If you’re looking for some small talk ideas for teaching English language learners, here are some of the best topics, questions, and activities to try out with your students. Keep on reading for everything you need to about teaching ESL small talk in style!
Good Small Talk Subjects
If you’re looking for some small talk ideas, here are some of the subjects that students might want to talk about:
- The weather.
- Local sports teams.
- The location of where you are, and how you got there.
- Food and restaurants.
- Upcoming holiday plans.
- Things in the news.
- Upcoming weekend.
- Previous weekend.
- How someone has been.
Small Talk Ideas: ESL Games and Activities
Check out the top options for games and activities for small talk classes for ESL.
#1: Find Something in Common
This is a simple ESL activity that’s ideal for high-beginners to advanced English learners. It’s a nice icebreaker activity, or as a way to practice small talk.
Students have to circulate around the class with a pen and paper, talking to their classmates. They have to find out the other person’s name and then have a short conversation to find out something that they have in common. It could be a favourite food, hometown, TV show they both like, etc. Learn more about it here:
#2: What do you Know a Lot About?
This is a small talk activity for intermediate and advanced learners. Here’s how to do it:
- Students write down 3 things that they know a lot about that they think other people would be interested in. It can be simple things like how to cook their favourite dish, a restaurant, a TV show, etc.
- Then, students find a partner and chat with their topics for 4-5 minutes.
- After that, students find a new partner and repeat the process.
- Repeat the process as many times as you’d like but it can get boring after 3-4 rounds.
- (optional) Students find a partner that they haven’t talked to yet and report back about some of the things that they learned about other students in the class, using reported speech.
#3: Small Talk Tic-Tac-Toe
This is a fun ESL game that’s ideal for getting students to talk about a variety of conversation topics. Here’s how you do it:
- Print off this grid, one per every four students: Small Talk Activity.
- Put students into pairs and then each pair joins with another pair (4 people total in a group).
- The two teams do rocks-scissor-paper. The winner chooses one of the topics from the grid. That team has to talk about the topic for 1-2 minutes (depending on level and time allotted for this activity) while the other team times it.
- If they’re able to talk about the topic without a pause of longer than 5 seconds, they can make that grid off on the board with an X or O.
- The next team goes.
- The first team with three in a row is the winner.
#4: Conversation Starters
For beginners, telling them to talk with their partner for 2-3 minutes about the weather or hobbies can be very overwhelming. They definitely need more structure to be able to do this effectively. Free-talking and more free-flowing conversations will come later on in their language learning journey.
Give students some questions and prompts to help get the conversation started. I also strongly encourage follow-up questions, instead of just going question-by-question down the sheet. If the topic is the weather, here are some good convo starters:
- Do like being out in the rain?
- Do you like summer or winter more?
- What’s your favourite season?
- What’s your least favourite season.
- What do you think about the weather today.
#5: Small Talk Surveys
When teaching beginners, many of the other activities on the list don’t have enough structure to work well for them. That’s where something like a small talk survey can come in.
Fill up the survey sheet with yes/no questions like:
- Did you take the bus to school today?
- Did you do something fun last weekend?
- Do you have any plans for tonight?
Then, students have to mingle and find someone who says to the question. Then, the student can ask 1-2 follow-up questions. For example:
- How long does it take for you to get to school?
- What do you do on the bus?
Check out more about this:
#6: Videos as a Small Talk Intro
I love using videos in my classes. One of the topics that people often engage in for small talk is about current events. For my higher-level students, I like to show a quick news clip about something happening in the world. After that, I get students to chat with their partners for a few minutes about what they saw and what they think about it.
#7: Cocktail Party
Prep students well in the class before, or at the beginning of the class. Explain the following:
- Good topics for small talk
- Bad small talk topics
- How to start a small talk conversation
- How to finish a small talk conversation
- The number of people who usually have a conversation at a party.
Then, have a “cocktail party.” It can be more fun to have an actual party with some snacks and drinks but this certainly isn’t necessary.
Students can stand up and have short conversations using some of the topic ideas you’ve discussed. Then, they can close the conversation and move on to another conversation with someone else.
