Mr Sticks — a short story for English reading and speaking

Mr Sticks blog cover

Sam lives near the woods with his daughter, Emily.

Since Emily’s mother passed away, Sam has tried to keep Emily away from other people. He doesn’t want to be near people himself.

But Emily has started gathering some imaginary friends.

And one of them is Mr Sticks…

 

This is a ghostly short story that I am sure your students will love.

This story comes with a complete English lesson plan that includes:

  • introductory questions
  • a short story for reading
  • reading comprehension questions
  • a table of essential vocabulary
  • discussion questions
  • a writing exercise

It also comes with many vocabulary exercises and other exercises to check comprehension.

You can download the full lesson plan and use in your class today!

Take a look below and see…

Mr Sticks - a short story for English reading and speaking (1)

Introduction

Are there any mythical creatures in your hometown?

What is this mythical creature’s name?

What stories are there about this creature?

Mr Sticks - a short story for English reading and speaking (2)

Reading - Mr Sticks

Sam lived with his daughter, Emily, in a remote house deep in the woods.

It was where he wanted to be. Away from society and away from prying eyes.

Ever since his wife had died, Sam had been unable to face other people. He shunned old friends and family. Everyone.

His daughter rarely spoke to other people and instead seemed to create imaginary friends to fill the void.

Sam encouraged this, as he believed this would develop her sense of imagination.

One friend she had was Mr Sticks.

Sam asked Emily about Mr Sticks. Who was he? Where did he live?

“Oh, he lives in the woods,” said Emily, in a matter-of-fact tone. “He comes into the garden and then he tells me things.”

“What does he tell you?” asked Sam.

Emily gave him a sardonic look. “He tells me secrets.”

Later that evening, when Emily was sleeping upstairs, Sam thought about what she said and her imaginary friend, Mr Sticks.

It was all very well that she had a strong imagination, but she was also getting to an age where she should realise the difference between truth and fiction.

Sam had not really told her about her mother. Anytime the subject came up, he just said that she had to ‘go away’.

But now, he thought it was time that she knew the truth about such things. And he would start by telling Emily that her imaginary friend, Mr Sticks, was just that.

An imagination.

Not real.

When she described Mr Sticks, she was able to give great detail on what he looked like.

A tall, grotesque figure made of branches and twigs from trees. His body infested with small and dark creatures from the night in the dark forest, out of view from anyone else.

She described his voice and the way he spoke to her when he told her secrets.

His voice a series of clicks and rasps.

No words.

Sam decided this all had to stop. The following evening he would have a talk with her about this Mr Sticks.

The next day, Emily got ready to go to bed and Sam read her a story while she lay tucked up between the sheets.

He got to the end of the story and closed the book.

“Emily, I need to talk to you about something,” he said.

He put the book to one side.

“You know, when we are younger, we like to have imaginary friends. I had one when I was much younger, too. But we have to understand that these friends are not real. Just like Mr Sticks is not real.”

As soon as he said the name, Emily’s eyes widened, and she bolted into an upright position on her bed.

“No, Dad, you’re wrong,” she said emphatically. “He is real. Just like you and me.”

Sam shook his head. His mind went to his wife, Emily’s mother. She would have been so much better at this. She would have dealt with it the right way.

“No, Emily. No, he’s not real. Mr Sticks is all in your mind.”

Emily’s face twisted into an expression of fear and anger.

“You don’t know anything about him, Dad,” she said. “He is real. He tells me things. He told me something about you. I know, Dad. I know everything.”

Sam stared back at her, his mouth open in shock. He had never heard her speak to him like this before.

“Enough, Emily. Enough of this. I don’t want you to talk about Mr Sticks ever again.”

Sam left the room and closed the door. Outside, he could hear Emily crying and protesting that she was telling the truth.

Downstairs, in the kitchen, he forced himself to believe he was doing the right thing.

Emily had to come to terms with real life. She was getting too old to live in a fantasy world.

And he was under the impression that this Mr Sticks was a comfort figure. Something she had created in her mind to fill the void of the loss of her mother.

Sam poured himself a glass of wine and went to the living room.

He sat in silence, his thoughts colliding with each other inside his head.

He poured another glass. And then brought the rest of the bottle into the living room and finished it.

He must have passed out on the sofa.

But when he came to and opened his eyes, he could make out a clicking noise coming from the kitchen.

Sam was certain he hadn’t left the back door open.

It couldn’t be that.

But they were in the countryside, so it could be a mouse or a bird trapped somewhere and trying to get out.

He pulled himself to his feet and wandered into the kitchen, his hand passing over his face to wipe away the exhaustion that never seemed to leave him.

Opening the door, he was faced with something he could not believe.

A tree.

A great mass of branches, twigs, vines, and leaves right there in the middle of the kitchen.

Except it was moving. Like it was a living organism with a heart and lungs.

A loud clicking sound filled the space.

“Samuel,” a voice came from deep within the twigs and thick foliage before him.

Sam stepped back and collided against the wall.

Mr Sticks.

