Skip to main content

Mammals Lesson Plan

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Hands-on STEAM elementary lesson plan on Mammals

Hands-on STEAM elementary lesson plan on Mammals

This is part 5 of a 5 part hands-on unit on Animals and Zoology. Perform a play about mammals, experience how blubber keeps marine mammals warm, sniff out your "baby," examine animal skulls, dissect an owl pellet and piece together a rodent skeleton, and more! My lessons are geared toward 3rd-4th grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 11 children between the ages of 0-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, camp, after school program, or co-op!

Review & Introduction to Mammals

1. Stretch. Pray. Review from previous animal classification lessons.

2. Read Genesis 1:24-31. Review the 3 divisions God made regarding land animals and ask for an example of each. Emphasize that people are not animals. We have the same Creator, so we have many similarities. However, the Bible makes it clear we're different.

  • In I Corinthians 15:39 it says, "All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fish, another of birds."
  • God created us distinctly from the animals on Day 6.
  • We are created in God's image.
  • God placed us over the animals to use them and to care for them.

3. Read Mammals: Hairy, Milk-Making Animals by Laura Purdie Salas or Animals Born Alive and Well by Ruth Heller. Skip the pages on prehistoric mammals and humans as mammals.


  • Mammals: Hairy, Milk-Making Animals by Laura Purdie Salas, Animals Born Alive and Well by Ruth Heller, or other book on mammals

Mammal Traits Chant

4. Review the basic traits of mammals:

  • have hair, breathe air, & use milk for baby care. (Chant that a few times.)
  • They are also endothermic (warm-blooded), have a four-chambered heart, and all but 2 give birth to live young.
  • Which 2 lay eggs? (platypus & spiny anteater)
Mammal Senses: Sensitive Sniffers

Mammal Senses: Sensitive Sniffers

Mammal Senses: Sensitive Sniffers

6. What are our 5 senses? In most mammals, smell is the most important sense. They use their noses to detect predators or prey, to distinguish between family and non-family-members, to find mates, and to recognize their territories and those of other mammals. It's kind of like an animal's way of writing, "I was here" on everything it passes. Smells can linger for a long time, so animals can "smell" the history of what has gone on before. Deep inside a mammal's nose is an area called the olfactory region which has lots of "smelling" nerves. When people or mammal breathe air through their noses, odors in the air "turn on" these special smelling nerves. Also, many mother mammals learn to recognize their babies by smell.

7. Discuss how bats (and other animals) find their babies by smell. Ahead of time spray/dab 15 pairs of cotton balls with various scents (perfumes, air fresheners, extracts like vanilla or almond) and place each pair in a small plastic bag (snack or sandwich size). Give each child 1 cotton ball and place the other cotton ball spread out on the table. There should be 15 cotton balls on the table. These cotton balls are their "babies." Instruct the children to sniff their cotton ball and then find their "baby" (the matching scent) by smelling the cotton balls on the table.


  • 15 pairs of cotton balls (30 in total) each sprayed with a different scent & 15 small plastic bags
Eating lettuce & beef jerky to learn about carnivores and herbivores

Eating lettuce & beef jerky to learn about carnivores and herbivores

Carnivores and Herbivores

8. Review predator and prey and carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, and insectivores. You can usually tell the diet of an animal by its teeth.

  • Pass out a lettuce leaf to each student & tell them to eat it. Pay attention to what teeth you use to tear off the pieces and chew up the leaf.
  • Pass out beef jerky to each student & tell them to eat it. Pay attention to what teeth you use to tear off the pieces.
  • Did you use the same teeth?
  • Which teeth will be more prominent in carnivores? herbivores?
  • Teeth don't always tell us what an animal eats. Can anyone think of an animal with carnivore-like teeth that is really an herbivore? (panda, some bats, etc.)
  • In the Bible it tells us that it wasn't until after the flood during Noah's life that animals started fearing man & men started eating animals. One day all the animals will again be friendly toward one another. Isaiah 11: 6 says, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them."
Scroll to Continue


  • a lettuce leaf & a piece of beef jerky

9. If you have animal skulls, you can pass them around to allow students to note the differences between the teeth & eyes. If you don't have skulls, use pictures from online or from a book.

