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How to Use Case Studies

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Just as there are many possible answers to problems in case studies, there are many possible ways to use case studies in your teaching. However, master educators who use our case studies report that they often:

  1. Provide a quiet environment for students to read the introduction during class or assign it as a reading assignment prior to class.

  2. Assign students to small collaborative groups to discuss the questions and formulate their responses. Then some class time is utilized to hold a whole-class discussion about the case study. The whole-class discussion may be instructor or student (individual or group) led.

  3. They seize the opportunity offered by deep student engagement in the case study to present any content not previously taught in class.

  4. They periodically intervene to address questions that appear to be challenging for some students or to make connections between the case and the course content.

  5. Allow students to practice scientific writing using the claim-evidence-reasoning method and math skills independently, then solicit peer review and feedback, and then refine their responses.

  6. Cultivate a reflective classroom atmosphere grounded in trust. This invites students to reveal their insights and understanding. Students are encouraged to be the producers, not just the consumers, of knowledge.

  7. Close case studies with a reflection question along the lines of: "What have I (or we) learned from this case scenario?"

There are lots of ways to structure student collaboration, but it is perhaps most important to provide a reason for students to collaborate. For starters, the activity needs to be sufficiently complex for students to benefit from collaboration. More complex activities are more challenging, engaging, stimulating, multilayered, and elicit more benefit from working together. The best collaborative learning structures ensure that all students participate by building in required discussion, debate, and consensus-building. They also help all students, especially those who struggle, feel valued and play an important role.

Collaboration should not just strengthen students' existing skills but ensure that their interactions stretch existing knowledge and expand one another’s expertise. The goal is to make sure that students don’t just occupy the same physical space but that they share an intellectual space - prompting them to learn more, do more, and experience more together than they would alone.

As teachers, we can provide authentic collaboration by shifting our role from instructor to facilitator by providing clearly defined roles in proven group learning structures, checking in on students and providing instant feedback, and helping students increasingly learn to work together productively to attain a common goal. Some of the most common collaborative learning structures include:


Pose a question or prompt for students to discuss and tell them how much time they will have. Typically, a 1-3 minute discussion is most productive. Have students turn to a specific partner. Pair students using Eyeball Partners, Shoulder Partners, or Clock Partners. Partner assignments should be set up beforehand so that students can quickly and easily pair up. Set a timer for the allotted time, and have students begin discussing the assigned question or prompt.

Eyeball Partners

When students are seated at tables or in groups, “eyeball partners” are students who are facing in front of each other.

Shoulder Partners

When students are seated at tables or in groups, “shoulder partners” are students who are seated next to each other. This may also be used when students are seated in rows.

Clock Partners

Using a clock template placed between a group of 4 students, identify classmates by their position indicated by the hands of the clock: one for 12 o’clock, one for 3 o’clock, one for 6 o’clock, and one for 9 o’clock.

For example, a teacher may say, “When I ask you to, I want you to turn to your shoulder partner and talk about this question. You will have 2 minutes. Be prepared to tell the whole class what you discussed if I call on you. Make sure you both get a chance to speak and that you listen to one another. I may ask you to tell us what your partner said.”

Circulate through the classroom and eavesdrop on the conversations, being careful not to linger to long in any one conversation. When time is up, the teacher leads the class by asking a sample of partners to share thoughts and ideas from their discussion.


Have students write a response to a prompt or a question. Tell students to pair up and share their responses. Reconvene the class and ask pairs to report back on their conversations. Variations include:


To work on students’ listening skills, tell them that they can only share their partner’s viewpoint during “Share.”


After “Pair,” have partners “Square” with another pair to discuss their ideas, making a group of 4.

Peer Instruction

Ask students to consider a challenging question. Students take 1-2 minutes to quietly formulate their answers to the question and then write them down. Then students are assigned to work in small groups to arrive at consensus. This group discussion often results in students explaining the concepts and providing clarifications to their teammates who may have answered it differently at first (thus the name of the practice, Peer Instruction). Whole-class discussion, guided by the instructor, takes place as a final step providing additional modeling of concepts and further clarification as needed.


Provide students with a Pro-Con-Caveat Grid or have them make them. For example:


Prompt students to complete the grid listing the pros and cons of the question. Then have them provide caveats (necessary considerations or limitations). For example:

Three-Step Interview

Students are grouped into small groups of three. Each member in the group assumes the role of interviewer, interviewee and reporter/note-taker; and each student gets an opportunity to play each role.

Students are given 2-3 minutes to prepare their thoughts and questions. Two, interviewing time can be a fixed time of 3-5 minutes, after which an 1 minute is given to prepare for the next role. Three, after the interviews are conducted 2 minutes can be provided for the students to complete note-taking.

The interviewing process is conducted in three steps:

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