Excerpted from one of my other blogs: Dialogue About Language, Literacy, and Learning
Several distinctions have been made about types of vocabulary words to be learned. One currently popular distinction is categorizing “Tiered Words.” Beck formulated a system where she described words as Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3. Here’s a link to her work with Mc Keown and Kucan (Creating Robust Vocabulary, Guildford Press, 2008):
al. al. describe these levels (tiers) as
Tier One: Most basic words, rarely require instruction in school; Exs: clock, baby, happy
Tier Two: Words that are of high frequency in mature language use and are found across a variety of domains; Exs: coincidence, absurd, industrious.
Tier Three: Words whose frequency of use is quite low and is often limited to specific domains; best learned when needed in a content area; Exs: isotope, lathe, peninsula
(Note: Tiered vocabulary is not to be confused with Tier 1, 2, and 3 Instruction in Response to Intervention literature. Those tiers refer to the level of intervention needed for students who are or are not progressing as expected in the regular classroom. The instruction is not specific to vocabulary).
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A description of tiered words from an elementary school.
Taken from Images of Academic Words where there are many other images/links. Simply google “images for academic words.”
And here is a commercial site that provides a 3 minute video distinguishing tiers of words: http://www.learninga-z.com/commoncore/academic-vocabulary.html
Tier 1 words: These words are basic vocabulary or the more common words most children will know. They include high-frequency words and usually are not multiple meaning words.
Tier 2 words: Less familiar, yet useful vocabulary found in written text and shared between the teacher and student in conversation. The Common Core State Standards refers to these as “general academic words.” Sometimes they are referred to as “rich vocabulary.” These words are more precise or subtle forms of familiar words and include multiple meaning words. Instead of walk for example, saunter could be used. These words are found across a variety of domains.
Tier 3 words: CCSS refers to these words as “domain specific;” they are critical to understanding the concepts of the content taught in schools. Generally, they have low frequency use and are limited to specific knowledge domains. Examples would include words such as isotope, peninsula, refinery. They are best learned when teaching specific content lessons, and tend to be more common in informational text.
So, we might consider Tier 2 words as general “academic words” while Tier 3 words are considered “content specific words” referring to words/concepts learned in content areas like science and social studies.
We can also distinguish words important for instruction: frequency, conceptual complexity (abstractness), and word relationships: familiarity, morphological family, semantic relationships and dispersion.
One of the very best sources on a range of vocabulary topics is the Text Project. See, for example: