Small talk improv speaking activity

In this activity, students improvise situations in which they are forced to make small talk with random people they bumped into in random places. It is a great game to start or finish your more advanced classes. It helps students work on their fluency and think on their feet in English.

The Task

You might lead this activity in two different ways:

The Grid

Cut up the cards. Student stand in a circle, take turns drawing one card from a pile and enact the situation with a fellow student.

Paper Strips

Cut up two sets of paper strips (1= the person they meet and 2= the location). Fold the strips so that only the number is visible. Alternatively, print the sets on sheets of paper in different colours.

Students stand in a circle. Each student draws two separate strips of paper (1 and 2) and enacts the situation with a fellow student. In this scenario yo get random situations which might turn out to be funnier than the Grid.

Personal Experience

I came up with this idea when my C1 students and I got into a discussion about the nature of small talk and tried t agree on topics that actually might work. At the same time, they admitted that they dreaded being in situations they would have to engage in small talk, God forbid in English on top of that. Providing them with a couple of probable scenarios helped them get a better feeling of how making small talk might go (running into a colleague from a different department in the bathroom line might not necessarily lead to discussing politics right away, right?). This activity turned out to be a hilarious, student-centred game that at the same time required fast thinking and encouraged the use of discourse markers (e.g. anyway, right?, oh well, I see)

Take a look at my small talk board game to more practice.


Small Talk Improv_Grid

Small Talk Improv_Strips



  1. Last week I used the improv strips as a warm-up activity with a student who has problems producing on-the-spot situational language. It went really well and was lots of fun for both of us – not only was the student able to improvise a natural and fluent conversation, but she realized that she is able to use English with great confidence. The activity really motivated and empowered the student, which I personally think is something very difficult to achieve in a classroom setting. Gosia – thank you for all the hard work you’re putting into your activities, and thank you so much for sharing these materials with us – you are an inspiration for me (and for sure for lots of teachers out there in the world). Cheers! : )

  2. Oh, and I wanted to say about a small modification I made – I used an hourglass during the activity, limiting each small-talk conversation to 90 secs – at first I thought time pressure would stress / block the student, but it went really well and made the simulation even more natural (e.g. we had a conversation in the elevator, and usually these don’t last longer than 2 minutes – you have to get off at some floor : ) ).

    • Hi Paweł, thanks a lot for stopping by and leaving such nice comments! I like the idea of adding some time pressure to the task. You’re right, it makes it way more realistic. I’ll give it a try as well.

  3. I absolutely love this activity! Going to try it tomorrow with my students. Thanks for sharing!

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