The Squid — a short story lesson plan for English reading and speaking

This is a creepy story about a man in a swimming pool late in the evening.

He discovers that he is not alone…

This short story lesson plan comes with many questions, a role play and a writing exercise. It is great for any English/ESL class for reading comprehension.

I hope this is useful for you in your class.

Let me know in the comments below!





Do you like to go swimming?

Have you used the local swimming pool late at night?

What could be the scariest thing to find in the swimming pool?



The Squid


Slow and steady.

That was how he took his strokes. Slow, strong strokes into the water. His hands cutting a perfect, symmetrical line in front of him.

Methodical. Precise.

Max liked this place. He liked it in the evening. It was much quieter than during the day. When he first started coming to the pool he came just after work. It was too crowded. Full of screaming kids just out of school or families and everyone else. Young guys trying to impress any girls watching by jumping off the diving boards and making a nuisance of themselves.

He then changed his time to as late as possible. The pool closed at ten pm so he arrived at nine. There were a few people still around but nowhere near as many. Much more quiet and Max could get into his lane in the pool and swim with no interruption.

It was quiet, and he liked it that way. No one else in the pool.

To him, it was like a form of meditation. He would leave work feeling stressed out as he always did. Go home and eat something light for dinner. No need for heavy meals when he was about to go swimming a couple of hours later.

Do some work at home after washing the dishes. No one to disturb him. He got a lot more done in two hours in the evening than he did for eight hours during the day.

It was all the interruptions. All the endless chit-chat and needless conversations. He didn’t like that at all.

But now in the pool, it was quiet. All he could hear was the hum of the lights above his head.

One. Two. One. Two.

Steady strokes with his arms in the pool. He had the pool all to himself. It was all his. It belonged to him.

“Fifteen minutes, Max.”

It was one of the lifeguards. They all knew him by now. Every evening they told Max how long he had left before he had to leave the pool. They trusted him. They could see he was a good swimmer and he would be no trouble to them.

One by one the lights went out as the lifeguard turned them off. The switches made a loud clicking noise in the big space of the swimming pool.

Then it was as close to dark as it could get. Just the sidelights left on.

Max gave the lifeguard a wave as he reached the far end of the pool and watched as the lifeguard left via the staff door. Max paused for a while and gazed at the water around him. It was all his now.

Outside he could make out the steady drone of traffic.

He pushed away from the edge and continued swimming. Two more laps and he would be done.

Slow and steady, he made his strokes into the water, turning his head each time to the left to take in more air. He got to the deep end of the pool and in one movement dived under the water, turned, and kicked at the wall to propel himself back again.

For the final lap, he put more exertion into his strokes, kicked harder with his legs and within no time at all he was back at the shallow end.

Max waded through the water to the steps out of the water. He climbed out and shook his head to get the water out of his ears.

He made his way to the changing rooms and opened his locker. He dried himself with his towel. He kept his hair very short so there was never a need to comb it after swimming. It was just so much more convenient to have short hair.

A splash from the pool area. Like someone jumping into the water.

Max tilted his head to listen.

Again, another splash.

It couldn’t be anyone in there. The lifeguards wouldn’t allow it. Or would they?

Max continued drying his body with the towel. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked for any missed messages from work. One from his colleague asking about a file, another from another who had forgotten what time the meeting was tomorrow.

Then a louder splash.

And then, a smell.

It smelled of something earthy. It was an unpleasant smell but not something chemical. A strong natural smell.

What was it? And why the splashing?

Max dropped the towel on the bench in the middle of the changing room and stepped back towards the swimming pool entrance.

He couldn’t make out anything, it was too dark.

His hand rested on the wall of the entrance that divided the pool and the changing rooms. He slid his hand against the wall to guide him in the right direction.

There was a shadow moving in the pool, maybe it was the water, maybe something fell in the pool. Was there a security guard around? They couldn’t just leave the place empty.

Max stepped into the pool area. The big space seemed too quiet now. The sidelights were off now. Someone must have turned them off after he left.

He got closer to the water and peered into the pool.

Then he saw it.

A squid.

Its body filled half of the pool. Its legs filled the other half. Max could make out one of the squid’s eyes, a large black inky mass that seemed as big as his body.

Max froze on the spot. He slowly turned his head and could just about make out the squid’s tentacles slithering around by the side of the pool. Its large suckers like huge discs slid across the tiled surface. One tentacle was as far as the window. It wiped the entire surface of it with one stroke.

