The Door — a short story for English reading and speaking

The Door blog pic

Peter is in the basement despite his mother telling him not to play down there.

He sees a door. Then encourages his little sister to come down and help him open it.

Then they see her.

This is a terrifying short story you can use in your English class today.

Download the full lesson plan below.


If you discovered a strange door in your house, what would you do?

What if the door was locked and people told you never to go in there?

Could there be a person kept in the room against their will?

The Door

They found it while playing hide and seek. The house was their grandmother’s house.

“Granny is no longer with us,” said mum. But Peter and Gemma didn’t exactly know what she meant.

“Where did she go?” asked Peter.

Maybe she went to that big room with all the other old people. They played a kind of game where a man stood at the front and said funny things and all the old women laughed at him, then drew crosses on a piece of paper in front of them.

Peter had gone there one time with Gran. He thought it would be fun. It wasn’t. It was very boring.

But an old man who smelled funny gave him a sherbet bonbon.

Now, mum was tidying up the house.

Peter had gone down to the basement to hide from Gemma. She was afraid of going down there. Peter was also afraid of it, but not as much as his sister.

He stayed down there for ages. But Gemma didn’t come to find him. She didn’t even open the basement door.

He crept back up and heard her talking to mum about cooking.

“Gemma!” he called out.

The door cracked open a little, and she peered inside. Her bright blue eyes ringed by a circle of blonde curls.

“Peter, I’m not going down there,” she reprimanded him. “It’s full of spiders. And a big snake.”

Peter whirled around to try to locate the snake. That would be so cool.

A big snake. Maybe he could keep it.

His best friend, Darren, said that snakes eat mice and, if they are really hungry, cats.

Gran had a cat, but it had gone away with her.

Then he saw it. Or the upper part of it anyway. A frame and the top hinge.

A door.

“Gemma, come here,” he stage-whispered to her.

She was curious. She wanted to follow her brother everywhere. But she didn’t like that basement one little bit.

“There’s spiders,” she said, her finger up to her mouth.

“No,” lied Peter. “I chased them all away. They went outside.”

Gemma leaned further into the basement, holding on to the door frame.

“You better not be lying, Peter,” she said. “Or I’ll tell mum.”

He needed to encourage her to come downstairs.

“There’s another door,” said Peter.

Gemma tilted her head to see, but she was looking the wrong way. Peter pointed it out to her.

“No, just here,” he said. “Let’s open it and see where it goes.”

Once she saw it, her face lit up.

“Maybe it goes to The Magic Garden,” she said. “With Iffy and Bang.”

Peter had no idea who Iffy and Bang were. Some stupid characters from one of her stupid books.

But he didn’t want to open the door on his own. Having Gemma with him, even though she was only four, would give him a little more courage to open the door and take a look inside.

And maybe it did lead somewhere. Maybe it went into a long tunnel. Maybe there were things hidden inside.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s take a look.”

Gemma took the first step down the stairs. They were steeper than the stairs that went up to the bedrooms.

Even for Peter, they were a bit tough.

He reached out to help her and eased her down the stairs.

A gust of wind blew up from the small cracked window in the basement and the door at the top of the stairs creaked closed. Gemma drew in a sharp breath.

There was a light on in the middle of the low ceiling, but the whole place was filled with Gran’s old junk and spider webs.

“Don’t worry,” said Peter. “We can go back out later.”

Gemma made it to the last step, and Peter let go of her hand. He turned to face the door. In front of it, were some old suitcases, a tea chest and some boxes.

Peter got to work moving the items out of the way.

“Give me a hand, Gem,” he said. “Or we can’t open the door.”

Gemma did her best, pushing the boxes out the way. She couldn’t do it on her own, but when Peter put his weight behind the first box, it slid to the side easily.

“Sophie said The Magic Garden is only open to Wanderers.”

Peter didn’t know what the wanderers were. He knew Sophie. One of Gemma’s stupid friends with the annoying voice.

All he wanted was to open the door.

Finally, they cleared all the old stuff out of the way. The door in front of them was old and worn out. The varnish on the front of it peeling away.

Peter tried to open the door, but it was locked. He yanked at it, trying to force it open, but no luck.

Frustration burned away at his face. What a waste of time.

Then his eye caught sight of the brass key hanging off a nail embedded in the wall. That must open the door.

He grabbed it and stuck it in the lock. He turned it and it rotated cleanly with a satisfying clunk.

Peter turned the knob again, and the door opened.

