Small talk is a vital, but often overlooked English speaking skill. I think it’s mostly because it’s not that easy to design activities to work on this. However, of the activities out there, this one that I’ve designed is one of my favourites.
Keep on reading for all the details you need to know about this 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. It’s the case for any conversation activity actually. Good conversation requires good listening and appropriate follow-up questions.
Procedure for this ESL Speaking Activity:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Have students stand and begin to mingle.
- 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.
More ESL Activities and Games
Need more Small Talk ESL Awesome?
Of course, you probably need more activities to help our your students with small talk, right? Then you’re going to want to check this out too:
What are Some Appropriate Topics for Small Talk?
Before starting this activity, I’ve sometimes showed this video to my students to give them some ideas. It’s useful for showing what kinds of topics are good, and what topics should be avoided when talking to people that you don’t really know.
Check it out here:
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Have your Say about ESL Small Talk!
What do think about this small talk activity for English learners? Do you have another go-to activity that you like to use to help your students with small talk? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear form you.
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Last update on 2019-10-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API