Tiered Vocabulary: What Is It, and Why Does It Matter?
Initially explained by Dr. Isabel Beck, Dr. Margaret McKeown, and Dr. Linda Kucan in the 2002 publication of their book titled Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction, tiered vocabulary is an organizational framework for categorizing words. It consists of three different word levels, or tiers, and each level has its own implications for instruction.
Word levels are based on frequency, complexity, and meaning. As teachers, we know that a robust vocabulary supports reading comprehension and reinforces understanding of new and difficult texts. Using a tiered approach to vocabulary instruction assists in the development of language acquisition and promotes a strong foundation for literacy across grade levels and content areas.
Tier one words are high frequency words, used over and over again in the course of general conversation. Because tier one words are basic everyday words, most of them are learned through oral communication with family members, peers, or teachers. There is no need for specific instruction with tier one words. Examples of tier one words include table, happy, baby, and clock.
Tier two words are also referred to as academic vocabulary. They are cross-curricular words, appearing frequently across topics and content areas. Tier two words are not common words used in conversation, making them ideal candidates for direct instruction. Examples of tier two words include complex, analyze, restrict, ultimate, and foundation. In addition to being cross-curricular, tier two words often have multiple meanings, making them an integral component of reading comprehension. The more students learn high utility (tier two) words, the better they will be able to comprehend text that contains those words.
Tier three words consists of low frequency words that occur in specific domains. Tier three words are central to understanding concepts within various academic subjects and should be integrated into content instruction. Examples of tier three words include molecule, tundra, and legislature.
I call it Focus on Five. First, students are required to find and record five new terms in the text. Next, students try to define the word using context clues. A dictionary can be used as a last resort. Since application of the new word is important, students are required to work with the word on their own using a variety of vocabulary activities (visual representation, narrative writing, world connections, etc.) Finally, students are assessed on their knowledge of the new terms.
You can create your own Focus on Five, or click here to download everything you need. The vocabulary activities work with any text and can be used again and again. The goal is for students to internalize the vocabulary acquisition process and repeat it automatically when reading independently.
“Hands down one of the most useful purchases I have made on TPT!” -Evelyn W.