Teach This Poem is a weekly series featuring a poem from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help K-12 teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom.


Featured Poem

Lilies Opening

lilies opening

Classroom Activities
  1. Warm-up: Quickly go around the room and ask your students to share one or two associations they have with the word gardening. If they have never been in a garden, ask them to imagine what it would be like.
  2. Show your students the photograph of lilies opening. Allow them time to look at it, then ask them to write down what they notice in the photo. What stage of growth do they think the lilies are in and what details in the image make them think this? If they know the technical names of the parts of the flowers, they should use these terms. In small groups, your students should share what they have noticed in the photo and what they think is happening to the lilies.
  3. Project the poem “I Have This Way of Being” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and to write down the words, phrases, and structural aspects of the poem that jump out at them.
  4. Play the audio of Jamaal May reading his poem. Ask your students to listen to it carefully without writing anything down. Play the audio a second time and ask your students to list anything new that jumps out at them as they listen. Ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they have heard in the poem.
  5. Whole-class discussion: How do your students think the speaker in the poem feels about gardening? What is the evidence from their lists that supports their interpretations? How does the last stanza in the poem relate to the photograph of the lilies? Is the garden functioning as a metaphor in the poem? If so, for what?

Note: Jamaal May’s poem was featured in our Poem-a-Day series, which includes a statement about the poem that can serve as a perspective on the work. Consider sharing May's statement with your students after they have come up with their own interpretations:

“The poem keeps negating its considerations while essentially building on the first idea, which is also one way to think of struggle and growth. I think the closest anyone could get to an honest answer about who they are is a metaphor that shifts and evolves as they try to express it. In that reach towards articulation we might spark, within ourselves, broader ideas and questions about the world we grapple with.” —Jamaal May