Case Studies for ESL Teachers


Case studies can be a useful tool for you as an ESL teacher as you develop your classroom instruction, whether you're new to teaching or a seasoned professional.

Benefits of Case Studies

Case studies can focus on an issue with a specific student or an entire classroom. These studies can:

  • Help you prepare for and consider issues you have yet to come across in your own teaching.
  • Help you see beyond the surface of an issue and consider all sides to the problem.
  • Develop your analysis skills and improve your ability to deal with problems as they occur in the classroom.
  • Be an ideal complement to textbook instruction. If your professor isn't already supplementing the theoretical discussions in your readings with practical applications, take some time to seek them out and broaden your understanding.

Cases don't necessarily have to include ESL students or classrooms to be of use. A student facing reading difficulties will still bring these issues to an ESL class.

If you teach adult ESL students, you will likely find more value from a study of an adult GED program than from one featuring an elementary ESL classroom. On the other hand, mainstream classroom teachers with a few ESL students can also find benefit from reading case studies about self-contained ESL classrooms.

Finding Case Studies

  • "Mainstreaming ESL: Case Studies in Integrating ESL Students into the Mainstream Curriculum" is a scholarly publication featuring nine case studies from around the world. In each example, ESL students were successfully integrated into a mainstream classroom. Request the book from your university library or read it online at Google Books.
  • The Elementary & Middle Schools Technical Assistance Center has posted an ESL case study called "Breaking the Language Barrier." This example presents a picture of a struggling ESL classroom from the perspective of the principal, the teacher, and the teacher's aide. It offers extensive fodder for discussion, including teaching students from war-torn countries, helping students with different cultural expectations get along, and the use of the native language along with the target language in instruction.
  • Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems (CASAS) includes a different sort of case study on the organization's website. These short descriptions are focused on entire programs instead of individual classrooms. However, teachers can still find useful tidbits among these broad descriptions. They may also find larger ideas to bring to their department head or school principal.
  • "Aboriginal Students Can Succeed: Case Studies of Ten Successful Aboriginal Students" is a book and online publication from Dr. Diane J. Russell. Although the issue of teaching Aboriginal students is unique to Australia, the lessons learned from these cases can be applied to many non-mainstream students.

Create Your Own Case Study

Some teachers will be asked to create a case study as part of their continuing education and professional development. However, even if it isn't an official assignment, creating one can be a good way to delve deeper into your instructional methods and arrive at a better understanding of your students. Using Cases in Teaching from Penn State can help you think about the elements and composition of a good case.

Case Studies for ESL Teachers