Using Case Studies in the ESL classroom

by Lynne Hand

The terminology surrounding "case studies" tends to be confusing, running the gamut from simply "case," to "case history," "case analysis," "case problem," and the familiar "case study".

As you know I am always on the look out for original materials for use in my classes. I find that my students appreciate real world experiences in the classroom and case studies provide them with real life situations for discussion and evaluation. They are particularly useful for business English classes. Jolliffe writes, "through class discussions of the situations and people in the cases, students will hone their insights, perceptions, thought processes and interpersonal skills. . .".

According to Silverman the following two factors are as important in Case Study Teaching as they are in any other forms of teaching, perhaps even more so, because an instructor has less control with case discussion than other forms of teaching.

Clarify objectives
  • What do you want students to learn from the discussion of the case?
  • What do they know already that applies to the case?
  • What are the issues (central and peripheral) that may be raised in discussion?
  • Can the case "carry" the discussion (Is it appropriate to your objectives)?
Plan and prepare
  • how the case and discussion will be introduced
  • preparation expected of students (written, submitted, papers?)
  • the opening question(s)
  • how much time is needed for the issues to be discussed
  • concepts to be applied and/or extracted in discussion
  • concluding the discussion
  • evaluating the discussion (students', your own)
  • evaluating the participants (grades for participation?)

Running a case study

To get started – select a short case study that covers the skills you want your students to practise. Read it several times and consider how it fits with your student-learning objectives for the class (you need to think about why you are teaching this case at this time).

Arrange the classroom so that students can talk face-to-face.

Prepare a set of questions for students to write out as homework before running the case in class.

For class, prepare another set of questions to move students through the stages of case analysis.

Who are the people in the case?
Where is the case study situated?
Why has the situation (problem) occured?
What possibilities for action are there?
How should the people in the case study proceed?

At the end conduct a teacher-led summary and conclusion discussion, assessing what your students have achieved.

Silverman, Welty, An Introduction to Cases, Pace University Center for Case Studies (1997)

Jolliffe, Lee B. Industry's Team Approach to Classroom Projects, Journalism Educator , Summer 1991

Do you have an article, handout or a teaching idea/tip that you would like to share? Fill out the form. It's good to share.