  • Carnivores frequently have binocular vision so they can quickly chase after prey, & herbivores frequently have monocular vision so they can watch for predators while eating.


  • skulls of mammals or pictures of skulls from online or from a book such as Eyewitness: Mammal by Steve Parker.
Comparing skulls of carnivores and herbivores

Comparing skulls of carnivores and herbivores

Observing the teeth on a cow skull

Observing the teeth on a cow skull

Using a deer antler to compare a horn versus an antler

Using a deer antler to compare a horn versus an antler

Orders of Mammals

10. Ask children how they think scientists organize animals. What traits do they focus on?

  • QUICKLY discuss what traits scientists use to organize animals into orders and families. This brief discussion is simply to show the children what traits are used to organize mammals.
  • Show pictures of the animals from books as you mention their order.
  • If you have extra time, you can find out some really neat additional information about these various animals by reading Exploring Creation with Zoology: Part 3 by Fullbright.

YOU WILL NEED: deer antler (optional) & a small cup of milk per child

  • Order Perissodactyla (odd-toed hoofed): Families: Equidae (horses, donkeys, zebras), Tapirs, & Rhinoceroses.
  • Order Artiodactyl (even-toed hoofed -- further divided into those that ruminate, or digest their food in four-chamber stomachs and chew cuds) Do ruminate: Giraffes. Cervidae (deer, moose, reindeer, elk),

    ----- Deer antler: Deer lose their antlers each winter. In the spring new ones start to grow. By fall the velvety skin that covers the antlers is gone and the antlers are tall and sharp. The male fights other males, using his huge bony, branched antlers. Each year antler growth is larger than the previous year. Few shed antlers are found in the woods, because they are eaten by small animals or crumble from exposure to the weather.

    -----Horns vs. antlers: horns = slow-growing & permanent & covered with hard material. Antlers = fast-growing bones grown & shed each year & often branched

    YOU WILL NEED: deer antler

    ----- and Bovidae (cattle, bison, yaks, waterbucks, wildebeest, gazelles, springboks, sheep, musk oxen, goats).

    ---- Milk. Show cow/Bovidae. Drink milk.

    YOU WILL NEED: small cups of milk

    And those that do not ruminate: Pigs, Peccaries, Hippopotamuses, Camels and llamas.

  • Order Marsupialia (pouched animals): Rat opossums, true opossums, marsupial moles, numbats, bandicoots, koalas, wombats, and kangaroos & wallabies. I mentioned how the nipple swells so that a baby joey can't pop off its mom until it's jaw develops.
  • Order Monotremata (egg-laying mammals): Echidnas/spiny anteaters & platypuses. I mentioned how the platypus's milk "sweats" from its fur and also how it's bill detects electrical currents from animals.
  • Order Proboscidea (elephants): Large enough to have an order all to itself is Family Elephantidae.
  • Order Edentata (toothless): Armadillos, sloths, and hairy anteaters
  • Order Lagomorpha (hares and rabbits)
  • Order Insectivora (insect-eaters): moles, shrews, and hedgehogs
  • Order Carnivora (meat-eaters): 2 suborders of these toe-footed creatures. They include the Canidae (wolves, dogs, jackals, foxes), Ursidae (bears, giant pandas), Raccoons, and weasels, skunks, & otters, all part of one family that is characterized by long snouts and unretractable claws; and Felidae (cats, lions, cheetahs, leopards) Hyenas, and Mongooses, all of which have retractable claws.
  • Order Chiroptera (bats): the only mammals that can fly. Why do you think scientists classify them as mammals rather than birds? (They have all the traits of a mammal. They also don't have feathers, nor do they lay eggs.)

