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There are 3 types of vocabulary words: Tier 1—Basic Vocabulary, Tier 2—High Frequency/Multiple Meaning/Cross-Curricular, and Tier 3—Domain Specific


The Common Core State Standards focus on Tier 2 and 3 academic vocabulary words for instruction.



Tier 1 words are basic vocabulary that commonly appears in spoken language. Because Tier 1 words frequently arise in numerous contexts and with nonverbal communication, such as happy, eat, and run, they rarely require explicit instruction.


So, how do we know which words we need to teach?


Tier 2 words are considered high frequency words encountered across several content areas.  Because of their lack of redundancy in oral language, Tier 2 words present challenges to students who primarily meet them in print.  All Tier 2 words are not equally important and you may need to determine how useful the word is in a studnet’s vocabulary repertoire. Examples of Tier 2 words are analyze, coincidence, estimate and demonstrate.


Tier 3 words are infrequent, domain specific words needed to explore specific content areas.  Tier 3 words are central to building knowledge and conceptual understanding within the various academic domains and should be integral to instruction in the content areas.  Math, Health, Music, Art, Science, English and Social Studies terms are all examples of content areas. Examples of Tier 3 words are product, veto, metamorphosis, cell membrane, personification and endurance.


For more information from the experts on vocabulary, view these videos/articles:

Isabel Beck on Vocabulary

Reading Rockets: Beck, Bell and Walpole at Reading Rockets

Marzano  @ ASCD