Kate Hardin

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.

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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.



  • Kate Hardin

    Kate has 6 years of experience in teaching foreign language. She graduated from Sewanee in 2012, where she studied and taught German, and recently returned from a year spent teaching English in a northern Russian university. Follow Kate on Google+!

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