5 CTSO Tips for Business, Marketing and Finance Advisors

Abigail Hess

Associate Product Marketing Manager • Career and Technical Education • National Geographic Learning | Cengage

*Learn more about DECA competitions, my experience and why business professionals should volunteer their time as CTSO judges in the first post of this series and tips for role-play student competitors in the second post of this series.

Enliven Role Play Prep — Apply the Butterfly Effect or try and SNL Production Week

The traditional role play gives students a short period of time to read a new scenario, come up with a solution, present, act-out their role and gain valuable interview skills by answering questions on the fly. A lot happens very quickly and there isn’t much time to reflect on what could have been done differently. Try mixing up role play with either of these strategies:

  • • Butterfly Effect—small changes can lead to really BIG changes down the line. Try taking some role play scenarios you’ve used in the past and ask the class to find pieces of information they could change out for something else. Did the scenario say you are to create a marketing plan for a Boutique Hotel? What if it was for an international chain instead? Was the company you were supposed to be working for a chain of discount hair salons like SuperCuts? What if it was an online startup for pet art like Crown & Paw? Work as a group to reimagine old scenarios and list out all of the decisions you may now need to rethink throughout the role play.
  • • Saturday Night Live Today—Writers and actors for SNL write multiple sketches and create an entire show each week with their infamous production schedule. Instead of using a pre-written business scenario for a role play, ask the students to write and perform their role-play for the class at the end of the week.
    • • On Monday, they will split into small groups for a pitch meeting. This will include research, discussion, and time to designate roles for the rest of the week.
    • • Tuesday is script-writing day. Lockdown the chosen scenario and describe the perfect cast to solve the problem. Ask them to add in some twists and turns—or deal-breakers—that the judge character might introduce. This will ask students to anticipate what kinds of questions a judge might ask.
    • • Wednesday is the round table meeting. Bring all groups into a class discussion and give time for each group to pitch their role-play scenario and their solution. This is time for other groups to give feedback and brainstorm as a team what kind of visuals, data points, or ideas might make their role play even stronger.
    • • Thursday is the day to develop the role play. Students break back into their small groups to practice and create any visuals that might be effective in their interviews/presentations.
    • • Friday is showtime! Bring in popcorn or snacks and have each group perform their role-play for the class.

Download Daily Worksheets for the SNL Today activity here.

For Assessment-based Competition, Turn the Test Into a Game Show

Some students love taking tests, but it’s not always the most fun part of a CTSO. Practice tests are great, but can get dull and lose some of that real-world application that makes business courses exciting. You can find dynamic and free PowerPoint templates that help you turn quizzes into Jeopardy or Family Feud games. Many teachers also love using apps like Kahoot! to put smartphones to good use. Putting students into teams and testing their knowledge in real-time can help heighten the stakes of practice tests. Even if students are planning on competing in different testing areas, they can practice test-taking, memory, and teamwork skills needed on competition day.

Build CTSO Prep Into the Weekly Curriculum

It might seem like a lot to have to take into account state standards, 21st Century Skills, AND CTSO competition Performance Indicators/Competencies into your course. You’ve already got so much to cover and little time to do it. However, some curriculum is already aligned to CTSO competition needs and many of the projects you already love to assign and know students engage with probably do, too. Whether your school is part of FBLA, DECA, BPA or another CTSO, take time once a year to look at the skills required for a few of the competitions you know students have signed up for in the past and tie them to what you already plan to do in class. That way every project students work on can act as advertising for your CTSO and let them know they are already proving they have the skills they need to be successful in competition.

Make CTSO Prep Activities Part of the Student Portfolio

Your career pathway or course may already require that students create a portfolio at the end of the year, but encouraging students to collect and reflect on their work throughout the year reinforces that the work they do today will pay off tomorrow. Whether your students practice by taking practice assessments, doing research, role-plays, presentations, or even discussion, living the age of smartphones makes it easy to turn these activities into artifacts that prove learned skills. Students can make videos or take photographs as they practice and add them to a growing portfolio that documents learning and offers a way for students to look back at all they have achieved leading up to the competition. This experience also makes it easier for students to write or talk about their CTSO experiences in a future cover letter or interview.

Change-up Who Plays the Judge

Whether students are practicing for role-playing, test-based, interview, or project-based style competitions, taking feedback from different people and roles within their education and career journey may bring about ideas that would have otherwise never come about! If you can, inviting other teachers, principals, students from other classes, and even parents or industry professionals into the classroom to play judge for student work can again increase the stakes before the competition and will only benefit your CTSO public image.


Looking for more information on DECA competitions and practice assignments to prepare students for success? Request a sample of the forthcoming fifth edition of Burrow’s MARKETING, which is aligned to DECA Performance Indicators and includes DECA competition information with the Winning Edge feature, offering DECA Event-Prep Projects in every chapter.

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