Then a splash and from out of the dark, a tentacle slipped out of the water and around Max’s ankle. It twirled around his lower leg and gripped fast with a strength that Max had never felt before.

He drew in a lungful of breath to call out but he was too slow.

With a firm yank, the tentacle dragged Max towards the water.



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:

Stroke – to move one’s hand with pressure in the water to move forward.

Symmetrical – having similar parts on both sides of an axis. Two identical halves.

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

Sharon prefers freestyle when swimming as she can perform a more powerful stroke with both arms.

The picture of the butterfly showed its body to be symmetrical. Both sides of its body and wings were exactly the same.

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.



True or False?


  1. Max prefers to swim quickly in the water.
  2. Max goes swimming in the daytime.
  3. In the late afternoon, the swimming pool is very crowded.
  4. The pool closes at nine pm.
  5. Max likes to do meditation in the swimming pool.
  6. Max’s job makes him feel stressed.
  7. Max prefers the company of others.
  8. The lifeguards know Max.
  9. The lifeguard tells Max he must leave the pool immediately.
  10. Max swam the final lap very quickly.
  11. Max has short hair.
  12. Max hears a sound from the swimming pool.
  13. Max receives no messages on his phone.
  14. Max smells something strange.
  15. He decides to call one of the lifeguards.
  16. When Max goes back to the swimming pool, it is too dark to see.
  17. He sees a squid in the pool.
  18. The squid is very big.
  19. The squid’s tentacles are all in the water.
  20. Max is not afraid.



Comprehension Questions


  1. What four words are used to describe Max’s swimming style?
  2. What time of the day does Max prefer to go swimming?
  3. Name the kind of people Max does not like to see in the swimming pool?
  4. What does Max liken swimming to?
  5. Describe his routine after work until he goes swimming.
  6. What does the lifeguard mean when he says “Fifteen minutes, Max”?
  7. Why do the lifeguards trust Max?
  8. What can Max hear outside the swimming pool?
  9. How many more laps does Max do after the lifeguard leaves?
  10. Why does Max shake his head when he leaves the pool?
  11. Why does Max have short hair?
  12. What sound does Max hear when he is in the changing room?
  13. What messages does he get on his phone?
  14. What does he smell?
  15. What does Max see in the pool?
  16. Describe the squid in the pool according to the story.
  17. What reaches out to Max?
  18. What does he do?



Discussion Questions


  1. What kind of person do you think Max is? For example, is he married? Does he live alone? Does he like people do you think?
  2. Why do you think Max likes to go swimming so often? What is it about being alone in the water that appeals to him?
  3. Does Max have a regular life? What is so special about this to him do you think?
  4. Why does Max liken swimming to meditation? Why does he need to meditate?
  5. What kind of story is this? Is it science-fiction? Fantasy? Or something else?
  6. What does the squid symbolise do you think? Is it something to do with Max and his life?
  7. Could this story be made into a movie? Why/why not? Give your reasons clearly.
  8. If you were Max in this story and you heard a noise from the pool, what would you do? Would you investigate by yourself? Or call the lifeguard?
  9. Why does Max investigate on his own in the story do you think?
  10. If you were Max and you encountered the giant squid in the pool, how would you react?
  11. What do you think happens after the end of this story? What could the next scene be?
  12. How did the squid get into the swimming pool? Is it real?



Role Play


For this role play there are two people:

1. Max

2. a psychiatrist

Max has been having hallucinations. He keeps seeing a giant squid in his dreams, in the sky, and now finally in the swimming pool.

The hallucinations are becoming more and more real and Max is becoming terrified.

The psychiatrist talks to Max and tries to find out what is really worrying him.

Spend some time on your role play with a partner and then show the class and your teacher.





Write the next part of the story. What do you think happens next?

Maybe Max escapes the clutches of the squid.

Or maybe he sees that it is just an illusion.

Or maybe the squid eats Max and the next scene could be the lifeguards opening the pool in the morning. What do they find?

Whatever happens next, try to write about it.

Then read out your story in class or show your teacher.



Did your students like this short story lesson plan? Please let me know in the comments below!


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2 thoughts on “The Squid — a short story lesson plan for English reading and speaking”

  1. Another interesting story for class discussion and additional activities. When Max was getting dressed I felt greatly relieved that he had escaped danger but after the tentacle swiped the window I was gripped again by what might happen to Max. It was probably good that the suspense was left in the mind of the reader, as it would have been too scary otherwise.

    1. I like to leave the story in mid-air at the end. I think it creates more tension. Thanks for reading Leona. I hope other teachers and students like it too.

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