Teaching Tier Two Words


Common Core curriculum recognizes the importance of vocabulary in learning.  Refer to this blog to learn about the three tiers Blog on three tiers of vocabulary.

Background knowledge of the topic being taught in the classroom is a key component of learning. It becomes the foundation in which new concepts can then be added. The vocabulary that we learn through our experiences including our interaction with text is part of the foundation.

Vocabulary is a key component of all my treatment and I use a combination of research from Marzano as well as Beck and McKeown.

I start with a story. Most tier two words are in literature. Prior to reading the book I identify the tier two words so that even in the introduction of the story i can begin to use the words. So for example, when the students were learning the word ‘desperately’ I first had them do a fast jog around the playground and then I was very dramatic about needing a drink from the water fountain. “I desperately need a drink of water. How many of you desperately need a drink from the water fountain?”

How do I determine what words I will pick out as Tier Two words? I use this form as I review the words in the story.Instructional Guide for Academic Vocabulary- blank (5)

I will preview the text writing the words that I think might be problematic for a child to understand. From this list of words I then use the form to pick those that match that particular category. If there are remaining words on the list I may just give the definition to the student but not necessarily have those words part of our personal dictionary.

I review my list frequently with my students using a Powerpoint presentation or Google Slide presentation. The students and I may add words to this document as they come across more difficult words in their reading or in other classes. So for example, we added the word ‘kin’ when the first graders were learning the ‘in’ family. They could read ‘kin’ but they did not understand the word.

When we are learning the words we act many of them out. This makes this a multi-sensory approach with students hearing the word, seeing a picture and motoric as they act them out.

When we review the words later any words that the child continue to have problems we go through the process of acting them out, give another example and then I give them the words on a key chain to practice at home. I only put three pictures on this at a time.  I give the parent a note about the lesson in which the word was taught. The students then return them.
Village clip (2)

There have been times that a particular word may cause more difficulty. I then may look for a video or another story that illustrates that same word. We may need to add a different picture. For example, the picture that I chose for the word ‘gumption’ was from a poster about World War II and some of the students recognized it and associated the word with the war rather than the ‘courage’ I wanted them to understand. I then found a story called ” Gumption” by Elise Broach Story about a young boy on an adventure with his uncle available at Amazon. This story was easier for the student’s to equate with the word gumption so now I have the two pictures side by side.

If the child uses the word in their writing or has a discussion using the word outside of my lesson I make a big deal of this. If it has been in their writing I take a picture of them and their work. This usually causes a rash of other students attempting to use the vocabulary words. What a wonderful thing to need to take more pictures of children succeeding!


This kindergarten boy wrote about his family using the vocabulary word kin.

Version 2

Not to be outdone, his seatmate wrote in his journal about his family. “My sister and me are bickering.” Bickering was one of the vocabulary words from the story ” It’s Mine.” by Leo Lionni 

“It’s Mine” available at Amazon

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6 comments on “Teaching Tier Two Words
  1. So helpful in helping me with my approach for one my kiddos. I will be sure to put this information to good use in my next lesson plan. Thank you…your resources make a huge difference and providing guidance for new concepts.

  2. Thank you for the resource! I feel more confident teaching tier 2 words from all you have taught us about them! Thank you for the ideas!

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