Best ways to use Discussion Questions to build Band 9 proficiency in IELTS Speaking

I’ve shared long lists of detailed Discussion Questions on this blog. Here is how these discussion question lists have been used to push yourself to seek out more precise language and employ a wider range of grammatical structures. The key is to recycle the vocabulary in different exercises.

These Discussion Questions cross-reference with topics in Part 1 and Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking exam, and provide extension opportunities in grammatical range and lexical resource.

First, you can choose ten (or five or even just three) of the discussion questions. Write a detailed answer to that question using 150 to 200 words. Brainstorm your answer in your first language first if that makes it easier.

Then translate what you wrote — sentence by sentence into English, as best you can, using translators but also word-building online tools like FLAX and SKETCH ENGINE.

Read your writing out loud after you have your first draft. You might be surprised at how effective your spoken fluency can be to help you self-assess your own writing.

How accurate does it sound, or not? What’s wrong? Is each tense the best choice? Where do you need someone to give you some ways to say what you’re trying to say? (This is micro-teaching, by the way. The right solution when and where you need it.)

If you’ve been immersed in English through podcasts, Youtube videos, online interactive 1:1 lessons, extensive reading you can incorporate some of your target vocabulary collection into your answers.

(Do you have a target vocabulary collection? Which vocabulary chunks do you invest time and effort to activate? Where do you store new vocabulary chunks? In a google document? In a notebook? In a Note? On post-its on your fridge? An app?)

Bring your writing to your teacher and let her reformulate your sentences. Carefully notice what she changes, and why. Read about what noticing means in the context of language acquisition.

You’ll see patterns in the mistakes that you make and how your writing is reformulated into more standard expressions.

In many ways, the journey from CEFR B2 to mastery means refining your feel for how more fluent writers and speakers put thoughts into words.

Once you have a perfected response from your teacher or a friend, read it out loud to perfect the pronunciation.

Rewrite the sentence a few times, especially if you typed it the first time.

Do some transformation drills of sentences that were overhauled to develop some automaticity in producing those new chunks.

Commit it to memory. Practice recalling it perfectly. Recycling the corrected structures and new vocabulary chunks will help cement it in your memory. Discussion questions that call on your existing memories and past experiences connect the new language to what is already in your mind. This is efficient and effective.

Discussion Questions #5 NEIGHBOURHOOD  

Keywords / Subtopics: transportation (roads, highways), facilities, amenities, leisure, public transit (LTR, buses, subways, streetcars), housing, quality of life, standard of living

  1. Where is the most popular district for restaurants in the city where you live? Are there neighborhoods that tend to have a lot of residents who speak the same language or who are the same ethnicity? Is there a Little Italy or Korea Town?
  2. Do you know how old the buildings are in your neighbourhood?
  3. What industries are there now? Has that changed over the last couple of decades?
  4. Are you on the water? Are you greenspace? Are there enough trees? Are there any pests like raccoons or cicadas or bears?
  5. How is public transit in your town?  Is it affordable?  How easy is it to get around?
  6. What is the busiest or main intersection near you?
  7. Do you have a park or playground nearby?  A university? 
  8. Is it important for you to be within walking or driving range of a museum? A fitness centre?  A Smart Centre? A gas station?
  9. Are there are co-ops in your town?  For example, a co-operative natural food store? A housing co-operative?
  10. What highways run through your town, or nearby? What highways do you travel on? Are there toll highways where you live?
  11. How is the housing market?  Is it a buyer’s market or a seller’s market? Is there enough housing for all price ranges and lifestyles?
  12. If you could add or change something in your town, what would it be?
  13. Trace a path from your front door to the entrance of a place you often go to that is within walking distance of your home. 
  14. Would you rather live in the suburbs or downtown? What types of homes are there where you live? Skyscraper condos, townhouses, freehold houses, multi-plex?

    Read how to use these realistic, vocabulary-rich, topic-specific discussion questions to improve your IELTS speaking and writing results.