He leaned forward to look inside. It was dark, but the small light from the basement shed just enough light for him to see inside.

It was a large room. And in the corner, a small bed. More a cot than anything else.

And on the other side — what was that?

He saw movement.

A woman. Covered in dirt. And naked.

She had a chain wrapped around her neck and she was deathly thin.

She saw Peter and her eyes opened wide.

“Help me,” she said.

Reading Comprehension Questions

Where does the story take place?

Who are the characters in the story?

Where does Peter think his grandmother went?

What did the old man give Peter?

What is mum doing?

Why is Peter in the basement?

Does Gemma like the basement?

Can you describe Gemma?

What does Gemma think is in the basement?

What did Peter’s friend say about snakes?

What happened to Gran’s cat?

What does Peter see in the basement?

How does Peter encourage Gemma to come down into the basement?

What does Gemma think is behind the door in the basement?

What does Peter think is behind the door?

Can you describe the stairs in the basement?

What is in front of the door?

What does Gemma’s friend say about The Magic Garden?

Is the door open or locked?

Where is the key?

What does Peter see first in the room behind the door?

What is the second thing he sees?

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:

Hide and Seeka popular game for children, where one person counts to ten, and the other children hide. Then the person counting has to find the others.

Grandmotheran elderly relative. Either the father’s mother or the mother’s mother.

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

The kids played hide and seek in the forest until the sun went down.

I used to visit my grandmother often when we all lived in London.

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, and making sentences of your own, will all help you to remember all of this new vocabulary.

Discussion Questions

What do you think of this story?

In your own words, describe what happened.

How old do you think Gemma and Peter are in the story? What makes you think this?

What do you think has happened to Peter and Gemma’s grandmother? Where is she?

The story describes a big room where Peter went with his grandmother.

What is this place?

And what game are they playing there?

What do you think has happened to Peter’s grandmother?

Where is she?

Why is Peter’s mother in the grandmother’s home?

What is she doing there?

Have you ever heard stories of people being kidnapped before?

Of people being kept in a basement?

What happened to these people?

Did they escape? If so, how?

What happens to people when they get old in your country?

Do their children look after them?

Or do they go to an old people’s home?

Do you think old people like to be in an old people’s home? Why/why not?

We Gotta Get Out Of Here!

This is a group activity.

Divide into groups of THREE or FOUR students.

The Situation

You have all been kidnapped by a crazy man.

He has put you all in the basement of his house and you are locked in.

No one can see you but the crazy man.

No one can hear you.

You are kept in different rooms at night.

But for a very short time, he has left you altogether.

You use this time to plan your escape!

Together, in your group, make a plan to get out of the basement.

Make sure your plan has clear and easy-to-follow steps.

When you are ready, present your plan to the rest of the class.

Your classmates and teacher can then ask you questions about your plan and you must answer clearly.


This is a debate activity.

Divide the class into two groups of equal number.

Choose one person to act as chairperson. The chairperson must ensure there is order during the debate and that each person has the chance to speak.

Should Old People Live in Old People’s Homes?

Team A

You believe that old people should not live in old people’s homes.

You think old people’s homes are inhumane and cruel. The standards of the homes are very low and often the residents are abused or not treated well.

Old people’s homes only exist to make money. They do not care for old people at all.

You believe that looking after old people is the sole responsibility of the children.

They must take equal care of their parents when they get old. And if they do not take any care, then laws should be put in place to make sure they do take responsibility.

Ban all old people’s homes immediately!

And force children to look after their parents when they get old!

Team B

You think that old people’s homes are great places for old people to live.

The homes take great care of old people and all the residents are about the same age — so they can talk to each other about common interests.

The old people are cared for and fed well.

Plus, their children do not always have time to look after their parents when they get older.

They have jobs to do plus they have to look after their own children.

People just don’t have the time.

And old people don’t want to live in a house with kids running around all day.

They want some peace and quiet during the day.

In your groups, discuss all the things you need to say in the debate.

Make sure you have strong lines of argument to say in the debate.

When you are all ready — begin the debate!


This is a creative writing exercise.

In this writing exercise, you are going to continue the story from where it left off.

Peter has seen the old woman in the basement.

Who is she?

And what does Peter do next?

What does the woman do or say?

And what does Peter’s mother do?

Write your story and then read it out loud in class.

Ask your classmates and teacher for feedback.

Did you like this lesson plan?

Download the full lesson plan below. It comes in easy to use PDF format.

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