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 objective 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 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

Outline:

  • 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.
  • Students begin by reviewing key functions and grammar by matching purpose to expression to form. Review as a class and discuss any questions in usage.
  • Ask students to complete the first section Small Talk - Appropriate? by discussing whether the topics 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 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 - Understanding Forms

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 '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.

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
  • 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 - 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
  • 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