This is a short story about aliens arriving in the suburbs of a small town in England. The main character is just a normal person in a normal town – then he sees a spaceship in the sky.
If you are a teacher, you can use this story in your English or ESL class. Or if you are a student, you can read it alone and do all the exercises by yourself.
I hope that it is interesting for you. Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!
Do you believe in life on other planets?
Do you think aliens could visit us one day?
Are aliens friendly or unfriendly?
War of the Suburbs
“Cup of tea, love?”
Stan stood by the kitchen sink. His wife shuffled in and sat at the table.
“Yes, please,” she whispered.
Stan knew that Margaret needed at least another ten minutes before she fully awoke. This was their usual morning routine and had been for the last thirty-two years. Him stood by the sink, waiting for the kettle to boil, and her sat at the table staring into space.
Bonnie, their pet dog, snapped and barked at Stan’s ankles.
“What’s the matter with you?” said Stan. He turned to his wife. “Dog’s gone mad.”
“She needs to go outside,” said Margaret, rubbing a hand over her face.
The dog ran to Margaret, put its paws on her knees and yapped frantically.
“You need to go wee-wees?” said Margaret, leaning down towards the dog.
Stan stared out into the back garden. It was in near-total darkness.
“Bit of a gloomy day,” he said. “Still, it is November.”
Outside the garden was still. The trees at the back, the well-tended rose bushes — Stan’s pride and joy — and the plants and lawn all shrouded in dark grey.
“Lisa’s coming over today,” said Margaret. “She wants lasagne for lunch. There’s one in the freezer.”
“Oh well,” said Stan. “Lasagne for lunch it is then.”
He didn’t mind. He would eat anything that Lisa wanted. His granddaughter. Seven years old and she could do no wrong.
Bonnie yapped and snarled at Stan’s feet again.
“What’s got into this dog?” he said. “She’s going frantic.”
The kettle whistled as the water boiled and Stan turned off the gas.
“I hope she hasn’t been next door again,” said Margaret. “Maybe she’s had some of the fertilizer like last time.”
Stan poured hot water into the teapot.
“We never really knew if it was the fertilizer,” said Stan. “We just said it might have been.”
Their next-door neighbour had used a new fertilizer on his lawn. Margaret thought that Bonnie had eaten some of it and it had made her ill.
But no one really knew.
Stan put the lid on the teapot. He always gave it two minutes to stew. Then, a proper cup of tea. Just right.
He crouched down to take a closer look at the dog. As he reached out a hand to stroke her head, she cuddled under his arm and whimpered. Her eyes were wide open in fear.
“What’s the matter, girl?” said Stan.
“Can you hear that?” said Margaret.
Stan stood upright and peered out into the garden again. Why was it so dark?
It was nearly seven. The days were shorter in November but it shouldn’t be this dark.
“There it is again,” said Margaret. She stared down the hallway to the front door. “Stan?”
Stan could hear it too now. Voices coming from outside.
“There’s something going on outside,” he said. “I’ll just take a quick look.”
“Mind the dog, Stan,” said Margaret. “Don’t let her out.”
He went to the front door and opened it. Outside was like the middle of the night. In the small drive of their house, their neighbour stood, dressed in his underwear and a pair of slippers.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “I just can’t believe it.”
Stan stared back at him. He looked comical standing there in his shorts and vest. The slippers on his feet were for a woman. His wife’s slippers.
“Bob?” said Stan. “What’s going on?”
Bob the neighbour shook his head and gave Stan a grin. “I can’t believe it. It’s — It’s just incredible.”
Over the road, Stan saw the woman who lived in the house opposite. They didn’t speak that often, just said hello and that was about it. In her arms was her daughter. The girl had her arms wrapped around her mother’s waist, holding her tight.
Bonnie barked and whimpered behind him.
Margaret called out to him. “Stan? What is it?”
Other neighbours were in the street. All dressed in their pyjamas or in their underwear, all staring up at the sky. A car had stopped in the middle of the road. The driver stood by his car and gazing up above his head.
Stan tilted his head and looked above.
Then he saw it.
A huge expanse of metal. A great network of shining steel where the sky should be. It covered the entire space above their heads. A spaceship, bigger than the entire road, larger than anything in the whole town.
A stream of small lights flickered and raced from one end to the other.
