The Tiers of Vocabulary


With the implementation of common core in the public schools, the emphasis on vocabulary and its instruction in relation to the academic curriculum has been at the forefront of research. Teaching vocabulary involves a multidimensional approach that can include visuals, multiple exposures in various contexts or relation to prior knowledge. Beyond this instruction, knowing which types of words to teach can positively impact vocabulary acquisition for our students (S. Mosburg-Michael, 2011).

Below are the three tiers of vocabulary:

Tier 1 vocabulary are words (nouns, adjectives, verbs) found in early literacy that occur frequently in everyday conversation. These words are simple because they are commonly heard making them easy to acquire and typically do not have more than one meaning.

Tier 2 vocabulary are words that require a higher level of thinking and understanding. They are found in adult conversations and literature. This literature aspect is an important one to consider in relation to Tier 2 vocabulary because typically when these words begin to appear in the curriculum, the children are at an age in which they are “reading to learn” as opposed to “learning to read.” In other words, this level of vocabulary is important for reading comprehension, contains multiple meanings and is indicative of a student’s progress in school (Hutton, 2008).

Tier 3 vocabulary words can be described as words that do not occur as frequently and are highly specific to the context. Examples of these words include medical, economy or monarchy. These words tend to be found in a particular subject as opposed to within varying contexts. This specificity makes it more challenging to acquire.

InferCabulary Pro is an interactive and engaging edtech tool that focuses on teaching Tier 1 and Tier 2 vocabulary that are essential to access the academic curriculum and ensure that our students or children can comprehend what they’ve read or heard in class to learn the plethora of new information introduced to them.

Hutton, T. Three Tiers of Vocabulary and Education [PDF document]. Retrieved from Super Duper Online Web site.

Mosburg-Michael, S. (2011) Supporting Vocabulary and Language Development Through Collaboration with Classroom Teachers [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from Holliston Speech Files

Post by Guest Blogger – Kellie Ileto, M.A., SLP works as a speech language pathologist in Montgomery County Public Schools with children who are deaf/hard of hearing. She recently graduated from George Washington University where she worked in a Cochlear Implant Research Lab and completed her Masters thesis focusing on pragmatic language in children with autism.