Who else could it possibly be?

“What do you want?” The words fell from Sam’s mouth quietly and weakly.

“I have come for you, Samuel,” said the mass of vines and branches.

A small, rodent-like creature scurried along a twig and disappeared into the inner mass of the strange tree.

Sam could barely breathe.

Then, just as he caught his breath, a vine slithered out towards him and wrapped itself around his neck.

It pulled Sam with inhuman strength into the thick undergrowth of Mr Sticks’s body.

Sam tried to call out, to scream, but one of his last thoughts was that no one would be able to hear him.

Apart from Emily.

Reading Comprehension Questions

Who are the two main characters in the story?

Where do they live?

Why has Sam chosen to live in a remote house in the woods?

After the death of his wife, what was Sam unable to do? Did he talk to anyone?

How did Sam first feel about Emily’s imaginary friends?

How did he think this could help her?

Who is Mr Sticks?

Where does Emily say Mr Sticks lives?

What does Mr Sticks tell Emily?

How does Sam feel about Emily’s belief in Mr Sticks?

How does Sam feel about this imaginary friend, Mr Sticks?

Does Sam approve of this make-believe friend? Or not?

How did Sam explain the death of Emily’s mother to her?

How does Emily describe Mr Sticks?

What is his body made from?

How does his voice sound?

What decision does Sam make about Emily and her imaginary friend, Mr Sticks?

When did Sam talk to Emily about this?

How does Emily react when her father tells her Mr Sticks is not real?

Who would have been better at talking to Emily about this? Sam or his wife?

What did Emily say she knew about Sam?

Who told her this?

How did Sam react to this?

How did Sam feel after his conversation with Emily about Mr Sticks?

What did Sam do after he left Emily’s room?

What did he drink downstairs?

What sound did Sam wake up to after he slept on the sofa?

What did Sam initially think was making the noise in the kitchen?

What did Sam see when he opened the kitchen door?

How did Sam react when he saw Mr Sticks in the kitchen?

What did Mr Sticks say to Sam?

What happened to Sam at the end of the story?

Mr Sticks - a short story for English reading and speaking (4)

Essential Vocabulary

remote

rasps

passed out

deep

decided

sofa

society

tucked up

came to

prying

widened

clicking

shunned

bolted

countryside

rarely

upright

trapped

create

position

wandered

imaginary

emphatically

passing

void

shook

wipe

encouraged

mind

exhaustion

develop

dealt

mass

sense

twisted

vines

imagination

expression

organism

matter-of-fact

fear

lungs

tone

anger

foliage

sardonic

stared

collided

secrets

shock

weakly

fiction

protesting

rodent-like

subject

forced

scurried

described

fantasy

disappeared

detail

impression

slithered

grotesque

comfort

wrapped

figure

fill the void

inhuman

branches

loss

strength

twigs

poured

undergrowth

infested

silence

call out

creatures

colliding

scream

clicks

  

 

Exercise

 

Write down all the words and phrases in your vocabulary notebook. Look in your dictionary and find the meaning of each word. Write the definition next to each word.

Then make up your own sentences using each word or phrase.

 

For example:

 

RemoteFar removed from a given location; distant or not in close relation.

 

RaspA rough, harsh sound.

 

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

 

We looked at the house and it was beautiful, but maybe a little too remote. The nearest town was very far.

 

Dan had such a terrible sore throat, his voice came out in a rasp.

 

Do this with all the vocabulary and, over time, this will help improve all your English skills — reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Discussion Questions

What is your first impression of Sam and his relationship with Emily?

Why do you think Sam chose to live in a remote house in the woods?

Is this healthy for Sam? For Emily?

How does Sam feel about Emily having imaginary friends?

What is the significance of the name “Mr Sticks” for Emily’s imaginary friend?

Describe how Emily portrays Mr Sticks. What are some of his characteristics?

Why does Sam decide to talk to Emily about Mr Sticks?

What is he concerned about?

Is he right to be concerned about this?

How does Emily react when Sam tells her that Mr Sticks is not real?

Why do you think Emily believes so strongly that Mr Sticks is real?

What might Emily mean when she says, “I know everything”?

What does she know about her father?

What do you think Mr Sticks has told Emily?

Do you think Sam handled the situation with Emily and Mr Sticks appropriately? Why or why not?

What would you advise Emily about her imaginary friends if you were in Sam’s position?

Describe the scene when Sam first encounters Mr Sticks in the kitchen.

How do you think Sam feels when he sees Mr Sticks for the first time?

How would you react to seeing Mr Sticks?

What do you think Mr Sticks represents in the story?

Why do you think Mr Sticks came for Sam?

If you were Emily, how would you react to your father’s disbelief in your imaginary friend?

Do you think Emily will feel guilty or responsible for what happened to her father? Why or why not?

How does the loss of Sam’s wife influence his and Emily’s actions and beliefs in the story?

What do you think will happen to Emily after the events of the story? How will she cope with the loss of her father?

You can download the full lesson plan by clicking the link below!

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