Primates & Opposable Thumbs

  • Order Primates (monkeys): Divided by the how long of a snout they have: lemurs, aye-ayes, tarsiers, marmosets, baboons, gibbons, gorillas, chimpanzees, & orangutans.

11. Discuss opposable thumbs. Tape each child's thumbs to their hands. Divide them in to 2 teams. Have each team race to a chair, tie a piece if yarn to the chair, and then run back. The next person will untie the string. Continue to do this until everyone has had a turn. Discuss why God gave primates, humans, and some other animals opposable thumbs. (This activity is from Amazing Mammals from Ranger Rick's NatureScope series.)


  • tape and 2 pieces of yarn (about 3 feet each)
Feeding a pet guinea pig, which is a friendly type of rodent

Feeding a pet guinea pig, which is a friendly type of rodent

Rodents & Owl Pellets

  • The Order Rodentia includes gnawing mammals like beavers, Family Sciuridae (chipmunks, squirrels, marmots), Family Cricetidae (field mice, lemmings, muskrats, hamsters, gerbils), & Family Geomyidae (gophers)

12. Read About Rodents by Cathryn Sill.


  • About Rodents by Cathryn Sill or other book on rodents

13. (Optional) If you or someone in the class/group has a pet rodent, allow children to pet it, feed it, and/or hear about its care.


  • a pet rodent such as a guinea pig, rabbit, or rat

14. Dissect owl pellets and assemble the bones of the rodent. Give each group of 3-4 an owl pellet. Pull them apart and try to identify the different types of bones and try to identify the rodent.

  • Ahead of time print off copies of bone identification sheets, such as the one from
  • Ahead of time lay owl pellets on individual plates and put about 1/8 cup of water on each one to soften them because they are usually quite dry. Place a toothpick on each plate too.


  • Today we get to go on a treasure hunt while we learn about owls and probably a mammal!
  • What kind of animal is an owl? Yes, it’s a bird. Are they invertebrates or vertebrates? (vertebrates – they have a backbone) What are the major groups of vertebrates? (Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Mammals, Birds)
  • I want you to each tell me something that you know about an owl.
  • What might owls eat? What do you know about owl habitat and/or physical characteristics that support your ideas about their diet?
  • Owls are birds of prey. They eat rodents, which are a type of mammal. Rodents have long front teeth and have to chew frequently. Can anyone name a rodent? (mouse, rat, etc.). Owls will also eat small birds.
  • Today we will be looking at owl pellets. What do you think owl pellets are? They are the regurgitated remains of an owl's meal, including all the bones of the animals it ate. Who remembers what owls eat? (usually small rodents or small birds).
  • Who likes to eat fried chicken? Do you eat the whole thing? No, after you gnaw off the meat from your drumstick, you leave the bone, don’t you? Well, owls don’t do that. Owls usually swallow their food whole, digest the edible parts, and then expel the indigestible parts (the bones and fur or feathers) through their mouth as a pellet.
  • Owls do not have teeth to chew their food like we do. Instead, they use their beaks to tear at the food and swallow large pieces whole – like a snake.
  • An owl’s stomach has two parts. The second part of the stomach (called the gizzard) prevents bones, hair, and fur passing through the owl’s digestive system.
  • Since an owl cannot digest bones, hair, or fur, it must vomit those things back up. This is called an owl pellet.
  • The pellet can stay in the owl for a few hours, but it must be gagged up before the owl can eat again.
  • Since the owl eats animals whole, you can find animal skeletons and other interesting bones inside an owl pellet.

Investigating the outside of the pellet

  • This is going to be so exciting! It will be just like digging for treasure or going on an archaeological dig for dinosaur bones!
  • Pass out the owl pellets and disposable gloves, but tell the children not to touch the owl pellets yet. Have the children look at them. Ask: What do you notice about this owl pellet? Where do you think this might have been found? Can you see any feathers? What do you expect to find inside the pellet? What do you already know about owl pellets that may support your predictions?
  • Let’s hypothesize about the bones inside: Will they be big or small? Will they be hard or soft? Will they be whole or broken? What color will they be? Will you find a bunch or just a few? How many different animal skeletons do you think your pellet contains?

