve.

2.Value propositions: the products or services that create value for a specific customer segment (e.g. newness, performance, customisation, design, price etc.).

3.Channels (e.g. communication, distribution and sales channels) used by a company to deliver a value proposition to the customer segments.

4.Customer relationships: how a company acquires, retains and boosts sales to its customers.

5.Revenue streams: income generated through selling, renting, leasing, licensing or franchising a product or service.

6.Key resources needed for a business model work – human, financial, intellectual or physical.

7.Key activities such as production, problem-solving or networking activities.

8.Key partnerships such as suppliers, strategic alliances with competitors and non-competitors.

9.The cost structure, i.e. the costs incurred in running the business.

Students should make reference to these building blocks in their executive summaries, focussing on those aspects that they think are particularly relevant for their potential investors. In our course, the executive summary pulls together the most important aspects of students’ business models, stating what they are offering and what they want from potential investors. It serves as a supporting document for their pitch (see below). The teachers of this course have collected examples of students’ work from previous cohorts to create a bank of examples that we use for teaching input. With these texts we provide examples of good practice and have created exercises drawing attention to typical mistakes.

The second aspect of the course helps students develop an investment pitch for their business idea and incorporates aspects of the television series Dragons’ Den. The goal of the business model presentation is to persuade “dragons” (i.e. venture capitalists) to invest in the team’s business model. The “dragons” work in jury teams and are made up of members of the class who are not presenting their business model in any one presentation week.

In preparatory lessons, students analyse the language of authentic pitches (e.g. Dragons’ Den) and presentations (e.g. TED talks) in terms of language, intonation, body language, and overall persuasiveness. These exercises help to raise students’ awareness of the importance of both verbal and non-verbal aspects when presenting and to develop their own presentation skills to influence the audience positively.

Students present their business models over two lessons; four pitching teams and four jury teams (“dragons”) in each. The pitching teams upload their executive summaries to the learning platform two days before their session. Juries read the executive summaries and prepare individual questions prior to the lesson. In advance of the presentation sessions, students analyse examples of probing questions from Dragons’ Den and debate possible responses. Each pitching team presents their business model followed by Q+A. The juries then have time to discuss all four pitches and decide how much – if any – stake they want to invest in each team. A chairperson for each jury summarises their conclusions and presents their final decisions.


Business models are widely used in Business English classrooms to practise entrepreneurial and language skills. The challenge we faced was how to transfer this concept to large classes.

The decision to employ all audience members as “dragons” has several positive consequences: all students are engaged in the presentation scenario, either as presenters or as jury members, for the whole of each lesson; pitching teams are motivated to demonstrate excellence in order to achieve the desired financial investment from the “dragons”; pitchers are also more motivated to answer questions from their peers than from their teachers whilst we, as teachers, can focus on assessing the pitches rather than having to consider questions to challenge the pitchers in the Q+A session.

Strict time constraints (16 minutes total pitch time, 14 minutes for 4 rounds of Q+A, and 10 minutes each for jury decision-making and feedback) force students to be spontaneous, flexible and respond accurately in a foreign language, skills which will equip them for their chosen career in business or economics.


Herrington, J., Reeves, T.C. & Oliver, R. (2014). Authentic Learning Environments. In: J. M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. Elen, M. J. Bishop, eds. 2014. Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. New York: Springer New York. pp. 401-412.
Osterwalder, A. & Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.