When it’s time to study marsupials, a teacher’s mind turns lightly to thoughts of Australia. Don’t forget the North American marsupial, the possum! Our possum lesson plans include a little science, Native American folklore, and picture books.
If you haven’t talked about marsupials before, explain that marsupials keep their babies in pockets. If the idea of marsupials won’t be new, ask students in your class to list some marsupials they know about, and remind them (if you’re in North America) that possums are the only marsupials native to North America.
The Japanese word for “possum,” I’m told, is literally translated as “pocket mouse.” Thought you’d like to know that.
You might also like a possum puppet for your classroom.
- Start with a possum coloring sheet. You can use it for an O word, or discuss the fact that the possum’s full name is “opossum,” even though we don’t usually use that word where we live. (The Word Detective says that “opossum” is more formal, but “possum” is more common).
- Nature Works has basic information on the possum.
- Here is National Geographic’s site for possum information, including a sound file of a possum and a printable fact page.
- Here is a PDF file of Australian animal images, mostly marsupial, including an Australian opossum. Compare these creatures with the American possum.
- Possum crafts are just for fun.
- Here is the classic ball of string/food web lesson plan with the possum as an example of an omnivore.
- Here is an online opossum quiz.
Possums are the subjects of quite a bit of folklore. Here are some links for you:
- Coleen Salley has written several books about Epossumondas, each of which uses a traditional folktale form. These are great books to read aloud, and would also make excellent choices for comparison with traditional folktales. Here is Coleen Salley’s website. I’ve been privileged to hear Coleen read several times, and it is wonderful to hear her. If you get a chance to hear her, take it.
- Compare the Native American story Why the Possum’s Tail Is Bare with Salley’s Why Epossumondas Has No Hair on His Tail..
- American Folklore has “Why Opossum Has a Pouch.”
- Uncle Remus stories included Br’er Possum as a character. One such story is Brer Possum’s Dilemma.”
In addition to the Epossumondus books, here are some of our favorite possum picture books:
- Possum Come A-Knockin’, by Nancy Van Laan, is a marvelous cumulative read-aloud with great rhythms and repetition.
- Possum’s Harvest Moon, by Anne Hunter, is a fine fall story. Possum and the Peeper is the springtime companion, if you happen to study possums in the spring.
- Alien & Possum, by Tony Johnston, is a series of books for beginning readers with character points nicely enclosed in good stories.
- Possum Magic by Mem Fox is a lovely fantasy about Australian opossums.
The National Science Education Standards tell us what to cover when we study animals:
- Their structure and function.
- Their lifestyle and life cycle.
- Their environments and ecosystems.
- Their relationships to humans.
The links above give you information and activities on the possum’s structure, function, lifestyle and lifecycle (the things that make them marsupials), their environments and place in the ecosystems, and one part of their relationship with humans — that is, they provide fodder for folktales. Folk music, too– listen to the fiddle tune “Possum’s Tail is Bare”:
There is another aspect to the possum’s relationship to humans. Archaeologists tell us that the earliest Native Americans in our region ate possums, and many other people have done the same since then.