In this article, we’ll target the critical aspect of choosing appropriate words to teach. Since this instruction involves so much more than presenting a dictionary definition, it does require a concerted amount of time and effort. So, choosing the “right” words for students to learn and practice is an important element in our discussion. Later, we’ll look at how these words can be most effectively taught and practiced so that they become words that readers understand in their reading and can use in their speaking and writing.
As Isabel Beck and colleagues tell us, there are three tiers of words:
Tier 1 – basic words (daddy, food) – These words usually do not require instruction
Tier 3 – specialized words, occur largely in content area texts (amoeba, Constitution) These words are generally discussed within the content area classes.
Tier 2 – words that occur frequently across a wide range of texts, rich in meaning – These Tier 2 words will be the focus of our discussion.
Tier 2 words that deserve in-depth teaching, practice, and review should be:
- generally useful, likely to appear in many texts
- easy to relate to other words, connect to other ideas that students have learned
- relatively easy to explain and describe at students’ current level of understanding
- rich in meaning, can be discussed in several different contexts
Let’s try a word sorting activity, thinking about the three tiers of words. Before looking at the answer below, think about which of these words would fit into each of the tiers.
cloud friend accumulate lava legislature pizza misfortune aorta
walk vary circumference falter
Now, let’s look at this excerpt from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, one of my favorite student novels. Read it several times and try to find two/three Tier Two words that deserve discussion and practice.
“Ha!” said the Queen, speaking more to herself than to him. “A door. A door from the world of men. I have heard of such things. This may wreck all. But he is only one, and he is easily dealt with.” As she spoke these words, she rose from her seat and looked Edmund full in the face, her eyes flaming; at the same moment she raised her wand. Edmund felt sure that she was going to do something dreadful but he seemed unable to move. Then, just as he gave himself up for lost, she appeared to change her mind.
Three good choices here are “ wreck”, “flaming”, and “dreadful.” These three words could be used in different contexts and situations, and they lend themselves to interesting discussions with students.
You could wreck a car, but you could also wreck a party or another occasion. Once students understand this, they could discuss how that could happen.
“Flaming” literally means on fire, but here it has the added meaning of extreme anger. “Flaming” can also mean intense, as in a flaming desire to become an actor.
“Dreadful” could be explained as terrible, but it carries more meaning than that. The discussion of this word would also lead to a discussion of “dread”, a most useful Tier Two word.
Choosing the most appropriate Tier Two words to teach, discuss, practice, and review is not an exact science. It helps to read a passage several times to determine which words would be the most beneficial for this vocabulary instruction. Remember that you want to choose words that students will see over and over again as they read and words that have depth of meaning.
In our next blog, we’ll discuss the most effective ways to involve students in robust vocabulary instruction and practice so that they become excited and motivated to learn new words.
Helpful Link: The Academic Word Finder will provide you with a choice of Tier Two words from any passage.
Lynn has been a practitioner in the field of literacy education for almost 40 years and has served as a special education teacher, teacher educator and trainer, intervention director, and university professor. Her focus has always been on intervening with struggling readers and on helping educators to do this most effectively. Lynn is the developer and facilitator of OGOA’s Connect to Comprehension Course.