How to teach ending conversations

Alex Case
Stimulating presentation and practice activities for smoothly finishing small talk, business meetings, etc, with ending conversations games.

Smoothly ending conversations can be difficult even for native speakers, and English language learners can have additional problems such as cultural differences, not knowing typical phrases, and being too shy or slow to interrupt the other person. Learning to quickly but politely finish speaking to someone is therefore well worth some class time, especially with students who need to take part in business communication such as networking, meetings and socialising in English.

What students need to know about ending conversations

Although this is by no means used every time in real life, I like to teach the longest and therefore smoothest way of ending conversations, which has the pattern:

  • “Transitions word to show the topic is changing
  • + something nice about the conversation
  • + but/ and
  • + reason for ending the conversation
  • + mentioning stopping
  • + tag question etc to get a response”

Examples with exactly this structure include “Well, it’s been great to chat, but someone else is waiting to come in here, so we’ll have to stop there for today, if you don’t mind” and “So, I think we’ve made some great decisions today and lunchtime is approaching, so let’s call it a day, shall we?” You could also add reactions to what was said just before (“Don’t worry, I’m sure it will work out okay”) at the beginning and/ or mentioning future contact (“but you must tell me more about this next week”) at the end of such phrases.

How to present the language of ending conversations

Perhaps the most natural way to model this kind of language is simply to use it yourself at the end of each class (even if you wouldn’t use all the steps in your normal life). After several weeks of hearing you use such phrases to quickly but politely draw the class to a close, students should then be ready for an actual presentation activity such as a jigsaw task.

Ending conversations phrases jigsaws

Ending conversations step-by-step jigsaws

Make around five to seven examples of long ending conversations phrases with the parts above that you want to present such as “So, you must tell me more about that later but I have to speak to John before he leaves, so I’ll have to say bye for now, if that’s okay”. Put them in a table with similar parts in the same column, cut it up, then ask students to put the cards together to make possible phrases (telling them that many different matches are possible). They can then classify the different columns and make sure all the sentences have the same functions in the same places to help and start checking their answers. After checking their answers with an un-cut-up copy of the worksheet, they can brainstorm those kinds of phrases into a blank version of the table and/ or deal out the cards to be used when they roleplay ending conversations.

Split ending conversations phrases jigsaws

For a much quicker and easier task with less cutting up, divide each phrase into two, cutting them in a place which means they can only be put back together in one way. After students match them, they can then analyse what they have in common.

Split ending conversations phrases pairwork

You can also put those phrases split into two onto Student A and Student B worksheets for students to match and fill in their missing halves of (initially without showing their worksheets to each other).

Ending conversations cultural differences and useful phrases

Students label descriptions of ending conversations like “People often give a really specific reason for ending the conversation” and accompanying useful language like “I have to be in an online meeting in five minutes” with any matching countries and cultures they know about or can guess. After comparing what things are and are not common in their country, they should try to add the accompanying useful language to a copy of the worksheet that has had those parts removed.

Ending conversations practice activities

Ending conversations signalling games

While students are talking, the teacher gives a signal such as raising one hand and someone tries to finish the conversation as quickly but smoothly as they can. If you want to give points, the student who does so can get a point (as long as it wasn’t too abrupt) and/ or the first group in the class to finish smoothly get points.

Ending conversations limit games

Set students a time limit such as “two minutes” and ask them to smoothly end the conversation as close to that time limit as they can. This can be made more fun by asking them to do it without looking at a clock and giving points for whoever did so (smoothly) closest to the time. You could also give points for whoever does it soonest after the time limit (but no points for anyone who does so before) and/ or give a shorter and shorter time limit each time.

Ending conversations card games

Student put down or take cards as they successfully smoothly end conversations. As well as the parts of phrases from the jigsaw activities mentioned above, this can be done with cards with keywords (“later”, etc) or names of sub-functions (“reason for ending”).

Ending conversations board games

Students work their way around a board with conversation topics, situations, and/ or people they might have to speak to in real life in each square. The person who is on that square should lead a conversation related to what is written there and then smoothly end it. They can then move on up to six squares, but with one point off for:

  • stopping the conversation too early or letting the conversation go on for too long
  • stopping the conversation abruptly
  • silence and/ or awkwardness before they smoothly finished
  • not using a suitable smoothly finishing phrase (one that is too short, too formal, too casual, etc)
  • language problems with the smoothly finishing phrase (grammar mistakes, etc)

As there are five things that they can be punished for, this means everyone moves between one and six squares each time.

Written by Alex Case for
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers

One comment

  • Yannick Paquin says:

    Thank you for these very practical tips !

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