This is a 1 1/2 hour lesson on making small talk. It asks students to think about the purpose of small talk and appropriate topics for casual conversation. Then they practice speaking briefly on various topics with a board game.
Students will be able to identify appropriate and inappropriate topics for making small talk. They will also 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 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 the subject 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 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: Small talk sets a friendly tone for business meetings or encounters with neighbors or co-workers. 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.)
Groups (of 3 or 4) will cut apart the topics on the list. After discussing each, they'll place them on 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. They should also add 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, group 2 a third, etc., until they have mentioned all the appropriate topics in each pile. Then
they will take turns listing topics in their inappropriate piles.)
Elicit from students possible ways to express discomfort or change the subject if someone 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. The spaces they land on direct students to draw a card from the pile of appropriate topics and
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 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.)