January and bitter cold. Ice and snow. The earth like a rock.
Kormi went for a walk. That’s what cats do.
She didn’t come back that evening. And she wasn’t at the door for her breakfast the next morning. She didn’t come back during the day nor the next day.
“Lets go in the garden and call for her!”
Timi and Alex shouted with their high shrill voices, “Kormi!” But Kormi didn’t come.
The next day we walked in the streets. The children looked through garden fences. I looked on the road. I half expected to see a flat, broken, bloodied cat.
We didn’t find her.
Four days. Five days. Six days. Seven days. Eight days. Nine days. Ten days.
We were in the sitting room one Sunday morning. Suddenly we heard a weak ‘miaow’ from the terrace at the back of the house. We ran there, opened the door and there she was! “Kormi!” Ten days away and now back again!
Kormi was pulling herself along the terrace. Her front two legs were strong. Her back legs and her tail, dragged on the ground. Her fur was full of ice and mud. She was shivering.
I picked her up and we took her into the sitting room and laid her on the sofa. We put a blanket around her.
The children stroked her head. We gave her warm milk. At last she stopped shivering.
We phoned the vet.
The vet felt Kormi’s head and pulled her eyes open wide and stared into them. She felt her neck and her back and her legs.
“Her back legs are not broken!” said the vet. “That’s strange! Would you like her to go to the animal hospital? We can x-ray her.”
We went to the animal hospital and Kormi lay on a table. They made an x-ray and then we looked at the x-ray on a glass window. We could see Kormi’s back bone and her ribs.
In between two of her vertebrae was a bullet. Somebody had shot Kormi!
The vet said, “She probably won’t live. And if she lives then she will always drag her legs along the ground.
Do you want me to put her to sleep, now? It will only take a moment.”
“Only a moment?” I thought, “Only a moment to kill her when she has been trying to get back home for ten days and nights in the ice and snow and frozen mud! And what about the dogs and cats and rats? And what did she do when she came to a wall? How could she reach up and climb? How could she jump down on the other side with a bullet in her back? And all the time in her cat’s language she said, ‘I must get home! I must get home!’. Are we going to kill her now?”
And I thought of Austrian men in the Tyrol wearing little leather trousers. And I thought I could make Kormi a pair of trousers like that with a hole for her tail. And in this way she wouldn’t take all the fur off her legs and back.
“No, don’t kill her!” I said, and we took Kormi home.
For several days Kormi didn’t move. Then one morning she raised herself on her front legs and managed to lift herself, shaking, onto her back legs. Then she fell.
She did this a few times and the next day walked a metre. And over the days she learned to walk again. A few months went by and she could walk in the garden. She can’t run and she can’t climb trees.
But in June she had three babies. Three babies, with a bullet in her back!
Using the Kormi story
This story grips all ages…but the notes below are written for primary children and teenagers.
Elementary upwards. The gist of the story is not affected if you bring the language even further into the conventional elementary range, ‘January and bitter cold’ to ‘very cold’, etc.
Listening fluency and vocabulary extension: seasons and weather; parts of the body
Difficulties and endurance
Difficulties and endurance
Suggested teaching aids
My illustrations of Kormi and her spinal cord plus the bullet and the gun.
Suggested lesson plan
To focus the students minds on the subject and associated vocabulary ask them about pets and then focus on cats. Have you got a cat/name/colour/age, etc? What does he/she do? Sleep/play/run/walk/climb/catch mice, etc.
When does he/she walk…she walks at night.
Then you can begin the story….Here is a story about my a cat.
During the first telling
Mime as many of the actions and feelings as you tell the story as you can in order not to lose the students’ understanding and thus their concentration.
Draw or show my drawing of Kormi without the back bone illustration at line 18.
Draw or show my drawing of the backbone, bullet and gun at line 28, ‘Somebody had shot Kormi!’
During subsequent tellings
Students can contribute sound effects and some phrases. For example, they can all say Miaow in Line 2 and call ‘Kormi’ in Line 6.
This story has gripped thousands of students; they identify with Kormi and with her recovery and her re-establishment of normality in having babies. I feel activities must allow their feelings to be expressed and focussed and that we should not change to their analytical and de-feelinged brain and do language exercises with such a story.
1 As a class the students can brainstorm all the key words and phrases they remember in sequence as far as possible…you list them on the board. That is a re-telling. It is not necessary to require full sentences and to stop them producing anything at all.
2 Ask the students to call out all the things Kormi may have suffered on her way home during those ten days. Tell them that they can just call out key words or phrases. For example: rats, cats, dogs, owls, ice, snow…phrases…it is cold…she is hungry…etc.
Then ask the students to paint a picture of one of these terrible experiences. Everybody must make Kormi black.
The pictures can then be displayed in a long strip and described in sequence.
3 Divide the story into the number of students in the class and give each student a picture to do. If pairs want to work together then they must produce two pictures. The students then stand in line and tell the story each student describing his or her part of the story. If you have introduced writing then the students can produce sentence strips and stand in sequence with them.
4 As a beginning to a topic study of the seasons and associated weather and associated effect on people you might tell this story…discuss and reflect on the winter and then create large pictures for each of the other seasons in which each student is responsible for part of the picture which is stuck on like a collage.
Other possible topics which could be introduced with this story:
accidents, study of animals and pets, animal language and communications (see the end of the story).
Kormi first published
Kormi was first published in a wonderfully rich collection of stories contributed by teachers from all over the world and published by IATEFL. Each story is accompanied by suggestions for activities to do in class. The stories are broadly divided into stories for children and stories for adults.
Paran, A. and Watts, E. (Eds.) (2003) Storytelling in ELT. IATEFL ISBN 1 901095 169 see www.iatefl.org