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Summer Readin'

Ah, summer readin'... reading so relaxed you have to drop the "g." I just finished reading a great Tutor's Column in the March 2008 issue of The Writing Lab Newsletter. The article, written by Emily Plummer, discusses the importance of making "small talk" in a tutoring session. She brings up some insightful points that illustrate the positive benefits of small talk, not the least of which is using small talk to make a writer feel more comfortable, as well as establishing a rapport with the writer.

When I first started doing consultations, I didn't engage in much small talk. Engaging in the rhythms of small talk has never been easy for me. I'm too self-conscious. My feeble attempts (How bout this weather, huh?) sound forced because they are forced. Being a newbie, I was hyper-aware of everything I was doing in a consultation--to my own detriment. After a few months of doing consultations, however, I found myself becoming more comfortable with the entire process of consulting. I felt more relaxed, which, in turn, allowed me to turn the focus off of myself and the process, and more to where it belonged: the writer. It was then it really hit me: a little bit of small talk goes a long ways.

I don't know the percentage, but for a good chunk o' people (how's that for statistically exact?) who visit the writing center are doing so for the first time. There's a good chance they could be nervous, or possibly uncertain about the Writing Center Experience. A few small words, even if they do sound socially perfunctory, allows the writer to ease into the session. "How ya doin'? How's your semester going? Did you see last night's 'So You Think You Can Dance?" These types of questions (okay, maybe the last one is too much) can be integral in establishing rapport.

Being somewhat socially awkward, I was surprised at how a simple bit of small talk could help make a session smoother. In fact, I know feel like small talk is an essential component of a successful consultation.

My questions to my fellow bloggers: Is small talk a necessary part of your consultations? Or is it extraneous?


  1. Anonymous1:41 PM

    I would like to say that it is necessary for me, but I know that I tend to skimp on this part of the session. Your statements about being nervous and having to "force" smalltalk ring true for me, too.

    I get the vibe from a good deal of students that they want to get to work right away; the real rapport is established during the session, when they are already talking, less nervous, and I can make myself seem both knowledgable and human at the same time. So I usually try to mix small talk throughout a session, rather than feeling like I am "getting it out of the way" all at the beginning.

  2. One comment of feedback from the email survey we just sent out to our writing center visitors for the semester went along w/ what andrew perceives: [s]he wanted to get to work right away, and was annoyed w/ the chitchat. Of course, our survey didn't ask if the writer appreciated So You Think You Can Dance. We should have taken that into consideration, and thrown out results from all non-appreciators.

  3. I never thought about it before, but small talk is a natural part of my consultations. It helps ease MY nerves. :)

  4. You know, I think it can actually be both. Some students want to chit chat, while others want to jump right in and care naught for idle talking. I like it, if only because it helps me gauge the writer's frame of mind at that particular moment.


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