This is a 1 1/2 hour lesson for Intermediate students on making small talk and choosing appropriate topics for casual conversation.
Students will be able to identify appropriate and inappropriate topics for making small talk, and will be able to begin or continue a brief conversation on several appropriate topics.
Assumptions (skills your students will need to benefit from this lesson):
Anticipated problems and possible solutions:
Problem 1: Students may be unsure what topics are acceptable to discuss in English-speaking cultures.
Solution: group discussion of various topics, comparing notes and opinions, followed by whole class confirmation (or correction.)
Problem 2: many students may feel shy & uncertain about how to begin a small talk conversation.
Solution: discuss the importance of small talk, reassure students that this is a common feeling, allow ample practice and chances to hear other students’ attempts.
Introduction/presentation (20 min.)
Introduce topic by asking students for occasions when they might want to have short conversations with acquaintances or co-workers. Elicit a few examples of topics they might discuss. Write “small talk” on the board and ask what it refers to. (Explain briefly if necessary.) “Today we’ll practice making small talk.”
Point out that many people (including native English speakers) find starting a casual conversation awkward. Ask students why it matters to be able to use small talk. (Again, discuss reasons if students can’t: it sets a friendly tone for business meetings or encounters with neighbors, co-workers, and others we deal with frequently, and it generally keeps social relations pleasant.)
Ask students about their experience with small talk in their own culture and in English.
Guided practice(40 min.): students discuss appropriate topics for small talk
Point out that some topics of conversation are appropriate for making small talk and others are not. Elicit a couple of examples of each, and ask why the inappropriate ones aren’t good. Instruct students that they will work in groups to discuss which topics are good and which are not and WHY they’re not.
Groups (of 3 or 4) will cut apart the topics on the list and after discussing each, place each into the “appropriate” or “inappropriate” piles. Ask each group to think of at least two other topics and write them on the bottom of their sheets, adding those “cards” to the proper pile after discussing them.
report back to the class on their decisions.
(A spokesperson for group 1 will give one appropriate topic, & other
groups will note if they agreed or disagreed.
Then group 2 will list another, until all appropriate topics in each
group’s piles have been mentioned. Then
they will take turns listing topics in their inappropriate piles.)
Elicit from students, and post on the board (and if needed provide more) possible ways to express discomfort or change the subject if an acquaintance brings up a topic a student doesn’t want to discuss. (i.e. “Isn’t that rather personal?” or ”I’d prefer not to talk about that,” etc.) In groups students talk about any such experiences they have had or observed.
Communicative Practice with Small Talk (30 min.)
In groups (after a demonstration), students play a board game in which the spaces they land on direct students to draw a card from the pile of appropriate topics and 1) initiate a conversation on that topic, 2) carry on a 2 minute conversation with the next player on that topic, 3) make a brief comment on any of the topics, or 4) refer back to an earlier student’s comment and continue the conversation. If a student cannot think of anything to say within 30 seconds or so, he or she does returns to his/her previous spot until the next turn.
The next player, after rolling the dice & moving to a new space, may either respond to the previous player’s unanswered card or draw another. (The teacher circulates, listening to the comments/conversations, noting errors to work on later, and helping as needed.)
After the board game, have a class discussion about which topics are easy & which are difficult to talk about. (If many have problems with some topic, that might make a good future lesson.)