My Favorite Small Talk ESL Speaking Activity
Small talk is a necessary skill, but can be difficult for non-native speakers, especially those from countries where such conversation is not common. 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.
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.
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.
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. Time allowing, have them chat with three groups for 2-3 minutes each.
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It came from this book, which has 38 more warm-up activities for teenagers and adults. They’re guaranteed to get your classes off to a great start.