Here’s another simple activity for practicing small talk. The students watch a video in which a communication coach recommends asking more concrete questions that invite people to tell stories and then go on to do just that – tell short simple stories.
Levels: B1+-B2 Time: 45-60 mins Procedure:
- Brainstorm 6 places where you students might make small talk in the next several weeks (e.g. ”in the office kitchen’, ‘over lunch’, ‘on a business trip’, ‘when someone visits their office’, ‘at the beginning of a skype meeting’, etc).
- For each location brainstorm 2-3 ‘small talk’ questions that they might ask.
- [Listening] Tell the students that they’re going to watch a 2 minute video with communication advice. Play the first sentence and check the meaning of ‘Curiosity’. Then play the rest of the video: the s/s watch for gist, share what they caught in pairs and what they’re still not sure about. Elicit questions from the s/s about the bits they didn’t understand (e.g. ‘What did he say about the bus?’). Play the video again, stopping after every 20-30 seconds for the students to summarize the points (it’s better to use the interactive transcript on youtube for this activity; if you don’t know how to do this, you’ll find instructions in this post – scroll till you see screenshots of youtube).
- Get the students to transcribe the three questions that the speaker gave to exemplify his point: 32:05 What do you think about San Francisco these days? (this question is too abstract) 32:14 What’s your morning like? What’s your morning routine? 32:39 How did you get to this party tonight?
- Get the students to reformulate some of the questions that they brainstormed during Stage 2 (or add some more).
- Finally, in new pairs, the students roleplay conversations (a pair rolls a dice to determine which of the six locations to pick, role-plays a three-minute conversation, then one of the students in each pair stands up and moves to another student).
For a quick related filler, in a later lesson, it might be useful to revisit the natural responses to ‘How are you?’ (a question that doesn’t imply any news sharing) and the alternatives that actually do invite the listener to share (e.g. ‘What have you been up to lately?’):
- Write ‘How are you?’ on the board. Elicit and board (1) alternative ways to greet and (2) possible responses. Next, ask what questions could be asked to invite the person you’re talking to to share news.
- Play the video. The s/s note down an alternative to ‘How are you?’, two responses that people give and the two questions used to elicit longer responses. (Replay them using the interactive transcript on youtube if needed).
- The s/s mingle and chat, sharing their news and practicing the new alternatives and responses to ‘How are you?’ and the question ‘What have you been up to?’