Discussion Questions #4 CARS

Keywords / Subtopics: shopping for and choosing a car, getting insurance, learning to drive, the driving test, getting and renewing a license, types of rules, the rules of the road, going on a road trip, car safety, accidents, parts of the car, traffic jams, traffic rules, highways, directions, types of vehicles, vehicle features

  1. Do you have a car? What year is it? What’s the make and model?
  2. Do you have PL and PD or comprehensive insurance?
  3. How does your vehicle rate for safety?  For gas mileage?  For road handling?
  4. Does your car have any special features? (sunroof, heated seats, a rear-view camera, TV screens for the kids, ABS, tinted windows, bluetooth)
  5. What are some of the costs associated with buying and maintaining a vehicle?
  6. Have you ever been on a road trip?  What music or radio station did you listen to?
  7. Have you ever rear-ended someone?
  8. Have you ever been rear-ended by someone?
  9. Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket?  Parking ticket? 
  10. Have you ever been pulled over?
  11. Can you back into a parking spot?  Are you good at parallel parking?
  12. When did you get your driver’s license? How old were you when you got your driver’s license?
  13. Tell me about your driving test. Did you take a driver education course?  Did you get a discount on insurance because you passed a driver’s ed. course?
  14. What’s the busiest road near your house?  Do you live near a major intersection?  Are there pedestrian walkways in your neighbourhood?
  15. Tell me how to get from your house to the nearest supermarket.
  16. What’s the speed limit on the roads in your neighbourhood?  What is the speed limit on major arterial roads in your city?
  17. Are there toll highways in your city?
  18. Do you follow all ‘the rules of the road’?
  19. What rule do a lot of drivers in your city not follow?
  20. What types of vehicles have you had?  What would you like to drive in the future?
  21. Can you do any vehicle maintenance stuff yourself?  (change the oil, rotate the tires, change a flat tire, change the air filter)
  22. Who is the worst backseat driver you’ve ever travelled with?
  23. Do you commute to work?  What are the busiest commuter routes in your city?  How long is your commute?  Do you change your route based on the weather or if you’re in a hurry or not?
  24. Do you pull over when you pass a police car or emergency vehicle on the side of the road?

Read how to use these realistic, vocabulary-rich, topic-specific discussion questions to improve your IELTS speaking and writing results.


Keywords / Subtopics: self-directed learning, arts & crafts, leisure time, free time, developing new skills, staying physically fit, cultural pursuits, going to tournaments and competitions, music, sports, languages, handicrafts

  1. As far as you know, what’s the main difference between an interest, a project and a hobby?
  2. How long have you been doing your hobbies?  How long have you been interested in the projects (that) you’re working on now?
  3. Do you dedicate a lot of time to them?
  4. Did you take any courses connected to this?
  5. Is it expensive?  What kind of supplies do you need to buy or to have? Do you need equipment?
  6. Are you doing it more now, or did you used to spend more time on it in the past?
  7. Who else does this kind of thing?
  8. How did you get into this?  What got you into this?
  9. Are there any competitions or clubs connected to this in [the area where you’re living now]?
  10. How good are you at this?

A hobby is like some skill you’re developing.  You spend time on, there is equipment or tools or supplies that you need to have.  You might be producing something.

Knitting, crocheting, playing a musical instrument, making and editing videos, repairing and renovating old furniture, pottery, amateur wine-making, fishing, making quilts, working out, fixing up old cars – these are all hobbies.

A project is some short-term thing you’re working on.  It’s taking up a lot of yuur time at the moment but it’s not really a hobby. 

  1. I’m taking care of my granddaughter because my son and his wife work a lot.
  2. We are renovating the kitchen.
  3. I am working on my resume because I want to change my job.
  4. I’m shopping around for a new laptop.
  5. I am taking out the garden and putting in a lawn.
  6. I’ve been helping my sister with her new house.
  7. These things take up time but they aren’t really ‘hobbies’ per se, right?

An interest is something you’re curious about.  It’s something you spend time reading or learning about and it’s something you enjoy speaking about.

  1. I’m interested in how to start a small business.
  2. I’m interested in local environmental issues, especially anything about clean water and healthy rivers and lakes.
  3. I’m really into Formula 1 car racing. I’ve been into this ever since I was in grade school.
  4. I’ve been getting more and more interested in everything about Japanese culture.
  5. I like food – especially vegetarian cooking and how to make healthy meals.
  6. I read a lot about famous leaders — Presidents, CEOs, Founders.
  7. I like watching documentaries about history and ancient cultures.
  8. I like listening to podcasts by well-known experts in the IT field.

