Tier Vocabulary: Three tiers for vocabulary! Hip hip hooray!

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SWBAT define Tier Vocabulary and notice them in books from their browsing boxes.

Big Idea

Introducing the concept of Tier Vocabulary Words


According to http://www.learningunlimitedllc.com/2013/05/tiered-vocabulary/, “The Common Core State Standards place an importance on academic vocabulary. In addition to developing an advanced vocabulary, the CCSS calls for increasing the amount of nonfiction and informational text in classrooms. We know that vocabulary knowledge influences fluency, comprehension, and student achievement. And, vocabulary plays an even more important role in understanding nonfiction and informational text. It has been estimated that 80% of comprehension in nonfiction is dependent upon understanding the vocabulary.”  Tiered Vocabulary is an organizational framework for categorizing words and suggests implications for instruction. (The three-tier framework was developed by Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown.)  All words in the English language are categorized in one of three ways:


Tier 1: common general vocabulary – words that we use regularly, therefore the biggest tier of the cake (i.e. baby, big, pretty, happy)

Tier 2: “fancy schmancy” vocabulary – sophisticated, descriptive words that replace tier 1 words (i.e. infant, colossal, attractive, ecstatic)

Tier 3: low frequency, context-specific vocabulary – words we only use when referring to specific subject matter, therefore the smallest tier of the cake (i.e. molecule, sedimentary, median, otoscope)


Although all of the tiers are important, Tier 2 Words are an integral part of vocabulary development and have become a large focus in my classroom for both reading and writing.


I like to spend a sufficient amount of time on each strategy to allow for an introduction, modeling, scaffolding, independent practice, assessment, and reflection. Therefore, I spend approximately 1 week on each strategy and follow a similar instructional routine. This is day 2 of Tier Vocabulary Week – Modeling/Scaffolding. 


10 minutes

Connection: I always start by connecting today’s lesson to something kids have previously learned so that it triggers their schema and background knowledge. Since this is the second day they are learning about Tier 2 Words, I make a connection to the introduction lesson we did yesterday. I remind students that the strategy we are working on this week is called Tier Vocabulary and I refer to the Tier Words poster that I introduced the day before. I briefly review each of the three tiers then I tell them that today, we will be focusing on Tier 2 Words, which I like to refer to as “fancy schmancy” words that replace boring, common Tier 1 Words.


Teaching Point: This is when I tell kids explicitly what we will be working on. I say, “Today, we are going to look at some familiar text from some of our favorite books and I want you to help me identify the Tier 2 Words in each. When I want to model a strategy, I copy a page from 4 different books that we’ve already read together in class.  This way, they are already familiar with the text and understand the context of the excerpts that I’ve chosen. I usually staple the excerpts in a small packet that I hand out to each student so they can follow along as I model the strategy. I then use the “To, With, and By” method of instruction to scaffold their learning. With the first example, I read the excerpt TO the class and model the strategy by thinking out loud. I am teaching the strategy TO them. I circle the Tier 2 Word on the page and model using context clues to determine its meaning.  I also think aloud to the kids which Tier 1 Word this word might replace. With the second example, I do the strategy WITH them. I ask them to read along with me and then to identify the Tier 2 “fancy schmancy” word on the page. Then, we talk about the context clues that help us understand the meaning of the word. We write down their thoughts on the corresponding page in the packet. With the third example, I want the students to do it BY themselves, which leads us to the active engagement.


Active Engagement: This is where students get to try out the strategy that I just taught them. I ask them to read the third excerpt and try the strategy on their own. Since we are working on Tier 2 Words, they are supposed to first identify the “fancy schmancy” word then figure out what it means. They are expected to write their thoughts on the corresponding page in the packet. I give the students a few minutes then call on someone to share.


Link to Ongoing Work: During this portion of the mini-lesson, I give the students a task that they will focus on during Independent Reading time. Now that they’ve practiced Tier 2 Words, I tell them that during Independent Reading, their job is to finish the last excerpt in the packet. I want to give them one last opportunity to practice the strategy with text that I’ve chosen before they apply it to a text of their choice, which will happen the next day. This task is short and sweet so the students know that once it is completed, they read from their browsing box for the remainder of Independent Reading time. At the end of Reader’s Workshop, they will meet with their assigned reading partner to discuss what they wrote on the corresponding page in the packet. I remind them that I will randomly choose a few students to share so that they make sure to complete their task. 

Guided Practice

45 minutes

Transition Time: Every day after the mini-lesson, students get 5 minutes of Prep Time to choose new books (if needed), find a comfy spot, use the bathroom, and anything else they might need to do to prepare for 40 minutes of uninterrupted Independent Reading. 


Guided Practice: Today, I will be conferencing with students right at their comfy spots and asking them to show me the work they’ve completed in their packet.  This is also when I could pull students for assessments, one-on-one reading, strategy groups, or guided reading groups.


5 minutes

Closing: At the end of 40 minutes, I remind students that their job during reading time was to complete the last page of their Tier 2 Words packet.  Then I ask them to meet with their reading partner to share and discuss what they wrote. Did you and your partner find the same words? Were you able to figure out the meaning of the words? After partners have had a chance to share with each other, I ask a few students to share with the class. I then tell the class that we will continue to focus on Tier 2 Words for the rest of the week. I tell them to take their packets home to show their parents the strategy we are working on. Reader’s Workshop has come to an end so students put their browsing boxes away and make sure the library is neat and organized.