David Recine

English Listening and Speaking Practice on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

In 2009, Saturday Night Live comedian Jimmy Fallon became the new host of the popular American talk show Late Night. Since then, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has become famous for the fun games that Jimmy plays with the show’s celebrity guests. The games are always enjoyable to watch, and a lot of them are educational too. Jimmy loves wordplay games that encourage players to use English creatively. Because of this, Late Night has become one of the best shows on TV for learning English.

In my last post about Jimmy Fallon’s games, I looked at ways that Late Night can help you learn new English vocabulary and help you master your use of English words. But there’s a lot more to Fallon’s games for learning—the games are not just good for vocabulary.

In this post, I’ll take a look at some Late Night games that can help you build your English skills in listening and speaking. Before you dive in, you might want to check out our top TOEFL Listening tips to see how you can apply these activities to a higher score on test day!


Box of Lies

This is a really interesting game. Jimmy and his opponent—always a famous person such as a singer, athlete, or film star—will each be given a “mystery box.” The box will always contain some bizarre random item, such as a miniature bathtub full of tiny bottles of whiskey or a DVD of the movie Frozen, encased in a real block of ice.

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

Jimmy and the celebrity he plays against can see each other through a small window. They can’t see the contents of each others’ boxes, but you (and the audience) can. Then each player will say what’s in their box— but they may be telling the truth or they may be lying. The object of the game is to successfully guess whether or not your opponent is lying, based both on their words and their face expressions.

This is a great game for listening in detail—sometimes a player lies about just one aspect of the thing in their box. It’s also a great game for learning the paralanguage of English—the body language and face expressions that go with English speech.

In the video below, you can watch Hunger Games star actress Jennifer Lawrence play against Fallon in a delightfully weird round of Box of Lies. (And here is the non-YouTube link.)


5-second summaries

This activity is a lot of fun. On the show, the rules are as follows: Jimmy gives a guest the name of a movie, and the guest has to summarize the movie—explain what it’s basically about—in just five seconds. Jimmy then has to guess the name of the movie after hearing the short summary.

If this seems a little too hard for you to play, don’t worry—this kind of game really is very flexible. You could play it with a 10 or 15 second time limit, for example. Or a 1 minute time limit, if you want to speak at more TOEFL-like lengths.

And the game can be played with more than just movies—you and your family and friends could summarize video games or TV shows too. Or describe places, people or things—there really is a lot you can do with this type of word game. And whatever themes and time frames you choose, the game will teach you how to think quickly and speak quickly in English—very important exam skills.

To get a feel for the game, watch Jimmy Fallon play the game with comedy actor James Franco, who you may remember from the movies like Pineapple Express and This is The End. …Or from the TV show Freaks and Geeks, if you’re old like me! Watch the YouTube video below, or go to the Pandora TV video if you live in a country that doesn’t get YouTube.



  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he’s helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master’s Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he’s presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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