Business case studies

Business case studies

“OK, but for example, our business case…”, “Can we talk about my real-life situation?”, “I’d like to discuss my business scenario”, “Have you heard what happened with company ZZZ? They’re our main competitors! Let’s discuss it today!”, “How do I apply these new words and phrases to the situations that affect my company?”

When you teach Business English it’s even more crucial than usual to personalise the language and to provide the students with opportunity to apply new knowledge, to speak for fluency, to have more production tasks, and on top of that – to have real-life topics. Business students do not need English just for English. They need it for business, for their work. They have a specific purpose. One of the ideas is to use business case studies.

What is a business case study?

It is an authentic problematic situation or a case from a business context that  students discuss, solve or give their opinion about it; contrast the decisions with each other.


The case considers IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC), a program that had become the largest pro bono consulting program in the world. The case describes the program’s triple-benefit: leadership training to the brightest young IBMers, brand recognition for IBM in emerging markets, and community improvement in the areas served by IBM’s host organizations. As the program entered its second decade in 2016, students are asked to consider how the program can be improved. The case allows faculty to lead a discussion about training, marketing in emerging economies, and various ways of providing social benefit. The case highlights the synergies as well as trade-offs between pursuing these triple benefits.

Why is it a good idea to use case studies?

There’re lots of reasons to include case studies in your Business course:

  • they are real-life business scenarios;
  • they encourage, ignite professional dialogues and discussions, excite and foster the interest in professional matters. As a result they stimulate students to talk;
  • they develop students’ critical thinking skills as case studies are usually based on complex and ambiguous issues which can have several solutions and to choose the best solution you need to look at the problem from different perspectives, to see a full picture. Additionally, it provides professional and English practice in an extended context and forces to reflect on judgements;
  • students learn to think independently, discuss, analyse and communicate solutions in a succinct and professional way.

Where to find case studies?

There are several main sources:

  1. business coursebooks like In Company (there are 5 Case Studies in “In Company” that include videos too, the themes provide a base for integrated skills and roleplay) or Business Result (there’s a case study after almost every Unit. These workplace scenarios are accompanied by an Expert View from Cranfield School of Management, one of Europe’s leading management schools. All case studies are linked to the topic of the Unit, industry and business);
  2. case studies books;
  3. websites, universities’ pages like Yale school of management or Harvard Business Publishing
  4. and your students!

How is the lesson structured?

Let’s have a look at some coursebooks. For example, the topic “Passing the buck” from In Company, Pre-Intermediate.

  1. Usually there are several texts to read and/or videos that are followed by questions to check comprehension and to set the discussion about students’ opinion and to personalise the language.
    Source: In Company, 3rd edition, Pre-Intermediate, Student’s book, p. 28-29
    1. After that there’s a role-play (e.g. students get cards: HR Manager, Boss, IT Manager, R&D Manager; and there’s a description of their role and attitude toward the topic) where they have to put themselves in other’s shoes, discuss the issue and make a decision. Finally, there can be an additional production task to reinforce the language.

    In Business Result the structure of the lesson is similar: background scenario, discussion, personalisation and role-play.

    Source: Business Result, Intermediate, Student’s book, p.11

    Another idea is to ask your students to find and share some case studies they’d like to talk about on the lesson, these can be scenarios even from their company. This kind of lesson will be more learner-centered as your students will lead the discussions. Your role mainly will be to prompt with the necessary vocabulary. You may ask one student to prepare a case, which you will use to set the discussion and organise a role-lay based on it. Or you can ask several or even all the students to contribute, but it’s better if all of them are linked to the Unit topic you’re currently working on. As you can practise the words they’ve learnt and extend their vocabulary on the familiar theme.

    All in all when you teach Business students make sure you make lessons as close to real-life as possible, include interesting business scenarios and authentic materials, choose themes that affect real organisations.

    Keep all this in mind and enjoy your lessons!

    Наринэ Егорова

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