Break apart the pellet and EXPLORE!

  • Now it’s time for the treasure hunt or archaeological dig for our “dinosaur” bones! Gently pull apart the pellet, being careful not to break any of the bones inside it. Use toothpicks or a teasing needle to separate the bones from the fur or feathers. Take special care when removing the skulls and jawbones, since they are the best way to identify the animals that the owl ate. Group similar bones together. When you've finished sorting the bones, roll the last bits of fur between your fingers to find little bones or teeth that might have been overlooked.

Identify your skeleton(s)

  • Once you've found all the bones, try to reconstruct the skeletons of the animal using the bone chart. Ask: How are the bones alike? Different? Do any characteristics of this group of bones provide clues about the animal from which they originated? Look at the evidence. To what animal might these bones belong? What evidence supports your idea? Are there bones of more than 1 animal? What evidence supports your predictions?
  • Owls usually eat more than one rodent before regurgitating the remains, so you should be able to find multiple bones that are similar. Can you distinguish between the bones of different kinds of rodents based on their size?
  • How many different kinds of animals did you find evidence of in the pellet? How many animals were there in total? What can you conclude about the eating habits of the owl that made your pellet?

Bible Application:

  • God knew exactly what He was creating and made owls perfect in every way. He created a bird of prey that could swallow their food WHOLE but gave them a way to get rid of the stuff that was not good for the bird to digest. Just as He provides a way for the owl to get rid of things that would make it sick, He also gives us a way to get rid of things in our life that are not good for us. When we sin, he has provided a way for our forgiveness through his son Jesus Christ. We only need to trust in him and ask forgiveness for our sins and he will take them away. 1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Clean up

  • Wash hands
  • Throw away items or allow children to take home the items in a plastic bag to share with their families. (Almost everyone wanted to take their bones home.)


  • owl pellets (purchased for about $2 each from amazon), disposable plates, toothpicks, & bone identification sheets such as the ones from
Using a broom to talk about baleen

Using a broom to talk about baleen

Marine Mammals

15. Show pictures of marine mammals. Compare a broom (baleen) to the carnivore's and herbivore's skulls' teeth.

  • Order Cetacea (whales and porpoises): Two suborders: the toothed whales: sperm whales, narwhals, belugas, porpoises, dolphins, & orcas/killer whales. And baleen whales: gray whales, right whales, fin-backed whales, & hump-backed whales.
  • Order Pinnipedia (Fin-footed: seals and walruses)
  • Order Sirenia (dugongs and manatees)


  • a broom (as clean as possible)

16. Sing & motion whale parts : Whales: ("Farmer in the Dell" tune) adapted from "Amazing Mammals Part 2" by NatureScope.

Whale flukes move up and down,
Whale flukes move up and down,
Thar she blows, the whale-oh,
Whale flukes move up and down.

Whale flippers help it steer (continue)
Whale blubber keeps it warm (continue)
The blowhole helps it breathe (continue)

Movements to go with each verse:
a. hands side by side with palms up on backside (where tail would be) moving up and down
b. arms straight, slightly up from sides & bend body
c. wrap arms across chest and give yourself a hug
d. fist on top of head. Exhale loudly after each verse

Marine Mammals & Blubber

Marine Mammals & Blubber

Marine Mammals & Blubber

17. Blubber: God also gave many of the large marine mammals blubber to insulate them. Blubber is thick layers of fat. Seals, walruses, and whales all have layers of blubber which help to keep them warm.

