The majority of words that students learn implicitly in everyday conversation are Tier 1 words. These are words like “dog” and high-frequency words that students are taught beginning in kindergarten. It is important to explicitly teach children the 1000 high-frequency words on Fry’s list from a young age, particularly if students are English language learners (ELLs). This will help ALL students in their listening and reading comprehension.
But students really develop their vocabularies when they are taught Tier 2 words, more commonly called “academic language.” These are more advanced words like “canine” that are essential to understanding more complex texts. Teachers and curriculums need to emphasize these common, high-utility words that students need to understand to meet their educational goals.
Finally, there are Tier 3 words, which are words that students CANNOT learn implicitly. These are topic-specific, often technical vocabulary not used in everyday conversation. For example, the scientific term for “dog” is “canis lupus familiaris.” While these words can be fascinating and important in some contexts, they do not have high utility for the average learner. Therefore, teachers and curriculums should not spend much time teaching Tier 3 words and spend the bulk of time expanding Tier 2 vocabularies.
Vocabulary Acquisition Strategies
So, how do we teach these Tier 2 words? The first step is to make sure that students can figure out the meaning of unknown words independently. It is essential to teach students how to look up new words in the dictionary and use the five types of context clues within TEXT to figure out the meaning of those words. This includes finding synonyms, antonyms, definitions, using examples, and using these clues to make inferences.