TOEFL Speaking Practice

Improve your TOEFL speaking fluency in two minutes or less per day! Read on to find out how. 🙂

TOEFL Speaking Practice with “Lightning Questions”

There’s an activity that I use in many of my English classes to help my students practice speaking fluently without thinking. I call it “lightning questions.” Here’s how it works: everyone finds a partner; I give each partner a slip of paper, face down, that has five questions written on it. On the count of three, we turn over the papers, and one student asks the other a question from it. The other student must begin immediately to answer the question; the goal is to speak continuously for whatever time limit I have set, usually between 45 seconds and 1 minute.

I always tell my students not to stop for any reason (except a fire)—if you can’t think of something to say, say that you don’t know what to say, and then try to explain why. It doesn’t matter–just keep talking. Then the other partner answers the same question. This is not a conversation, and the goal is not to come up with interesting thoughts or beautiful turns of phrase. When time is up, you stop talking, even if you’re mid-sentence, and there’s no need to respond to anything your partner says (although it’s always good to go back and critique each other at the end). Even though you’re not in a class and don’t have a partner, you can still use lightning questions for TOEFL speaking practice.

TOEFL speaking practice – even by yourself!

If you’re practicing speaking by yourself, it’s best to use a voice recorder of some kind so you can go back over your answers. Not only does this help you track your progress, but it also makes it easier to identify and correct the errors that you’re repeating over and over.

Below are some lighting question topics to get you started. If you practice speaking a little every day, you’ll be a lot better prepared for the test than if you do all of these prompts at once, only once. These questions aren’t specifically TOEFL speaking practice questions, although I did write them with preparing for the TOEFL in mind. Fluent speaking is a skill, and the topic you use isn’t all that important to developing it. Feel free to come up with your own prompts or topics.

Lightning Question topics

These aren’t exactly the same as TOEFL speaking prompts, but they’re great for sparking ideas.

  • What would you do if you won a million dollars in the lottery today?
  • Describe your favorite teacher.
  • What is/was your favorite subject at school, and why?
  • Apologize to a professor for being late to class.
  • Your friend wants you to go out this weekend, but you don’t want to. Come up with as many excuses as you can, being careful not to hurt your friend’s feelings.
  • Give directions to a freshman who has gotten lost.
  • What materials do you always have with you at school?
  • Describe your favorite book without naming the title or author.
  • What is the most important characteristic you look for in a friend?
  • What did you want to grow up to be as a child?

On the TOEFL speaking section, you will always have at least 15 seconds to gather your thoughts before recording your answer.  But if you practice speaking totally unprepared, the test itself will be that much easier for you, and you’ll have less trouble not just answering the questions, but answering them well. Can you think of any lightning questions? Comment below to share them with fellow readers! Stay tuned for more lightning questions and other ideas for TOEFL speaking practice.


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7 Responses to TOEFL Speaking Practice

  1. Aaliya July 31, 2014 at 2:49 am #

    Very helpful post, thanks a lot!

  2. Kelsey January 10, 2015 at 10:49 pm #

    I think there is a mistake in the article that seems to me pretty important:

    “These are exactly the same as TOEFL speaking prompts, but they’re great for sparking ideas.”

    Should be “These aren’t exactly…” I believe. Don’t have to publish my comment; just thought it was important to mention.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 12, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

      You’re absolutely right! I just fixed the typo. It’s funny how just a couple of letters can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Thank you for pointing that out!

  3. Jakes June 11, 2015 at 9:39 pm #

    My friend came up with this.

    Would you rather marry a chair or a table?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink June 16, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

      Thanks for sharing! That’s definitely an interesting question. I’d rather not marry either, personally, since I can’t imagine which would make for better conversation. That example is fun, but I should mention that it’s not very similar to a TOEFL question. Still, if it gives you something to talk about, then it’s good for speaking practice in general!

  4. Chandra October 21, 2016 at 7:02 am #


    First off, you have a great site here. It helped me a lot on my GRE and hopefully will help me on my TOEFL too. Meanwhile, I am desperately in need of a help, with speaking, in particular. I really have no problem making casual communications, in fact, whenever I see a foreigner, I try to initiate a communication with any topic I find, that he/she will be interested in. Well, not being a native speaker, I do not have a fancy accent, nor do I possess correct pronunciation skills, but I get my ideas delivered– meaningfully and clearly. I often have a problem at the beginning of the communication but once I gain a momentum, ideas come naturally to me and I can speak fluently, with rare pauses, and generally, I am articulate enough to express myself in the way I really wanted to deliver. However, in the actual TOEFL exam, you do not have that much time to look forward to gain a momentum or such, so I’m really struggling. Besides, I can’t even brainstorm ideas in those fifteen seconds so that I could deliver it in an organized manner. How do you think I should approach TOEFL speaking? I even tried your “Lighting Question Topics” and I can tell you that I managed to speak well in all those topics– with no preparation, whatsoever. However, when I try to take a practice TOEFL speaking test, I tend to be too focused on the content I am trying to deliver and in the process, get restless. I can’t afford to loose any second of that precious minute. Please enlighten me how I can conquer this speaking beast.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 22, 2016 at 11:11 am #

      Hi Chandra,

      My best advice to you is just to continue practicing! This is why the TOEFL is so hard–you have to know the strategy and be able to implement it quickly and efficiently! For example, you may want to learn these templates and use them. A template can help you to organize your thoughts and make the most of those 15 seconds. It’s hard to organize a strong response with just 15 seconds, which is why it’s a good idea to be prepared and have plenty of practice saying exactly what you need to say for a strong score! The fact that you are so outgoing and try to engage people in conversation will be really helpful for you–the most important part of the speaking task is speaking clearly and articulating your ideas clearly, so I don’t think you’ll have much trouble with that! So, concentrate on practicing a template and responding to as many prompts as possible–I think you’ll be fine 🙂

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