The Cocktail Party: A Small Talk ESL Speaking Activity

The Cocktail Party-ESL Small Talk Activity

My Favorite Small Talk ESL Speaking Activity

Small talk is a necessary skill, but this can be a difficult skill for non-native speakers to master. This is especially true for those from countries where such conversation is not common. You can use this small talk ESL activity to help your students practice small talk. The best part about it is that it replicates real life. A party is a very normal place to meet people for the first time and engage in small talk.

What this Small Talk ESL Speaking Activity is all About

Explain to the students that they are at a cocktail party being thrown by their spouse/partner’s company. They must engage in small talk with a group of 3-4 others for 2-3 minutes.

You may need to scaffold the activity with common cocktail party conversation: current events, sports, even the weather, if they must. Let them know certain topics are NOT appropriate at a cocktail party: political opinions, religious discussions, salary, or any other controversial topics.

Additionally, demonstrate how to ask follow-up questions. Go over who/what/when/where/why/how. Students usually already know this, but it’s good for them to have them to have it fresh in their heads.

The main points of the activity are to practice speaking with relative strangers about inconsequential topics and asking follow-up questions. Wrap up the activity by asking each group what topics they discussed and give feedback.

Small Talk ESL Speaking Activity Teaching Tip:

Depending on the level of your students, when you demonstrate the activity, you may need to bring to their attention that you are making follow up questions, based on your partner’s answers. Otherwise, your students may end up asking each other a list of unrelated questions without really listening to the answers. Emphasize that it’s not just a speaking activity. Good listening skills are very important as well.

Procedure for this ESL Speaking Activity:
  1. Explain to your class that they will be attending a cocktail party for their spouse/partner’s company. Their spouse/partner is called away (to answer a call, talk to the boss, whatever), so they must mingle alone.

  2. Elicit from students typical topics of cocktail party conversation. Add to the list, as necessary: current events, sports, favorite TV shows (particularly very popular ones that the other guests are likely to be familiar with), etc.

  3. Elicit from students topics of conversation which would NOT be appropriate, such as salary, age, religion, etc. If necessary, explain that these topics would be considered personal or controversial.

  4. Have students stand and begin to mingle.

  5. After 2-3 minutes, have students change groups. You could require students to talk 1-1, or you could allow some bigger groups of 3-4. It’s up to you. Time allowing, have them chat with three groups for 2-3 minutes each.

Need more Small Talk ESL Awesome from Jackie?

Here’s a fun small talk game for ESL students.

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