Tiered Vocabulary Instruction

Instructor: Melissa Iturralde

Melissa is an elementary/middle school teacher and has a master's degree in educational leadership.

Informational text and higher-level literature is being utilized more and more in our classrooms, along with a deeper need for vocabulary development across the disciplines. This lesson will define Tiered Vocabulary Instruction, differentiate between the three tiers and provide examples of each.

What is Tiered Vocabulary?

Tiered Vocabulary Instruction enables teachers to break down text for students into levels of understanding. The tiers basically work from basic to more complex. In a nutshell, the first tier includes basic, common words that we use through conversation. The second tier is specific to informational text and literature across the curricula, and it's used in a variety of modes. The third tier includes domain-specific vocabulary, particular to one content area or subject matter.

Tier One: The Foundation

Tier One words can be seen as the 'foundation' to our language development. They are words we learn early on in life in order to function in society to read, write or speak. They are typically not challenging for primary grades and up because they have already been retained and mastered through conversation. Not much time should be spent on Tier One vocabulary in lessons unless a particular student or group of students is lacking language skills. A brief introduction of these words and a discussion of how they connect to a subject or topic is usually all it takes to bring them to students' attention. Some examples of Tier One words are talk, guess and write. These words are basic, not too descriptive and learned early in life.

Tier Two: The Chameleon

Tier Two words are the 'chameleons' of this model because they can adapt to many subject areas and can be used easily among them. However, these words aren't frequent flyers of spoken language like Tier One. When Tier Two words are used in the classroom, direct instruction and exposure to the terms are needed to ensure that comprehension of the text occurs effectively. This instruction should be embedded into the text or piece of literature so students can see how they are used to gain a deeper understanding of the lesson. Tier Two words hold great value to learning. If a student doesn't understand a Tier Two word, it can hinder the retention of an informational or literary text. Furthermore, if a student misuses a Tier Two word from prior knowledge, it will cause them to misunderstand the core of the lesson. It is important that educators encourage students to pay close attention to how these words can be used in different genres or in different forms to achieve mastery. Examples of Tier Two words are dialogue, predict and draft. All of these words can be used throughout a variety of subjects in different ways and are not used too much through chitchat.

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