For years, I’ve known the best way to increase a student’s vocabulary is to help him/her see the ways the word parts work together to create meaning.  Our current vocabulary program is based in solid research, and it seems both teacher- and student-friendly on the surface, but after working with it for a year and a quarter, most of us are still struggling to make it work in our classrooms.  I’m always on the lookout for ways to make the instruction more meaningful and useful.

Last week, I found this poem in my filing cabinet:

In Retrospect

Last year changed its seasons
subtly, stripped its sultry winds
for the reds of dying leaves, let
gelid drops of winter ice melt onto a
warming earth and urged the dormant
bulbs to brave the pain of spring.

We, loving, above the whim of
Time, did not notice.

Alone, I remember now.

                                                –Maya Angelou

Both our 7th and 11th grade vocabulary books have a unit on the root spect, so immediately I thought this would be a great poem for a bell-ringer/discussion.  Not only does it provide a great chance to figure out what the word retrospect means, but it offers  a chance to look closely at other rich vocabulary (subtlysultry), and word parts (dormant).  For our Florida readers, most of whom have not had the opportunity to see the seasons change so vividly the imagery will help them visualize “gelid drops of winter ice.”  Both the stanza divisions and sentence structure covey so much meaning.
Do you know other short poems that pack so much instructional punch?  Please post titles/links in the comments!

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