The Bicycle Thief — a short story for English reading, speaking, vocabulary & writing

Mabby watches as a thief takes off with her bike.

She then realises the true value of the bike and how important it is to her, despite the fact that it is old and needs some repairs.

But at the end of the day, she receives a pleasant surprise.


This is a great short story lesson plan that you can use in your English class today. Ideal for any ESL class and perfect for a reading/discussion class. It can also be used as part of an IELTS class.

You can download the entire lesson plan in easy to use PDF format by checking the link below.





Are there bicycle thieves in your town or city?

What can the police do about it?

What can people do to protect their bikes?

Why do thieves steal bikes? What can they do with them?


The Bicycle Thief


“Wait, that’s my bike!”

But it was too late.

Mabby had only left it outside the shop for two minutes. She thought, it’s only two minutes, and this is a quiet neighbourhood. No one will take it, it will be safe.

Then a look in the shopkeeper’s eye. She turned and saw a figure getting on her bike.

She ran outside, but it was too late. She stood in the street as the thief made off with her bike.

Mabby didn’t even call out after the thief. It would be a complete waste of time.

Nothing she could do.

She went back into the shop. The shopkeeper made some comment about bike thieves being very common in this area. Then she paid for her items and trudged home.

On the way back home, she thought of all the reasons she needed the bike. She depended on it every day to get to work at the hospital.

Working such irregular hours, her bike seemed the most convenient – and cheapest – way to get around.

But she also used it to go to the shops. Like today.

To visit her friend. To go to the train station when she went to visit her parents.

And she would leave the bike everywhere.

No one would steal it because it was worthless. Just a cheap, old bike that was no use to anyone.

Except to Mabby.

And good luck to the thief in trying to sell it.

Mabby had lost count how many times she had cursed every time the front tyre would let air out too quickly.

How the seat was wonky and how drivers would speed by in bad weather splashing her with dirty rainwater.

Without the bike, getting to work would be a nightmare.

Going to visit her mother would now become much more of a task.

Without the damn bike, she now realised that life would be just that little bit more difficult.

She got home and thought about calling the police. But what could they do about it?

Oh hi, yeah, I’ve had my bike stolen.

Join the club, love. Bikes are stolen every day in this city.

Mabby put the kettle on and made a cup of tea. She had work that night. The night shift. She didn’t even know which bus to take. There must be a timetable online or something.

Irritation crawled across her skin like a rash. Who would take such a cheap, terrible bike?

Then, without a moment’s thought, she put her jacket back on and marched out of the house.

I’ll find him, she thought to herself. I’ll find this thieving little rat who took my bike.

It wasn’t about the bike. In monetary terms, it was worth nothing. No more than twenty quid. But in terms of value to her, it was everything.

Mabby headed straight back for the row of shops.

She asked the shopkeeper what the thief had looked like.

He just shook his head.

“He was wearing one of those trendy sweaters with the hood on top,” he said.

“A hoodie,” said Mabby.

“Yes, one of those things. I couldn’t see his face. Those hoodie things should be made illegal. We need to see people’s faces.”

Another customer in the shop joined in, the two of them airing their views about how terrible modern life was.

Mabby left the store and walked in the direction the thief had taken her bike. She passed other shops. She asked in two of them. But no one saw anything.

She realised it was a stupid thing to ask.

Did you see a thief going past your shop on my bike?

How would they even know?

She trudged to the end of the road and came to a junction. She had no clue which direction to take.

What a waste of time.

With no other choice left, she went back home. On the way back she called her friend, another nurse at the hospital. She told her the news.

“Oh, that’s terrible,” her friend said. But she didn’t sound so upset.

Mabby realised that this would only truly affect her. That losing her bike would have no profound effect on the world. Life would continue. There would be no mention of a thief taking her bike on the six o’clock news.

The theft of her bike was all in her world, but as she stared out the window from her kitchen, she could see life still going on, the world still turning.

Birds chirruped and flew between the trees.

Next door’s cat sashayed across the lawn like a supermodel.

A lawnmower buzzed away in the process of cutting grass.

Life went on. And no one cared about Mabby’s bike.

She stared down at her hands. The work they carried out each day seemed all the more valid. Saving people’s lives, taking care of the sick and elderly, nurturing and protecting. She saw that in the grand scheme of things, her hands would continue to perform the labour they were trained to do each and every day until she herself was too old to continue.

This was far more important than a rusty old bike with a bad tyre and an uncomfortable seat.

She smiled to herself and looked forward to the night shift she was about to do.

Later, after eating, she showered, changed her clothes, then went downstairs to leave for work. She was leaving one hour earlier than usual, but she had no idea what time the bus came and went. She thought better to be a little early than one minute late.

Her job was more important than that.

She opened the door, stepped out into the cool evening air and closed the door behind her.

