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Workplace Lesson Idea: Making Small Talk


Students may have opportunities to interact with their co-workers and engage in small talk at break times. Being able to join in the conversations around them about everyday issues will aid communication skills and make them feel part of the team.

  • Pictures of family members (such as wallet photos), movie ticket stub, receipt to a restaurant, a flyer to an event/concert, current local newspaper; including local interest stories, headlines, sports page, entertainment section, etc. Company newsletters or current memos.
  • Student Handout: Small Talk at Work
  • Warm-up: Discuss with your class the meaning of the phrase "small talk". What is it? What is it about? When does it happen?
  • Distribute the handout Small Talk at Work. Ask students what topics they have heard their co-workers discussing, that they are unfamiliar with. Model using the newspapers, newsletters and other materials to investigate these topics and learn enough about them to be able to join the conversation.
  • Typical subjects for small talk are weather, sports, movies, and current events. Small talk tends to be rich in slang and idioms, so this is a good chance to teach some common phrases appropriate to these subjects. Check the Resources page for some good idiom lists on the web.
  • Explain that some topics are not appropriate for small talk: very personal information, politics, money and religion.
  • Write some questions on the board that students can use to initiate conversations in different areas. "Did I see you driving a new car?" "What do you think about the new company_________ policy?" "Where are you going on vacation?" "What are your plans for the weekend?" "How long have you worked here?" "Which sports do you like?" Ask students for more suggestions.
  • Break up into pairs or small groups and use these questions to initiate practice conversations.
  • Another good strategy is responding to news events. Explain that it is common for Americans to talk about news reports and to express their feelings about what they have heard or read. For example: "I was shocked to hear about the shooting in Colorado." "I was upset to hear about the teacher walk-outs here." "I was frightened to hear about the wild-fire in Florida." I was excited to hear that Pavarotti will perform in Seattle."
  • Use newspapers (or simplified newspapers such as "News for You" and "Easy English News") to have students prepare sentences stating their own feelings about different events or situations, and use them in more practice conversations.
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