Designing case studies for your business English classes is a great way to engage your learners and help them develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which they will certainly need if they are to succeed in using a foreign language in their jobs. Case studies are an important practical tool to engage students in hands-on learning activities, such as analyzing data, writing reports, and presenting solutions. Case studies can help to deepen learners understanding of the language, and to strengthen the business skills that can be leveraged to increase work productivity.

What is a case study?

Case studies are simulated scenarios that are designed to help learners understand and debate key business concepts. Case studies are based on authentic, real-life business problems. Typically, learners are asked to collect and analyse information and then take part in collaborative tasks.

If you want to create a case study for your English language training, you will need to consider the following points:

  • Define the skill level – What level are your learners on the CEFR scale?
  • Define the learning objectives – what do you want the learners to achieve through the case study? What target language will be practiced? What functional language is likely to be used? Will there be a grammar focus?
  • Choose a relevant scenario – the scenario should be interesting, relevant, and relatable to the learners. You will need to have a good knowledge of the business area in order to make this sound authentic. It should be generic enough to appeal to a wide subsection of learners. You should also consider the language of that community of practice. If in doubt consult your clients, do a needs analysis, or consult with industry specialists.
  • Supply information and materials – do research, and collect data, facts, and other relevant information to support the scenario. Create authentic diagrams that support the task. Your case study should resemble real-world business as much as possible.
  • Prepare the case study – create background information and describe the problem. Make sure that the students will be able to understand the vocabulary level.
  • Develop questions and activities that will help the learners understand the scenario and make decisions.
  • Set up a task where the learners will practice their communication skills, for example, a set of options that can be discussed, or a role-play where the students have to adopt a predefined position.  
  • Use a clear structure to guide the learners through the scenario and help them to analyze and understand the information.
  • Create a post-task activity to analyze, give feedback, or provide further skills practice and development.

What are the main components of a case study?

1) Background:

Provides context for the case study and sets the stage for what is to come. It typically includes information about the situation being addressed, the people or organizations involved, the relevant industry, market or products, and the services being provided. This might include:

  • photos, infographics
  • graphs & diagrams
  • articles, dialogues
  • audio & video

2) Problem or Opportunity:

No good case study can exist without a problem, the main issue or challenge that the case study is addressing. This component provides a clear understanding of what needs to be solved or achieved. The more interesting the problem, the more engaging the task. Pick a problem that is relevant to the real world business lives of your students.

3) Instructions:

Provide the learners with details about how to do the task. This component typically describes the type of interactions the learners will have and may be broken down into more than one step. Avoid contextualised instructions, as these will increase the cognitive load, leaving less brain resources to do the actual task. In other words, the instructions should stand out from the context, and leave no doubt in the minds of the learners.

4) Role Cards:

These provide students with information in the form of prompts, which they will have to integrate into their discussion. Learners can take on the roles of key players in the case study situation and engage in a simulated meeting or negotiation. This should be personalised, so that students can relate to the role. Words like “you” should be used rather than “he/she”. The prompts should be presented as bullet points, and be short and concise rather than long sentences. The tasks can also be scaffolded with useful phrases or vocabulary for weaker students. This could be language that you have focussed on earlier, or in a previous session.

5) Options: Alternatively, you can provide the learners with a set of options to discuss. Learners can participate in a class discussion or debate to consider different solutions to the case study problem. These can be listed in a table, along with advantages and disadvantages. The learners will need to evaluate the pros and cons of each option, and practice their communication and decision making skills.  

6) Post-task activities:

This can often take the form of a written task, which the learner has to complete outside of the live session. This could be an email, or report on the collaborative task. For example, students have to decide on the best marketing strategy, and have to prepare a short presentation for the next session.

What about other tasks?

An even broader variety of tasks can be used to engage learners and help them develop their business English skills. Some examples of tasks that can be used in a case study include:

  • Analyzing data and making recommendations: learners can analyze financial reports, market research, or other data to make recommendations for a company.
  • Writing a report: learners can write a report on the case study situation, including an introduction, analysis, and conclusion.
  • Presenting a solution: learners can present their recommended solution to the case study problem in a group presentation.
  • Writing emails or memos: learners can practice their business English writing skills by writing emails or memos related to the case study situation.

These are just a few examples of tasks that can be used in a case study.

In conclusion, case studies are a great tool for language training as they provide learners with an opportunity to apply their language skills to real-life business tasks. By engaging students in hands-on learning activities, such as analyzing data, writing reports, and presenting solutions, case studies help to deepen learners understanding of the language and strengthen their business skills. Additionally, case studies allow students to activate the language they are learning by using it in context, which can improve their ability to communicate effectively in real-life situations. Whether you are teaching business English, technical English, or any other specialization, incorporating case studies into your lessons can provide your learners with a much more dynamic and engaging learning experience. By making language learning relevant and practical, case studies can help learners to achieve their language goals and become more confident and effective communicators.

Image by Adrian from Pixabay


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