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Small Talk Lesson Plan

Small talk lesson plan aims at familiarising the students with the concept of small talk and some appropriate ways to overcome socially awkward situations in English. Students work in groups and try to make small talk on a number of topics. It might be used as a speaking activity or a game, where learners are timed and get points depending on how well they manage to engage their partners in small talk. It is a perfect fit for conversation classes.

The Task

Start by asking your students to answer three questions about small talk. Do they know what it is? When do they use it? Are they good at it? Then decide together which topics from the list are small talk appropriate (this is a pretty subjective issue and may vary between countries).

The next step involves identifying the Dos and Dont’s of small talk (Dos: a,b,c,g,h,i,k), and deciding whether cues in the table are appropriate conversation openers and why (there aren’t any obviously bad ones here, but encourage your students to look for open-ended questions which have enough potential to keep the conversation going for some time).

Finally, it’s game time. Divide your students into groups of 3; they can either roll the dice and move along the board, or you can cut up the squares and have your students draw topics from a stack. For smaller groups, you might want to blow up the image on the board/computer screen. Each person has got 30 seconds to come up with an opener on a given topic, and others should join in making small talk. Before you play, you might want to go through the list of Useful Expressions.

Interested in some more speaking games? Check out the Third conditional speaking activity , Moral Dilemmas and Excuses.

Personal Experience

This has been one of my most successful speaking classes to date. A lot of my adult students admitted they had always dreaded making small talk and never knew how to do it, especially when meeting people from other countries in business context (this game proved especially useful for my in-company students). It was a great activity to work on fluency, appropriate register, asking questions (word order!) and reacting naturally in English.

Materials

the board: Small Talk Board Game

the handout: Small Talk

useful expressions list: Small Talk_Useful Expressions

10 Comments

  1. I tried this with my two business classes today. Maybe I didn’t introduce the topic well enough, but it was rather lukewarm. I have Portuguese students, and they’re all very private, and don’t see the point of small talk in their own personal lives beyond dealing with people in their apartment buildings, so in the case of parties or getting to know clients/people before meetings, it was much less relevant. Anyway, they used the target language well and they all reached similar conclusions – never talk about football, under any circumstances, but politics are okay. Lol.

    I think with other cultures or perhaps groups this would have worked better. I’ll keep trying. Thanks as always.

    • Thanks for your feedback, I’m always interested to know how these lessons are working out for other teachers. You’re right that the students’ cultural background is quite important with activities such as this one. I’ve been using it for 3 years with Spanish students who were quite eager to engage in this game, but just recently I’ve tried it with my Polish student and the result was very. different.

  2. I discussed small talk as a theme last year with other students, also Portuguese, and they were much warmer to the idea. It was more useful for their personal lives. So this material would have been good with them for sure. Everyone’s different.

  3. Going to give this a try with a group of Spanish students. It will be very interesting as they seem to struggle with boundaries when meeting new people and making small talk.

      • The students loved it. They didn’t want to stop. Messed up my lesson plan but they had so much fun. We decided to go through all the given topics for the next 5 lessons. Thank you so much for sharing this! I would recommend it to anyone who needs a good activity to get shy students talking.

        • That’s wonderful, Larry! Thanks so much for letting me know. I would also recommend checking out the small talk improv game. It’s really fun and dynamic.

  4. Thank you so much for your carefully thought out and always interesting lessons shared for free on the internet.They are such a help for getting through some classes when I have run out of ideas or just need a fresh eye! If you ever put everything together in a book, I will be first in the queue to order it!

    • Hi Emily, thank you very much for such a kind comment. That is exactly the objective of this page; to help out other teachers in need of ideas or tips. Hope you keep coming back 🙂

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