As she got to the front gate, she saw her bike. She stared at it in disbelief. Maybe it was not hers at all, but on closer inspection, she saw that it definitely was her bike.

Attached to the front, a note.

Mabby pulled it away and opened it. It read:

I’m sorry for taking your bike earlier today. I needed it for an emergency. You really saved my life.

I saw that the front tyre was bad, so I had it replaced. And the seat seemed to move around, so I put a new one on.

I know it’s not much, but it’s the least I could do.

You will never know how much you helped me today.

Mabby looked up and down her street as if to see a clue. Someone standing there, too shy to approach her.

But the streets were completely empty.


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 – The Bicycle Thief/gumroad





Reading Comprehension Questions


Where was Mabby when her bike was stolen?

Why didn’t she lock her bike outside the shop? What were her reasons?

How did she notice her bike was stolen?

Did she try to stop the thief? Why/why not?

Are there many bike thieves in the area?

Why does Mabby need the bike?

Was the bike valuable? (Think carefully)

Name two things wrong with the bike.

What time was Mabby working later?

What is her job?

What did the shopkeeper say the thief was wearing? What does he think of these clothes?

Mabby calls her friend. Is this person sympathetic?

What events can Mabby see or hear from her kitchen window?

Does Mabby like her job? Why/why not?

What time does she leave to go to work?

What does she see in front of her house?


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:

Neighbourhooda district that forms a community in a town or city.

Figurea person seen indistinctly, especially at a distance.

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

I have lived in the same neighbourhood all my life.

I could just make out a figure at the end of the road.

If you do this in the correct way, 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


Is bike theft a big problem in your town or city?

How to prevent your bike from being stolen?

Have you had a bike stolen? Or do you know someone who had a bike stolen? What happened?

What is the true value of the bike to Mabby? Why does she need it so much?

What does your town or city do to stop bike thieves?

Are there good places to leave your bike in your town or city? What are they? Describe them.

Can the police do anything to catch a bike thief? Why/why not?

Could a shared bike system deter bike theft in your town or city?

What would be the problems of a shared bike system?

What about proper parking areas for bikes? Would that work?

There are car parks for cars. Why not parking areas for bikes?


Role Play


This is a role play activity.

There are two people in this role play.

  • Mabby
  • A Police Officer


The Situation

Mabby has had her bike stolen and so she goes to the police to report it.

She knows the bike has no real financial value, but it is important to her and she thinks that the city should not tolerate theft of any kind.

But when she gets to the police station, she finds that the police are not very sympathetic towards her.

They say that hundreds of bikes are stolen every year in the city. And most of the time it is the owner’s fault.

When the police find out that Mabby did not lock her bike up outside the shop, they say there is nothing they can do about it.

Mabby is furious that they are taking no action. But the police say there is little to nothing they can do about it.

There are more important crimes for them to deal with than an old bike being stolen.


In pairs, spend some time creating your role play.

When you are ready, show the class.


Debate: Too Many Bike Thieves


This is a debate activity.

Divide the class into two groups of equal number. Choose one person to act as the debate chairperson. The chairperson should ensure that there is order during the debate and that each person has the opportunity to speak.


The Situation

There has been a spate of bike thefts in the city and people have had enough.

The local authorities have decided to take action and have come up with two ideas.

The first is to do away with all privately owned bikes in the city. No private bikes allowed within the city centre. Instead, they will offer a shared bike system. People will use an app to use a shared bike and will be charged a nominal fee per kilometre.

The second plan is to install bike parking bays across the city. These parking bays will have locks that people can use to lock their bikes safely. Plus, there will be security cameras to provide surveillance of each parking bay.


Team A

Your team approves of the shared bike system.

Team B

Your team approves of the bike parking bays.


These are the Pros and Cons of each system.

Shared Bikes

Pros — convenient, readily available, could be cheap, no worries about theft

Cons — bikes could be heavy, prone to vandalism or theft, people may just leave the bikes anywhere

Bike Parking Bay

Pros — relative safety, easy to find, secure, a deterrent for theft

Cons — bikes could still be stolen, could be costly to the taxpayer (not all taxpayers ride bikes)

In your teams, prepare your lines of argument.

When you are all ready, begin the debate!




You are Mabby in the story.

You have decided to write an open letter to be published in the local newspaper. You are writing this in the hope that the thief who stole your bike will see it and read it.

Your letter could be to reprimand him for stealing your bike.

Or to forgive him because he needed it for an emergency.

Or to thank him for repairing the tyre and the seat.

You could say all three things if you wish — it is your letter.

But write your words carefully to express your full meaning.

When you have written your letter, read it out in front of all the 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 – The Bicycle Thief/gumroad

What did you think of this short story? Was it useful for your class?

Let me know in the comments below!


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