  • Give each child a "blubber mitten" (sandwich plastic bag or disposable glove) to put on one hand.
  • Tell them to try to smash it around the vegetable shortening to make sure it covers as much of their hand as possible. (If this is done correctly, the shortening shouldn’t ever actually touch their skin as it should stay in the zipper bag.)
  • The shortening is like blubber.
  • Their other hand will be bare.
  • Divide the children into groups of 4 and assign each group to a bowl of ice water.
  • Have the children place both hands in a bowl of ice water and compare how each hand feels.
  • Ask, “How cold does the water seem with the ‘blubber mitten’ on? Do you think a nice layer of blubber would be great protection against cold?”
  • This shows how blubber insulates ocean mammals and keeps them warm.


  • large bowls filled with very cold ice water, a sandwich or quart size zipper bag or disposable glove per child, vegetable shortening/Crisco, & towels
Mammal Olympics

Mammal Olympics

Mammal Olympics & Review

18. (If you are not limited by time) Mention some of the "record breakers" in the mammal class. Have children see how they compare. There are 2 ways to do this:

  • Option 1: If the weather is nice & you have 10-15 minutes, head outside.
  • Option 2: If you're limited by time or the weather isn't cooperating, do this inside. Have them race down a hallway. Have them stand in pairs & do a standing leap. Mark who has leaped the furthest. See who can jump up & touch the ceiling or the highest place on the wall.

Can You Beat the Best?

  • 25 Yard (or Hallway) Dash: Ask which mammal they think is the fastest land mammal. (Cheetah) It's able to run at 60 miles per hour for shorter distances (200-300 yards). It uses this burst of speed to chase down its prey. If inside, have students race in small groups down the hallway. Time them on a watch. If outside, have the students race about 25 yards. Tell them that a cheetah could have run that in less than 1 second!
  • Broad Jump: Ask which mammal they think can jump the furthest in 1 leap. (cougar) A cougar can jump 30 feet from a still position. This allows the cougar to catch its prey, by stalking the animal and then leaping onto its back. See who can jump the furthest from a standing position. If outside, show how far 30 feet is to show the children how far a cougar could have jumped.
  • High Jump: Ask which mammal they think can leap up highest in the air. (Cougar) A red kangaroo is able to jump up more than 10 feet, but a cougar could easily jump up 15 feet into the air). If inside, see who can jump up & touch the ceiling. If outside, use chalk to mark 5 feet up on the wall. See who can jump with their feet up that high. A cougar could have easily jumped 3 times that height.
  • Great Breath Hold: Ask which mammal they think can hold their breath the longest. (Cuvier's beaked whale) A Cuvier's beaked whale has been clocked at holding its breath for 138 minutes. That's over 2 hours! See who can hold their breath the longest.


  • a way to keep time such as a watch
  • chalk for marking out distances (optional)
  • measuring tape (optional)

(The Mammal Olympics idea is from Ranger Rick's NatureScope Amazing Mammals Part I.)

