Charlie — a short story lesson plan for English reading, speaking & vocabulary

A young man wait for his bus and is then joined by an old lady. She starts to talk about the love of her life — Charlie.

She tells the young man about Charlie.

Then she shows him something…


You can use this short story lesson plan as part of your English reading class. But it can also be used for speaking or General English. And it is great for an IELTS class too.

Download the complete lesson plan below and use it today.





Do you have a pet? How much do you love this pet?

Some people love their pets more than their own family – what do you think about this?

Are pets part of our family? Or just pets?




“He’s been dead for ten years,” said the little old lady, looking at me with concern.

I stared back into her silvery-blue eyes and nodded my head slowly.

I didn’t know what else to do.

She had this passive look on her face and I felt expected to say something. So I cleared my throat, desperately trying to think of something to say.

“Your husband?”

A look of mild disgust crossed the woman’s face.

“My husband?” she said. “No. He’s been dead for over fifteen years. No, not him. Charlie. My dear Charlie.”

Who was Charlie?

“Charlie?” I said.

She looked at me like I was an idiot.

“Yes, Charlie. He was the love of my life. He was my one and only true love.”

So. This old lady. Who I didn’t know. She just sat next to me at the bus stop and starts telling me about her secret lover Charlie.

“Oh, I see.” There was a very awkward pause. “Well, I’m sorry for your loss.”

She smiled, but I could see a look in her eye that said she was not convinced.

I turned my head to see if the bus was coming. But just an empty road.

“I always keep him near me,” she said. “He’s always with me.”

“Charlie?” I said.

“Yes, Charlie. He’s always close to my heart.”

“Well, that’s good,” I said. “It’s good to have some spiritual connection to our loved ones.”

I surprised myself at how well I could keep the conversation going. But as soon as the bus arrived, I would go upstairs. No more chatting to old ladies about their long-lost lovers.

“No, I don’t mean that,” she snapped. “I don’t believe in any of that spiritual mumbo-jumbo.”

She tapped her chest. She wore a thick coat and a scarf. It looked like it was made of fur. She clutched at the scarf and held it against her throat.

I wrapped my arms around myself as an icy breeze blew around us.

“Charlie is always with me. And I mean really with me.”

“That’s great,” I said.

I couldn’t talk to this old lady anymore. I just wanted the bus to arrive and then I could get home and have a hot bath. I didn’t want to engage in conversations with this mad old woman and her Charlie, whoever he was.

“You don’t believe me, do you?”

I turned to face her.

“Yes. I believe you.”

“Have you ever had someone that you have loved so dearly and who loves you back so dearly that you would do anything to make them stay with you?”

I stumbled for something to say.

The old lady shook her head. “You haven’t, have you? Too caught up in your own life and all the things you think about. You haven’t had time to think of anyone else. That’s the trouble with young people today. Too inconsiderate.”

She was right about that. She had hit the nail right on the head there.

I had been single for… well, forever. I had a girlfriend at college but as soon as we graduated we parted company. Since then. Nothing.

I lived alone in a tiny flat. I had one friend who I referred to as my best friend when in fact he was my only friend. And my visits back home to see my mum and dad were becoming more and more infrequent.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I loved Charlie. And he loved me. We told each other this every single day.”

Then she started to cry. And not just a little weepy, but full-on sobbing.

She reached into her handbag and pulled out a handkerchief. I hadn’t seen one in years.

“Please,” I said. “Don’t upset yourself. Tell me about Charlie.”

She wiped the tears away from her eyes and then blew her nose.

“I don’t know where to begin.”

“Well, you said Charlie is always with you. Tell me about that.”

“He is always with me,” she said, and her hand went to her heart again. “He’s right here. Right here with me.”

“Charlie must have been a very special man,” I said.

The old woman leaned back and gave me a glare.

“Man? I never said he was a man.”

I cursed myself for upsetting her again.

“But… I’m sorry… I thought…”

“Yes, you thought,” she said. “And where does thinking get you?”

She patted the furry scarf against her neck.

“No, Charlie was not a man. He was not a human being.”

She smiled back at me. Her teeth all brilliant white.

“So, what was he then?” I asked.

“He was a cat.”

“Oh,” I said.

All this time and the only thing we were talking about was a silly cat.

“Yes, Charlie was my pride and joy,” she said. She tilted her head down. “Isn’t that right, Charlie?”

I looked up the road again and saw the bus trundling down towards us.

