What Is One?

A poem that celebrates the special things we find in nature

By Judith Nicholls | Art by Rafael Lopez
From the March/April 2021 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will examine a poem’s words and structure to determine its theme.

Big Idea

As you read, think about how this poem helps us appreciate the special things we find in nature. 

What Is One? 

One is the sun,

A rhino’s horn;

A drop of dew,

A lizard’s tongue. 

One is the world,

A lonely whale;

An elephant’s trunk,

A monkey’s tail. 

One is an acorn,

One is the moon;

One is a forest

Felled too soon. 

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Activities (4)
Answer Key (1)
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Answer Key (1)
Can't Miss Teaching Extras
Watch This

Your students will love hearing from author and poet Judith Nicholls in this wonderful Q&A. You can click on each question to see the video response or scroll down to read the full transcript.

From the Storyworks 3 Archives

Connect the poem “What Is One?” to the poem from our October/November 2020 issue: “A Poem From the Treetops.” Ask your students to point out any similarities they see in the two poems.

More About the Article

Content-Area Connections

Science: nature, animals

Social-Emotional Learning: social awareness (expressing gratitude); responsible decision-making (evaluating impacts)

Essential Question

How can we appreciate and protect the unique aspects of nature?

Key Skills

theme, text features, interpreting text, author’s craft, expressing an opinion

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. PREPARING TO READ (10 minutes)

Set a Purpose for Reading 

  • Read aloud the title of the poem and its author’s name, and ask students to predict what the poem might be about.

  • Read aloud the bubble labeled Big Idea, and instruct students to keep this prompt in mind as they read the poem.


Preview Text Features and Vocabulary

  • Direct students’ attention to the blue bubble explaining the meaning of felled. Ask them to predict how this word will be used in a poem about special things in nature. 

  • Point out any vocabulary terms that may be challenging for your students, and ask if anyone knows their definitions. Look up their meanings together, as needed.

  • Ask students to describe the various images in the illustration.


  • Read the poem to the class, play the audio version, or use text-to-speech.
  • Next, ask students to take turns reading aloud each line in the poem.

  • Discuss the Close-Reading and Critical-Thinking Questions, which are available in your Resources tab. (Alternatively, assign all or part of the Learning Journey Slide Deck, which contains the questions as well as other activities from this lesson plan and a link to the poem.)

Close-Reading and Critical-Thinking Questions (30 minutes)

  1. What do all the items mentioned in the poem have in common? (theme) All the items mentioned are part of nature. Some students might add that they are also examples of single items in nature: Earth’s one sun, the horn of a rhino, a single acorn, etc.
  2. How do the illustrations help you better understand what is described in each line of the poem? (text features) Each picture shows one of the special things in nature that is described in each line of the poem.
  3. Think about the first line of the poem. Why do you think the poet says, “One is the sun”? (interpreting text) Students might suggest that it’s because we have only one sun.
  4. How does calling each item “one” make it seem special? (author’s craft) By saying that each part of an animal, a plant, or our solar system is “one,” the poet emphasizes how each thing is unique and special. 
  5. Read the last two lines of the poem: “One is a forest/ felled too soon.” What does the poet mean by these words? (interpreting text) The poet means that one of the special things that we find in nature, a forest, is cut down too soon. There is no other forest like that forest, and now it is gone forever.  
  6. Why do you think the poet ends the poem the way she does? (author’s craft/ expressing an opinion) Answers may vary. Students might say that the poet ends the poem this way to show readers how important it is to keep our forests safe and not destroy them. We have a responsibility to protect the special things in the natural world.
  7. How does the poem help you appreciate the special things found in nature? (theme) Answers will vary. Students might suggest that the poem helps them appreciate the special things found in nature by pointing out that each piece of the natural world is unique. If we don’t take care of these one-of-a-kind parts of nature, we might lose them forever (like the forest that was “felled too soon”).


What Makes You Unique?

The poem celebrates the uniqueness of various parts of nature, reminding us to appreciate and care for our natural world. Point out that each of your students is one of a kind, a unique piece of the natural world.  Ask: What makes you unique? Have students pair off and interview one another then report on what makes their partner unique. Or ask students to share a couple of sentences describing what makes them special.


Featured Skill: Theme

  • Distribute or digitally assign our Finding the Big Idea Skill Builder (available in your Resources tab) and have students complete it in class or for homework. 


  • Our new Learning Journey Slide Deck (available in your Resources tab) is designed to make your life easier. Have students move through at their own pace or assign smaller chunks for different days. You can also customize the Slide Deck to your liking.

  • Have students record video or audio of themselves reciting the poem. Invite students to share their recordings with you or, if they would like, with the class. 

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Before reading the poem, preview the Close-Reading and Critical-Thinking Questions with students to help them know what they should be focusing on as they read. Read the poem aloud as students follow along. Read the poem again, this time pausing to work with the group on each question. Afterward, have students work in pairs to complete the Finding the Big Idea Skill Builder.

For ELL Students

The nature words, especially the animal names, in the poem may be unfamiliar to some of your ELL students. Read aloud or play the audio version of the poem. Then read the poem aloud a second time, pausing at the end of each line to ask students to point out the image that goes with each animal or part of nature named in that line of poetry. Invite students to tell what each animal is called in their first language.

For Advanced Readers

Connect this poem to another Storyworks 3 poem, “A Poem From the Treetops,” from our December 2020/January 2021 issue. Ask students to write a paragraph comparing what each poem has to say about nature and how humans should treat it. Instruct your students to pay special attention to the final two lines of each poem. 

For School or at Home

Have students research an animal or part of nature mentioned in the poem then write a paragraph about what makes it special. Students can include an illustration to go with their writing.