Small Talk Lesson Plan

Business people talking in meeting
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The ability to make small talk comfortably is one of the most desired objectives 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 and addresses the issue of appropriate subjects.

Difficulties in small talk skills can arise from a number of factors including grammar uncertainties, comprehension problems, lack of topic specific vocabulary, and a general lack of confidence. The lesson introduces a discussion of appropriate small talk topics. Make sure to give students ample time 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

Small Talk Lesson Outline

  • Write "Small Talk" on the board. Brainstorm as a class to define small talk. Write examples on the board.
  • Discuss the importance of small talk skills with the class. Here is a making small talk page for ideas.
  • Divide students into groups of 3 - 5.
  • Give students the small talk work sheet.
  • Students begin by reviewing key functions and grammar by matching purpose, expression, and form. Review as a class. Discuss any questions in usage.
  • Ask students to discuss whether the topics provided in the second section are appropriate for making small talk. Students can also decide that some topics are appropriate in certain situations but not in others. 
  • 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, as well as explanations for those topics which students feel are not appropriate. Feel free to let students debate their opinions to help develop conversational skills.
  • Have students get back into their groups and play the small talk game in the third section. Circulate around the room helping students when they run into difficulties.
  • Take notes on subjects that students find difficult. As a class, brainstorm on appropriate comments.

Understanding Forms Used in Small Talk

Match the conversational purpose to the expression in the second column. Identify the appropriate grammar structure in the third column.

Hit Your Small Talk Target
PurposeExpressionStructure

Ask about experience

Give advice

Make a suggestion

Express an opinion

Imagine a situation

Provide instructions

Offer something

Confirm information

Ask for more details

Agree or disagree

Open the package. Fill out the Forms.

Where can I find out more?

I'm afraid I don't see it that way.

Have you ever visited Rome?

Let's go for a walk.

To me, that seems like a waste of time.

You live in San Francisco, don't you?

Would you like something to drink?

If you were the boss ,what would you do?

You should visit Mt. Hood. 

Conditional form

Question tag

Use of "some" in questions rather than "any"

To me, In my opinion, I think

Information question

Modal verbs such as "should", "ought to", and "had better"

Imperative form

Let's, Why don't you, How about 

Present perfect for experience

I'm afraid I don't see / think / feel that way.

Which Topics are Appropriate?

Which topics are appropriate for small talk discussions? For topics which are appropriate, think of one interesting comment to make when the teacher calls on you. For topics which are not appropriate, 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
  • Cars
  • 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
  • Gardening
  • Your health problems
  • Your family

Small Talk Game

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 30 seconds to make a comment about the suggested subject. If you don't, you lose your turn!

  • Your best friend
  • The last film you saw
  • Pets
  • 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