Our goal of teaching English as a foreign language is to make our students be able to communicate in the target language. Thus, teachers need to create opportunities for their students to practice their language skills.  Especially for the development of speaking skills, students need practice. One of the methods which provide opportunities for practice in a real-life context is case-based discussion.

In case-based discussion, students work in groups of five or six students. Each group has been given a case to discuss. The more interesting the case is the more your learners become willing to take part in the discussion. Also, it may be better if the case is related to learners’ own experiences, and if the topics they are familiar with are selected. In this case, there must be a problem that is difficult to deal with, and the students try to solve it in a way. If the problem is too easy to solve, students may find the solution quickly, and they may lose interest in the activity. If the case is too challenging for them, they may give up discussing it because they cannot find any appropriate solutions for the problem. Moreover, cases must not be based on sensitive topics such as politics and religion. Thus, the choice of cases has great importance for this activity. Some open-ended questions may be added to encourage students to speak about the case. Just one case can be discussed in all groups or each group may have a different case to discuss in a speaking class. When all the groups finish discussing the case(s), a whole class discussion takes place about the case(s).

During this activity, students work with real-life cases. In this way, they get involved in real decision-making situations. They identify the problems and the context in the cases. They try to find possible solutions for the problems by sympathizing with the people in the cases and experiencing their ambiguities and uncertainties. Therefore, the case-based discussion is based on real events or problems. Students work together to analyze the situation and find a solution to a specific problem based on a case. Thus, students interact with each other well in a student-centered atmosphere. In addition to the high level of interaction, students may develop critical and analytical thinking and deductive and subjective reasoning. They may reflect on their relevant experiences, and draw conclusions that may be used for new situations. The activity provides learners with opportunities for collaboration and developing communication skills because they become more engaged, interested, and involved in the class thanks to this activity.

I have done this activity with my students several times in my classes. They worked in groups, and each group had a different case. In the end, we discussed all the cases as a whole class. One of the cases I prepared for them to discuss was as the following:

  Case 1: Judy and Anna are close friends. Judy has had a boyfriend, Sam, for six years, and her boyfriend has just asked her to marry him. They are getting married next month. One day while Anna is shopping, she sees Sam. She wants to say hi to him, but suddenly she notices that there is a girl with him, and they are very close to each other. At that moment, Sam sees Anna and says that if she tells Judy what she has seen, he will tell Judy Anna is lying and wants to separate them. Anna cannot decide what to do. If she tells Judy the truth, she may lose her friend. However, if she doesn’t tell the truth, Judy will get married to a liar. If you were Anna, what would you do? Would you tell Judy the truth? Why? If you were Sam, what would you do? Would you tell your girlfriend the truth in case Anna tells it before you do? Why? If you were Judy, would you like to know the truth or would you prefer not to learn about it and continue your happy life? Why? Have you ever heard a real story similar to this one or have you witnessed a situation like this one? Please explain.

My students really got into this activity. They said that it increased their willingness to take part in the interaction. They really enjoyed discussing challenging real-life cases. Moreover, they stated that they felt more comfortable while speaking and sharing their opinions with their friends in small groups.

We did the activity in the classroom before the pandemic, but it can easily be done online via some web tools such as Zoom, Backchannel, or Padlet. Planning a good case-based discussion activity may make your students more eager to speak and share their ideas and increase interaction in the classroom which creates many learning opportunities for learners.