Structuring the Case Discussion

Well-designed cases are intentionally complex. Therefore, presenting an entire case to students all at once has the potential to overwhelm student groups and lead them to overlook key details or analytic steps. Accordingly, Barbara Cockrill asks students to review key case concepts the night before, and then presents the case in digestible “chunks” during a CBCL session. Structuring the case discussion around key in-depth questions, Cockrill creates a thoughtful interplay between small group work and whole group discussion that makes for more systematic forays into the case at hand.


Barbara Cockrill, Harold Amos Academy Associate Professor of Medicine

Student Group



Harvard Medical School


Homeostasis I

Group Size

40 students

Additional Details

First-year requisite

  • CBCL provides students the opportunity to apply course material in new ways. For this reason, you might consider not sharing the case with students beforehand and having them experience it in class with fresh eyes.
  • Chunk cases so students can focus on case specifics and gradually build-up to greater complexity and understanding. 
  • Introduce variety into case-based discussions. Integrate a mix of independent work, small group discussion, and whole group share outs to keep students engaged and provide multiple junctures for students to get feedback on their understanding.