Making Small Talk:
an Intermediate Level Lesson Plan

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.

Preliminary Planning

man and woman having coffee together and making small talk.small talk

Lesson objectives:

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.

Materials needed:

  • a worksheet with about 16 possible conversation topics listed (the weather, sports, a popular TV show, the national election, religion, family, your financial situation, etc.),
  • 1 pair of scissors,
  • 2 paper clips,
  • a game board for each group of 3-5 students with directions to follow on each space. (You can design or find a game board template and make enough copies for groups of 4-5 students to each have one.) If you don’t feel artistic enough to design your own, there are templates online, such as here. (The Bubbles' path is quite neutral, and you could add instructions in the bubbles.)
  • 1 die to roll per group of students
  • About 10 cards per group, each labeled with one good topic for small talk (i.e. sports, popular TV show, the weather...)

Assumptions (skills your students will need to benefit from this lesson):

  • Students are (should be) familiar with most English tenses and  with questions and answers;
  • Students have some knowledge of Anglo-American culture;
  • Students have played board games (rolling dice, moving markers forward, etc.)

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.

Making Small Talk (the Lesson Itself)

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.

Groups will 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

  1. start 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 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 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.)


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