The ability to make small talk comfortably is one of the most requested skills of almost any English student. This is especially true for business English learners, but applies to all. The function of small talk is the same the world over. However, which topics are appropriate for small talk can vary from culture to culture. This lesson plan focuses on helping students develop their small talk skills, while also addressing the issue of appropriate subjects. Difficulties in small talk skills can arise from a number of factors including hesitancy in grammar and comprehension skills, lack of topic specific vocabulary and a general lack of confidence. These topics can also lead to more involved conversation lessons to get at the heart of the matter, so make sure to give students ample room to delve into the subjects if they seem particularly interested.
Aim: Improving 'small talk' skills
Activity: Discussion of appropriate small talk subjects followed by a game to be played in small groups
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
- Write 'Small Talk' on the board. Ask students to brainstorm as a class to define small talk. Write examples on the board.
- Discuss the importance of small talk skills with the class. (you may want to refer to the making small talk page for ideas)
- Divide students into groups of 3 - 5.
- Give students the small talk work sheet. Ask them to complete the first section: Small Talk - Appropriate?.
- Once students have discussed the various situations, solicit responses on the various subjects from the class as a whole. Make sure to ask for examples of comments on appropriate subjects and explanations for those topics which students feel are not appropriate. Feel free to let students debate the issue (thus developing their conversational skills!), as some subjects are sure to be controversial.
- Have students get back into their groups and play the small talk game. Circulate around the room helping the students when they run into difficulties.
- Take notes on subjects that students find difficult and brainstorm on appropriate comments for those subjects after the game has finished.
Small Talk - Appropriate?
Which topics are appropriate for small talk discussions? For those topics which are appropriate, think of one interesting comment to make when the teacher calls on you. For those topics which are not appropriate, be able to explain why you believe they are not appropriate for small talk.
- The latest films
- The One True Path to Eternal Life
- The local basketball team
- A product you would like to sell to everyone
- The Death Penalty
- Your home town
- How much you make
- Your last holiday
- Your favorite movie-star
- The correct political party
- The weather
- Your health problems
- Your family
Small Talk - Socially Mixing
Play this game quickly in small groups. Throw one die to move forward from one subject to the next. When you get to the end, return to the beginning to start again. You have thirty seconds to begin making a comment about the suggested subject. If you can not, you lose your turn!
- Your best friend
- The last film you saw
- Rock and roll
- A magazine
- Learning a language
- Playing tennis
- Your current job
- An interesting excursion nearby
- The Internet
- Marilyn Monroe
- Keeping healthy
- Human cloning
- Your favorite food
- Finding a job in your country
- The last book you read
- Your worst holiday
- Something you've never done, but would like to do
- Teachers - what you like
- Teachers - what you don't like