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Teacher & Student Project

"How the Possum Lost His Tail"

--a traditional Cherokee story for stick puppets.
--Lesson by Barbara Pangle, Kindergarten teacher at East Franklin School, Franklin N.C., and by Barbara R. Duncan, Ph.D.

For Kindergarten - First Grade with suggestions for older students.

Meets the following objectives:

Listening, identifying characters, sequencing, speaking, understanding other cultures, studying Native Americans

What to do:

  1. Introduction: Explain to students that different cultures tell different stories about animals. They may have heard stories about the ant and the grasshopper or other animals. Cherokee parents and grandparents tell this story about the possum to children to teach an important lesson. Listen for the lesson.
  2. Read aloud the story as told by Freeman Owle in Living Stories of the Cherokee (below). If you pause briefly at the end of each line, you will sound like the storyteller.
  3. Xerox line drawings of a possum, cricket, skunk, squirrel, and fox. Divide the children into groups of five, and give each child in the group a different one of the animals. Have them cut out the animal, color it, and paste it to a popsicle stick. Make each possum an additional, big multi-colored tail and fasten it to the possum puppet by a brad.
  4. Have each group of five come to the front of the room (or story area) to enact the story for the rest of the class. (Having an audience is important.)
  5. Read the story aloud again and have the students act out the story with their puppets as you read. By the second or third group, students may be supplying lines of dialogue from the story for their own puppets.
  6. When every group has had a chance to act out the story with their puppets, ask them what they have learned from the story. Ask them again who made up the story - the answer is "The Cherokee."

Additional suggestions:

  1. Grades K-2 Take your students to other classrooms, read the story, and have them act it out with their puppets. Let a different group enact the story for each room.
  2. Grades 3-6 or Middle School: Turn this story into a play for older students. Have them act out the parts with a student narrator. Or students can write additional dialogue for the characters and then act out the play. This can become as elaborate as you wish.
  3. High School: Use the story as a writing prompt for the following:Retell the story from the point of view of one of the animals.(Meets objectives for narrative, point of view.)
    Tell about a time when you or someone you know "boasted too much."What happened to them? (Narrative, characterization)
    Compare this story to one of Aesop's fables. Aesop was a black slave from Africa who lived with a Greek family and told stories that are now about 2500 years old. Cherokee stories are also very old (Compare and contrast).What can we infer about Cherokee values and about Cherokee culture from this story? Draw inferences and then describe in an essay. (Inference)

How to Avoid Stereotypes With This Lesson:

  • Do not just teach about the Cherokee at Thanksgiving.
  • Do not show animals dressed in American Indian clothing.
  • If you are writing dialogue for plays, do not use "early jawbreaker" for example, "Me possum" Have the animals speak standard conversational English.
  • Do talk about how the Cherokee passed values on to their children through stories.
  • Do talk about how the Cherokee an other American Indians learned by observing the natural world. Observation is also part of science.
  • Do not combine stereotypical images from several tribes. The Cherokee were southeastern, woodland Indians who used dugout canoes, lived in wattle-and-daub houses roofed with bark, and farmed. The men fished, hunted, and made war, while the women grew corn, squash, beans, pumpkins, and many other foods that we eat today.
  • For more on avoiding stereotypes, visit

"How the Possum Lost His Tail" told by Freeman Owle

From: Living Stories of the Cherokee, ed. Barbara R. Duncan (Chapel Hill: Univeristy of North Carolina Press, 1998. Pp. 212--215.)


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