“Well, he must have been a very special cat,” I said, pulling some loose change from my coat pocket.

“He was,” she said. “Would you like to see him?”

The bus got nearer.

“A picture, you mean?”

“No,” she said. “Charlie. See him. In the flesh.”

I just stared back at the old lady, unable to think of anything to say.

“Take a look,” she said, and she unbuttoned her coat.

Around her neck, the scarf. Now clearly visible.

It was all fur. And four thin legs with little paws at the end.

A tail. And the other end a head. The ears moth-eaten and worn away and in place of its eyes two glass beads.

And the mouth. A gaping jaw with blackened teeth.

“This is Charlie,” she said. “He is with me all the time. He never leaves me.”

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Reading Comprehension Questions


How long has Charlie been dead?

How long has the old lady’s husband been dead?

What colour are the old lady’s eyes?

Where does the story take place?

Is there any traffic on the road?

What does the narrator of the story plan to do when the bus arrives?

Why does he plan to do that?

Is the old lady a spiritual person?

What is she wearing?

Is it cold?

What does the narrator plan to do when he gets home?

Does he have a girlfriend?

When was his last girlfriend?

Who does he live with?

How many friends does he have?

Does he visit his parents very often?

What does the lady take out of her handbag?

What is Charlie?

Where is Charlie right now?


Essential Vocabulary


There may be a lot of new or unfamiliar vocabulary to you in the story. This is the perfect time to get to know these new and strange words and phrases.

Write down all the new words and phrases in your vocabulary notebook. Look up the meaning of the new vocabulary in a dictionary or online and write down the meaning next to the word or phrase.

It should look something like this:

Concerna feeling of being worried or nervous about something.

Silvery-bluea light shade of blue, that has a hint of silver in it.

Then write a sentence of your own that uses the new word or phrase correctly.

Next door neighbour’s dog causes me some concern.

The bird’s wings looked silvery-blue in the sunlight.

If you do this correctly, it will help you learn many new words and phrases. This will build your English vocabulary and writing down all the words and phrases, making sentences of your own, will all help you to remember all of this new vocabulary.


Discussion Questions


What does the old lady wear around her neck?

Why would she wear such a thing?

Do you think she is crazy? Or does she really love Charlie and miss him?

In your opinion, what does the young man talking to her think about the old lady?

Can people become so attached to a pet cat or dog?

Do you know anyone who loves their pet cat or dog very dearly?

Who or what do you love unconditionally? Talk about this person or thing. Why do you love this person or thing so much?

Do you have a pet? How much love is there between you and your pet?

When your pet dies what will you do? How will you remember this pet?

Some people have their pets stuffed and keep them in their house. What do you think about this?

Some people have special gravestones made for their pets when they die. What do you think about this?

Is it crazy to be so attached to an animal?

Do pets have as much love for their owners?


The Perfect Pet


This is a presentation exercise.

Get into groups of four students. Then choose one of the animals below.











No group can choose the same animal.

You should now make a presentation about this animal and why it would make the perfect pet.

Think of all the advantages of having this animal as a pet and try to convince the rest of the class why they should have this animal as a pet.

For example; maybe you have a horse as a pet.

The advantages could be:

  • You can ride the horse to school
  • The horse is not dangerous and likes people to stroke his nose and feed him
  • The horse lives outside so it is a very healthy pet to look after — lots of fresh air and being outside
  • The horse eats healthy food so this could encourage you to eat healthy too

When your group has finished making your presentation, the rest of the class should ask you questions about keeping your animal as a pet.

In your groups, take some time to think of all the advantages of keeping your chosen animal as a pet.

Then present to the class.




This is a creative writing exercise.

Write a poem about an animal.

Your poem can be in any style you like. It might be a good idea to make the poem rhyme. This will help you with the sound of English words and how they work together.

When you have finished your poem, read it out in front of your class.


Join my mailing list and I will send you this complete lesson plan and others for free – ManWrites Mailing List

Or if you prefer, you can buy it here – Charlie/gumroad

Was this lesson plan useful for you in your class? What did you think of it?

Let me know in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Charlie — a short story lesson plan for English reading, speaking & vocabulary”

  1. I love your story lessons. They’re very captivating although this one had a real twist ending! I wasn’t expecting that one although you did allude to it earlier in the story by mentioning the fur but I was rather shocked when the fur was Charlie! The questions at the end were really good for students. It keeps them on the ball even when they are engrossed in the storyline.

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