This activity is even better if you can practice with another class of students so that people don’t already know each other. Then, it even more closely replicates real life. An activity like this is ideal for building confidence with small talk and teaching some skills that students can use out in the world.
#8: ESL Weather Activities
Canadians love talking about the weather! It’s our #1 small talk conversation topic by far. Here are some of the best games and activities to help students with this:
#9: Find Someone Who Bingo
This is a nice icebreaker activity for beginners. It’s also ideal for reviewing small talk as the questions and topics are about acquiring general information. Have a look here:
#10: How to Close a Conversation
A big part of small talk is knowing how to open and close a conversation. Here are some tips and tricks for doing that well:
#11: Vocab Sheets
Vocabulary sheets are a nice solution for getting students to talk about common topics with a partner or in a small group. They’re a low-prep solution for any conversation class. Check them out here:
#12: Role-Playing Situations
Assign students different scenarios that require small talk, such as meeting a new colleague, waiting in a line, or attending a social event. Ask them to role-play these situations in pairs or small groups, practicing small talk introductions and engaging in casual conversations. Provide feedback and encourage them to use appropriate language and body language.
#13: Picture Prompts
Show students pictures of various scenes, such as a coffee shop, park, or office setting. Ask them to discuss what they see and engage in small talk based on the picture. For example, they can talk about the weather, their favorite coffee, or the activities they would enjoy in that setting.
#14: Speed Networking
Divide the class into two groups: “A” and “B.” Pair up one student from group A with one student from group B. Set a timer for a specific duration (e.g., one minute). During this time, students engage in small talk and try to learn as much as possible about their partner. After the time is up, they switch partners and repeat the process. This activity encourages students to ask and answer questions quickly while practicing small talk skills.
#15: News or Current Events Discussion
Choose a recent news article or a current event topic and provide students with some background information. Students can discuss their opinions, share related personal experiences, and engage in small talk about the topic. This activity not only promotes small talk skills but also encourages critical thinking and cultural awareness.
Small Talk ESL Lessons
If you’re a teacher, then you know how much time it can save to use lesson plans that other teachers have created. Here are some of the top options for ESL small talk lesson plans.
More Ideas for Teaching ESL Speaking
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 138 Pages - 05/30/2015 (Publication Date)
Did you like these ideas for small talk and conversation classes? Then you’re going to love this book you can easily find on Amazon: 39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities for Teenagers and Adults.
The key to better English classes for teens and adults is a wide variety of interesting, interactive and engaging activities and this book will help you get there in style. You can find the book in digital, print, and audio formats.
Pick up your copy of the book today and get ready for better English classes tomorrow. Check it out now:
Small Talk Ideas FAQs
There are a number of common questions that people have about making small talk. Here are the answers to some of the most popular ones.
How do I make small talk on ESL?
To make small talk for ESL students, here is some advice:
- Stick to safe topics like the weather, sports teams, weekend plans and hobbies.
- Avoid topics like money, politics or religion.
- Keep conversations short. 2-3 minutes is great.
- Don’t interrupt people already talking to each other. Wait for a break in the conversation.
- Listen! Ask good follow-up questions.
- Avoid giving 1-word answers. Give 1-2 more pieces of information in your answer.
- Don’t talk for too long! Each turn should only be 10-20 seconds.
What is small talk ESL?
Small talk ESL is a casual kind of conversation that breaks the ice when two people don’t know each other that well. It’s ideal for when people are meeting for the first time. It can also fill times of awkward silence.
Why is small talk important?
Small talk is important because it serves as a bonding ritual in most cultures. It helps to define relationships between people and serves as the groundwork for a deeper relationship of some kind.
How do you start a small conversation?
Here are some ways to start a small conversation.
- Make a comment on the weather.
- Pay someone a compliment.
- Introduce yourself and ask for the other person’s name.
- Talk about the venue you are at.
- Ask how they know the host of the party or event.
ESL Small Talk Ideas: Join the Conversation
Do you have any ideas for topics for small talk or small talk games or activities? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think about it. We’d love to hear from you. If you’re looking for a more advanced speaking lesson resource, take a look at our informative and demonstration speech articles.
Last update on 2022-07-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API