Teaching Introduction to Business with Mini-Projects

A group of students sit around a table

Article Summary

  • Mini-projects are quick, low-stakes assignments that help bolster student understanding
  • When supplemented by MindTap activities and textbook readings, mini-projects help students relate course material to real-world applications
  • Mini-projects can build student confidence in speaking, engaging with others and presenting in class
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Dr. Elizabeth Cameron is a Professor of Law, Cybersecurity & Management at Alma College


Teaching Introduction to Business provides a unique opportunity to inspire students to study Business and kickstart their careers. Actively engaging students in class discussion can excite them about the course topics, improve assessment scores, increase Business majors and improve retention.

One way to do this is by using mini-projects. Mini-projects are quick, low stakes and engaging exercises that help students apply course material in a memorable way. The key is to not overcomplicate the exercises or make them too time consuming.

Professors can use a bonus point incentive to grade these or mark them as engagement points. I assign mini-projects frequently and don’t award points because students love them so much that they willingly do them. These projects are also scalable for larger classes and can be done in breakout rooms with the most interesting ideas being shared with the entire class.

As an instructor, I have found the “Why Does it Matter to Me?” and “Learn It” assignments in MindTap to be a great prelude to mini-projects. The “Why Does it Matter to Me?” assignments help students better understand why the content matters in real life. Then, when the professor links the pre-learning to a mini-project, it cements this knowledge. The “Learn It” sections are also great ways for students to learn terms, definitions and elements. All of this advance learning application in MindTap helps improve the value of mini-projects and results in higher assessment scores.

Below are some of the mini-projects with MindTap that have been successful in my Introduction to Business class. For these activities, I reference chapters in my Foundations of Business, 6th Edition text. All of these mini-projects can be done face-to-face or online with modifications.

1. What Motivates You?

This goal of this mini-project is to have students link motivation theories to real-life application.

Before Class: Have students read chapter 10 on motivating employees, complete MindTap assignment(s) and come prepared to share one item that motivates them.

During Class: Ask students to identify one strategy to motivate employees when money is not an option. This is fun because you will see students build on each other’s comments, whether in the classroom or online. As a follow up activity, ask students, “How would you motivate your classmates?” If you assign group work like I do, this helps your students encourage one another.

2. Stranded at Sea & The Key to Effective Decision-Making

This project focuses on building critical thinking and identifying a problem or opportunity in the decision-making process. I actually led this assignment on Microsoft Teams and it worked just as well as in person.

Before Class: Have students read assigned chapter 6 on management and complete the corresponding activities.

During Class: Go over the steps in the decision-making process then ask students to comment on which step they think is the most difficult. They will have a variety of answers, with few students saying it is hard to identify the problem or opportunity (as not everything is a problem).

Next comes the fun part. Tell an outrageous stranded at sea fact pattern using numbers based on the size of your class, such as:

“The students in the class are traveling by ship to Portugal for a business conference and a sudden storm erupts. The ship sinks into the ocean and the only survivors are the students in the class — all others have perished. Your professor is not with you and is unlikely to immediately look for you. No remains of the ship are visible. You see that four of the students are hurt, and six students have no life jackets.”

Then, have students sit on the floor and “tread water.” Ask, “What is your problem or opportunity?” Students will start with food, sharks, water, injured classmates, etc., which are all symptoms of a greater problem or opportunity. A student usually spots an island. If they don’t, you can interject with this fact.

Once students are on the island, ask the question again: “What is your problem or opportunity?” Students will suggest getting food, starting a fire, helping the injured, etc. Then ask, “Are your problems over once you reach the island?” Typically, at least one student will say no, and that the problem or opportunity is “How will we function? Who will lead and how will we survive?” If the problem or opportunity is misdiagnosed, more people will perish.

Whether online or in-person, make sure to have students “tread water” to put them in a real frame of mind. Also, make sure to embellish the facts each semester as this exercise becomes legendary.

After this exercise, students will have learned a valuable lesson that correctly diagnosing the problem or opportunity is key to effective decision making.

3. Product Classifications

This project helps students better understand the product classifications and how marketing tactics change for each classification.

Before Class: Have students read the content on consumer product classifications in chapter 12, complete MindTap assignments and come to class to class prepared to talk about a product they purchased and its classification (i.e., convenience product, shopping product, specialty product, etc.). I give an example of a unique woven beach mat I purchased while in Hawaii.

During Class: Students will bring a variety of examples such as food, clothing, sports equipment or technology. What is very helpful about this assignment is that students often misclassify these goods. They correct themselves and revise their classifications as they hear their classmates’ examples.

In person, students give answers in a round robin fashion. When teaching online, I allow students to give verbal answers or post in the chat. Students enjoy this activity because they like talking about what they purchase and why. They leave with a solid understanding of product classifications and how businesses market products differently.

4. Shark Tank Analysis 

This project lets students pull together information from all chapters in the book and apply it to a real-life entrepreneurial venture. I discuss the assignment on the first day of class and have it submitted in the last few weeks of the course.

Before Class: Have students select an episode of Shark Tank and focus on one entrepreneur’s pitch. Students then write a one-page reflection on issues, concerns, recommendations and other connections to the course with little repetition of the facts.

During Class: Each student gives a five-minute presentation that demonstrates how their business learning applies to that entrepreneur’s pitch. Students also provide business recommendations to the entrepreneur. For online courses, you can use Bongo within MindTap to have students record a video presentation.

It’s amazing how students notice the topics that were covered in the course. I was also very surprised by which Shark Tank episodes interest students and how fun these class discussions are. For example, “Squatty Potty” was more engaging and hilarious than expected. If you have many sections or a large class, consider putting students into teams for this project.

5. Vacations and Hotel Stays

This mini-project aligns with the chapter on marketing and market segmentation. This is a new concept for most students and not always easy to understand.

Before Class: Have students read chapter 11 on building customer relations, complete MindTap assignments and think about a vacation they took, jotting down where they lodged and why.

During Class: Do a market segmentation mapping on the physical or virtual whiteboard with all the places students have stayed. Student answers typically include cheaper hotels (i.e., Super 8) mid-range (i.e., Holiday Inn) above mid-range (i.e., Sheraton) and some real high end (i.e., Ritz-Carlton). For online classes, expect the chat feature to blow up as students really engage with this activity.

After this exercise, students will better understand target markets and the ways that businesses segment the market to target a service or product to a specific group of people. 

6. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

This project aligns with the “building customer relationships through effective marketing” marketing chapter and sub-topic. The exercise blends discussion on effective CRM, best management practices, marketing follow-up and effective business communication.

Before Class: Have students read chapter 11 on building customer relationships, complete MindTap assignments and think about a business that they continue to frequent because of great customer relationship management. Or, have them consider a business that has lost their patronage and why.

During Class: I put students into groups to discuss, then have them share their most interesting CRM story with the class. When time permits, I let all students share their stories.

After listening to their classmates’ stories on effective and ineffective CRM, students have a better understanding of the importance of a solid CRM plan.

Final Thoughts on Teaching Introduction to Business

Mini-projects are fun for discussion, but they also build student confidence in speaking, engaging with others and presenting in class. As an unintended benefit, these mini-projects also improve attendance, college retention and class friendships.

Every professor can benefit by letting students do more of the discussion. I believe learning goes full circle, and that professors learn as much from our students as they do from us. And above all, students learn a lot from each other. Share the floor, and you will find students more engaged and more excited about the material and your course.

For more teaching resources, check out this post on promoting student collaboration virtually and in person.