I think size 8 needles and worsted weight yarn would be great. I don't even like working with larger needles on bulky yarn so I don't see how it would be pleasant to learn on.
Straight needles are good, but I wouldn't go longer then 10" because then they just get in the way. I prefer nickel or wood needles. Wood is great for stuff you don't want to slide. Nickel is more slick. I despise aluminum, though I might be a bit of a needle snob.
As far as a small basic scarf, I would stick with the knit stitch through the whole thing.
Good luck and have fun!