19. Review what we learned.

  • Is a Camel a Mammal? (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library) by Tish Rabe is written in a fun, Dr. Seuss manner yet it's still filled with the educational points you need to cover. Also look for other books in the series including A Whale of a Tale!: All About Porpoises, Dolphins, and Whales, If I Ran the Dog Show: All About Dogs, Safari, So Good!: All About African Wildlife, If I Ran the Horse Show: All About Horses, and others.
  • Red Fox at Hickory Lane by Kathleen M. Hollenbeck is part of the Smithsonian Backyard Book Series, which does a wonderful job at introducing the basics about a variety of different animals. Usually covered are an animal's habitat, diet, predators, and sometimes mating habits (though in an extremely simplistic manner). They are illustrated with sweet, realistic illustrations and they are told in a story format as you follow an individual animal. Even my 2 year old enjoys these and learns from them yet my 9 year old learns from them as well. There are many titles including Cottontail at Clover Crescent, Gray Squirrel at Pacific Avenue, Fawn at Woodland Way, Raccoon at Clear Creek Road, Chipmunk at Hollow Tree Lane, Groundhog at Evergreen Road, and many others. Also look for the Smithsonian Oceanic Collection which includes titles such as Otter on his Own, Beluga Passage, Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, Giant of the Sea: The Story of a Sperm Whale, Little Walrus Warning, and others.
  • About Mammals: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill has just the basic character traits of mammals, one trait per page alongside one animal. The animals are nicely drawn to look realistic. Also look for the other books in this series by the same author.
  • Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints by Millicent E Selsam is part of the the Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science series, which we really like. They contain a good amount of factual information but limit the text per page so that even younger children can enjoy and learn from these books. They all contain illustrations rather than photographs and some contain evolutionary ideas. Also look for Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats, Baby Whales Drink Milk, Elephant Families, Where Are the Night Animals?, Milk: From Cow to Carton, Dolphin Talk, and others.
  • Apes! by Carol Harrison is part of the Know-It-Alls series, which have nice illustrations and plenty of information about groups of animals. It is written in factual manner but keeps the text brief. The illustrations keep the attention of my younger children. This series always includes at least one evolutionary statement. Also look for Seals!, Wild Cats!, Wolves!, Bats!, Whales!, and others.
  • Kangaroos Up Close by Carmen Bredeson is part of the Zoom in on Animals! series. As far as series that include only photographs, the Zoom in on Animals series was our favorite as it could be enjoyed by all ages (ages 2+) because of its brief text, yet it still contains plenty of zoological information. Also look for Lions Up Close, Giraffes Up Close, Orangutans Up Close, Giant Pandas Up Close, African Elephants Up Close, and many others.
  • Lyrical Life Science, Vol. 2: Mammals, Ecology, and Biomes With CD by Doug C. Eldon is great if you have upper elementary or middle school level children. It has music on a CD accompanied by a well-written book with line drawings and much more information of all the mammals by classes and orders. We love this CD/book series! If you purchase this used, make sure it includes the CD.

Good Mammals Overview (This does falsely include humans as mammals.)


Examine pond water and yeast cells under a microscope, test out various insect mouths, dissect a fish, create an egg model, perform a play about mammals, present on a specific animal phylum or genius, and more during this fun 5 part hands-on unit study on animal classification!

  • Taxonomy, Animal Classification, and Invertebrates Lesson - This is part 1 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on zoology. Examine pond water and yeast cells under a microscope, dissect an oyster, sing “The Six Kingdom Song,” eat 5 of the kingdoms on a supreme pizza, and more!
  • Insects and Spiders Lesson - This is part 2 of a 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. Test out various insect mouth types, examine insect parts under a microscope, make and eat edible ants, test out spider webs for vibration, and more!
  • Amphibians, Reptiles, and Fish (Cold-blooded Vertebrates) Lesson - This is part 3 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on Zoology. Peel your “skin” like a reptile, dissect a fish, make origami jumping frogs, compare amphibian and reptile eggs by feeling tapioca and grapes, and more!
  • Birds Lesson - This is part 4 of a 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. Create an egg model, make edible nests, test out various types of beaks, compare bird bones with mammal bones, examine various feathers, dissect a gizzard, sing a song about bird traits, and more!
  • Mammals Lesson - This is part 5 of a 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. Perform a play about mammals, experience how blubber keeps marine mammals warm, sniff out your “baby,” examine animal skulls, dissect an owl pellet and piece together a rodent skeleton, and more!
  • Zoology Presentations and Field Trip Ideas This describes the culminating activity for the 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. The children each presented on an assigned phylum, class, or order of animals. They also sang some of the animal classification songs and enjoyed an animal-themed meal. (Recipes are included.) Also included are the field trips we attended during this unit.
Konos Volume I

Konos Volume I

Konos Curriculum

Would you like to teach this way every day?

Konos Curriculum

I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful curriculum and was created by moms with active boys!

Konos Home School Mentor

If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!

© 2011 Shannon

Which Is Your Favorite Mammal and Why? - Or just let me know you dropped by! I love getting feedback from you!

dwnovacek on November 15, 2011:

Awesome lens - both beautiful and educational. Angel Blessed!

lasertek lm on May 16, 2011:

Very informative and great looking lens. Awesome job!

Related Articles