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Seven tips for successful case studies




John Hughes offers his advice on using case studies in the classroom. John hosted a webinar on the topic of Case Studies in the Business English Classroom on 6th November 2012 – watch it here.

Case studies are a popular tool in business management training. They allow companies to put managers into credible business situations and see how they respond. It helps the individual prepare for the ‘real thing’ and encourages them to consider different ways of responding to events in business. In the business English classroom, the case study also provides the student with valuable language practice. It’s an opportunity for students to try out the language they have been learning in lessons in a realistic situation.

How a case study works

In general, a case study works like this: Firstly, students receive background information about a real business situation. This might take the form of a reading, a listening or a video. During this time, they’ll need help with vocabulary and understanding the key content. The teacher also needs to check that students have a thorough understanding of the problem or issue that needs to be addressed. Next students work in groups or pairs and try to respond to the problem authentically. This is clearly the stage where lots of language is generated and the teacher’s role is to monitor. After the problem has been solved, students reflect on what happened in the case study and how successful the process was. In a language classroom, this includes feedback on language use.

Tips for successful case studies

Despite being useful teaching tools, case studies can end with student dissatisfaction and the teacher can be left wondering why the case seemed to fail. Here are some ideas and tips to ensure that case studies work well in your lessons.

1: Raise interest

Make the case relevant to the students. Allow time for them to share what they already know about the topic and find out what experience they have in a similar situation.

2: Get everyone to take part

Some students will talk more than others but try to involve all your students. Vary interaction patterns (i.e. using pair work and group work) so everyone has a chance to contribute.

3: Concept checking

Throughout the case study, check everyone understands the instructions and aims of each stage

4: The language

You can input useful language before you start and it’s also helpful to ask students to suggest expressions they that will be useful for the task. After the case study, set aside time to talk through common errors or examples of correct and effective language.

5: Navigate the students

Sometimes in case studies, students go down the wrong track. It’s your job to get them going in the right direction again. Prompt them during pair work or group work and don’t be afraid to make a suggestion if necessary.

6: Reach a conclusion

It’s not crucial that everyone agrees on a final outcome since language practice is the primary goal. But students will feel more satisfied if everyone manages to agree on a final outcome.

7: Feedback and reflection

Allowing students to reflect on and discuss what went well and what didn’t go so well in the case study provides another opportunity for language practice.

Click here to download an example case study from Business Result Upper Intermediate. You can view more sample pages from Business Result on the Teacher’s Site.


  1. One of the most effective additions would be bring in genuine outsiders for the class to interact with. If the budget allows this can take the form of actors playing the roles of customers. etc, but I managed once to get classes from two different companies to interact on a project. It was a lot of work but it was worth it as the scenario went from something slightly abstract to something which was all but real life.

  2. I think this is a very good solution to create real contexts in class and to monitor a production about a specific topic. Thank you

    • It’s good to use some steps in planning a case study as a sort of practice to realize a real context.
      You can give a list of words to build up with and a set of roles to perform. You can give supplemen-tary information and carry on with the topic exploring other aspects coming from the discussion. At the end a report should be written to analyse the whole case.

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