“I can’t believe it,” said Bob the neighbour. He let out a laugh, like a child. “I just can’t believe it.”
“Stan, what is it?” Margaret called out from behind him. “What’s going on?”
The edges of the spaceship veered off into the far distance. Just outside the perimeter of the spaceship, Stan could make out a strip of early morning sunlight.
“Margaret,” he said. “I think you might want to take a look at this.”
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:
Kitchen sink – the place in the kitchen where people wash the dishes or clean vegetables.
To shuffle – to walk without lifting your feet or just dragging your feet. Often done because the person is tired.
Then write a sentence of your own that uses the new word or phrase correctly.
Mark placed all the dinner dishes in the kitchen sink and turned on the hot water tap.
Jane was exhausted. She shuffled into the living room and sat down on the sofa.
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
- Stan is making a cup of tea.
- Stan and Margaret have been married for 33 years.
- Their dog is called Bonnie.
- The garden is in bright sunlight.
- The story takes place in October.
- There are roses in the garden.
- Their grandson is coming to visit for lunch.
- They will have pasta for lunch.
- The dog is barking throughout the story.
- Margaret thinks the dog has consumed fertilizer.
- Margaret hears a noise before Stan.
- Stan tells Margaret to take a look.
- The neighbour’s name is Bob.
- Bob is wearing jeans.
- Stan always talks to the woman opposite his house.
- There is a spaceship above the street.
- Stan tells Margaret to stay indoors.
- How long have Stan and Margaret been married?
- Who usually makes tea in the morning?
- What is their dog’s name?
- What is the dog doing in the story?
- What can Stan see in the garden?
- Which month does the story take place?
- Who is coming to visit for lunch later?
- What will they eat for lunch?
- What does Margaret think the dog ate from next door?
- Does Stan think this is true?
- What does Margaret hear outside?
- What does Stan do next?
- Describe what he sees before him.
- What does Stan see above his head?
- What size is this object?
- What does Stan want Margaret to do?
- How would you describe Stan and Margaret’s life?
- Where do you think they live? A big city or a small town? Why do you think this?
- The dog is clearly agitated. How can the dog know about the spaceship?
- What do you think happened with the dog and next door’s fertilizer? Tell the story as you think it happened.
- Margaret hears something. What do you think she can hear?
- How would you describe Bob’s behaviour? Is he acting normally? Or do you think there is something wrong?
- Stan looks up and sees a huge spaceship. Describe what thoughts immediately go through his mind.
- Stan and Margaret hear nothing in the night to wake them. How could the spaceship arrive without making a noise?
- Why do you think this story is called War of The Suburbs?
- What did you think of this story? Discuss in the class and each give your views.
- Do you think there could be aliens on the spaceship? What do they want?
- Do you believe in UFOs? Do you believe in life on other planets? Explain your reasons.
- If you saw something similar in the story in your own neighbourhood, how would you react? What do you think the local authorities would do?
- If aliens exist, are they friendly or not?
- Surely, alien life must be very intelligent. Would they do us harm or could we learn a lot from them?
- Why are we so obsessed with aliens? Why are there so many movies and stories about aliens? Do we secretly yearn to see life from other planets?
- What do aliens look like do you think?
- Maybe aliens are already here. How could they live among us without our knowing?
There are two main characters in this role play from the story above.
Take all the lines from the story and put them in order. Add any other lines that you think Stan and Margaret might say and include those in your role play.
Take some time to prepare and when you are ready, show it to the rest of the class.
Debate – Aliens are real vs Aliens are not real
Divide the class into two groups.
A – this team believes in aliens
B – this team does not believe in aliens
You should also select an adjudicator. The role of this person is to manage the two sides and make sure there is order. This person should make sure both sides and all people have the opportunity to talk equally.
Both teams should have an equal number of people.
Each team should take some time to prepare their arguments and thoughts.
Then decide how long your debate should be. For example, you may decide to have the debate for 20 minutes. Then after the debate, you can all discuss the arguments put forward by each team.
Read the story again and think about what happens next.
What does Stan do? How does he react and what actions does he take?
What does Margaret do? How does she react?
Maybe they decide to leave their house immediately. Or maybe they decide to barricade themselves inside.
But whatever they decide to do, you should continue the story. Try to write at least 500 words to describe what happens next.
Did your students like this short story lesson plan? Please let me know in the comments below!