Read how to use these realistic, vocabulary-rich, topic-specific discussion questions to improve your IELTS speaking and writing results.

Discussion Questions #2 YOUR HOME OR APARTMENT

Keywords / Subtopics: rooms, furniture, decorating, small spaces, storage, appliances and electronics, having guests, extra features of a home, heating and cooling, types of buildings

  1. What is the best room in your house?
  2. What room is the most spacious?
  3. What makes a room comfortable?
  4. Where do people eat?
  5. Tell me about the entranceway and the front door; wherever people usually come in?
  6. Do you have enough storage space?
  7. How do you heat your home?  How is your home / your building heated?
  8. Where do you entertain guests? Do you have people over a lot?
  9. Where do you park?  Where do you keep your bicycle?
  10. What floor are you on?
  11. Do you have a lot of home electronics?
  12. Do you have a lot of small appliances in your kitchen?  Do you have a lot of clutter in your drawers and cupboards?
  13. What is the best house-warming gift?
  14. How many rooms are off your living room?
  15. What do you have on your walls?  Mirrors?  Calendars?  Pictures?  Drawings?  Family photos? 
  16. What are your signature colours?  If I asked your friends what your personal style is, what would they say?
  17. Do you have a doorbell or do people just knock?
  18. Do people have to buzz you when they arrive at your apartment building?  Do you have a secure entrance?  Do you have your home hooked up to a security system?
  19. What’s in the lobby of your apartment building?
  20. Do you have just one elevator?
  21. Can you hear your neighbours? Do you usually hear your neighbours?
  22. Do you have a backyard? A basement? A balcony? A front porch?  An attic? A swimming pool in the basement of your apartment building?  Is there a jungle gym for kids near your building?
  23. Where do you store your tools?  Do you put winter clothes away for the winter? How organized are your storage areas? Where do you keep your computer stuff? 
  24. How do you keep track of paper (bills, receipts, invoices, warranties, brochures, agreements, notices)
  25. Are you windows covered?  Do you have Venetian blinds or curtains? Which window in your home has the best view?  Does your living room window overlook a park, a main road?
  26. If you could change something about your home, what would it be?
  27. Has your basement ever flooded?  Do raccoons or bats live in your attic?  Have you had mice in the kitchen or wasp nests under the eaves?

Read how to use these realistic, vocabulary-rich, topic-specific discussion questions to improve your IELTS speaking and writing results.

Discussion Questions #1 MEETING NEW PEOPLE

Keywords / Subtopics: talking about work, education, qualifications, home and neighbourhood, family, social life and hobbies, your nationality and your town, how you spend your spare time, making small talk, greeting, leave-taking, colleagues, friends and acquaintances

  1. Can I ask what you do? / Can I ask where you work?
  2. How long have you been there? / Have you been there for a long time?
  3. Are you the manager? / Are you full-time?
  4. Do you like it?  / What do you like about this job?
  5. Do you get on well with [everyone you work with] / [your colleagues]?
  6. What does your company do? / Who are your customers?
  7. Are you married?  Are you living ‘common law’?  Any children?  Do you have a partner?
  8. How old are your kids? / Are your kids in elementary school / high school / university?
  9. Where did you go to school / to university? What university did you go to?
  10. What was your major? / What did you study?
  11. Are you working now in the field that you trained in?
  12. Are you from Toronto?  Which province is your hometown in? Can I ask your nationality?
  13. What’s your hometown?  How old were you when you left?
  14. Do you go back to your hometown much / often?  Are you in touch with your childhood friends?
  15. How long have you been living in [the city where you live now]?
  16. What do you do outside work? / What do you on / at the weekend?
  17. Do you play sports?  Are you on any teams?
  18. Are you musical? Can you sing well or play an instrument? Have you ever been in a choir or a band? Can you read music? Have you ever wanted to learn?
  19. Where would I find on a typical Friday evening?  Sunday afternoon?
  20. Are you a morning person or night person? Are Circadian rhythms something (that) you pay attention to?
  21. How you meet new people? Do you enjoy getting to know new people?
  22. Do you use the Facebook or Meetup or Clubhouse to meet like-minded people? Have you had mostly positive or negative experiences on social media?

Read how to use these realistic, vocabulary-rich, topic-specific discussion questions to improve your IELTS speaking and writing results.