Common Core Teaching – Week 2: Tiered Vocabulary Words

Last week, I shared with you the information I received regarding text complexity in some of my latest Common Core and literacy meetings.  Tonight, I’d like to share some information I learned and received regarding tiered vocabulary instruction.

As long as you do not live under a rock, you (hopefully) know about the three tiers of RTI. Tiers regarding vocabulary words have been around for awhile, however, many teachers are (understandably) confused about the difference between a tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 vocabulary word.  Chances are, you will be hearing about tiered vocabulary words and instruction more often as new states adopt the Common Core Standards and as states begin to revise their tests and rigor to meet the CCSS.  First, let me explain the difference between the tiers.  
Tier I Words – Basic Vocabulary
    Tier 1 words are your most basic vocabulary words: high frequency words, nouns, verbs, etc. These words generally do not have multiple meanings and are words we use most often in everyday discussion.  Examples of Tier 1 words would include: boy, cat, excited, red, and jumped
Tier II Words – Multiple Meaning Words
     We use these words often and they can generally be used across multiple subjects. Tier 2 words are words that allow students to be more descriptive and detailed in their reading, writing, and speech.  Our presenter gave a good explanation by sharing that Tier II words are academic vocabulary words.  These are words that can be used daily within the classroom by both the teacher and the student.  They may be words they will see on a test and/or words that are more specific, with multiple meanings, and be seen across many subject areas. Examples of Tier 2 words would include: muttered, fortunate, haunting, splendid, and required.  

Tier III Words- Limited to Specific, Specialized Domains
     Tier 3 words are words that are used with low frequency.  These words are confined to a very specific area and are only used when the word pertains to the topic.  For example, if the student is studying the human heart, words such as aorta, atrium, ventriclecirculatory system, cardiac, etc. 
Please remember that according to your students’ specific background, prior knowledge, environment, and exposure, tier 2 words and tier 3 words could possibly blend together at times.  Word selection is based upon a students’ personal experiences in life. 
“How does it look in my classroom?”
  Our presenter gave us some great tips and advice on vocabulary instruction within our classrooms. One point she made was to make sure we are not giving our kids too much information on vocabulary words before they even read the text.  Makes sense.  If we give them a rich book introduction and picture walk, and on top of that, point out and explain each and every difficult vocabulary word, what purpose do they have to read?  We’ve already given them what the book or text is about. Therefore, the only thing we have accomplished is a fall in motivation and a minimization of the student using critical thinking skills. 
  She suggests coming to the word with the child and actively discussing what the word could mean using the context clues, pictures, prior knowledge, and meaning within the text.  When you are explicitly teaching vocabulary, ask yourself how much “mileage” you can get out of that word.  Chances are, if it is a word that has multiple meanings and can be found across academic and subject areas, it is a word worth spending time on! 
The following is a list of instructional activities you can do within the classroom to increase your students’ understanding and usage of tier 2 words:
-Model and teach the use of context clues.
-Word Association – pair a new word with a known word to increase meaning
-Use the phrases “Someone who…” and “Something that…” when describing a word
-Teach students how to identify and use the root word, prefix, and suffix to figure out the   
          meaning of an unknown word 
– Model, discuss, use, and identify multiple meaning words.  I use the phrase “Tired Words” in 
          my classroom.  We choose a basic (Tier 1) word such as happy and list all of the multiple 
          meaning words that are attached. My students love to put “tired words” to bed and help 
          me make a list of new and interesting words to use, read, and write instead! 🙂
– Discuss and use antonyms and synonyms on a daily basis. 
-Use organizers for words such as word maps. 
I hope this gives you a better idea of what Tiered Vocabulary lists look like.  Next week I will be sharing some information about writing and writing instruction. 🙂 Stay tuned!
Thank you for following my blog and I hope you have a great evening! 🙂
Happy Learning,

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  1. Love this post! Perfect timing! I realized today that many of my students lack vocabulary- I had a student get stuck today when I asked him how two things in a story were "alike." He understood the story, but did not know what "alike" meant! Yikes! I ordered the book Bringing Words to Life to hopefully again more ideas for vocabulary. I would love to specifics of how you do this and embed it in your instruction (daily, weekly, etc)- if you don't mind :). Thanks again!!!!

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