Tiered Vocabulary Instruction

Why You Need to Be Teaching Tiered Vocabulary

Vocabulary instruction is often overlooked, since it is typically embedded in our overall daily curriculum. Before I truly understood the concept of tiered vocabulary, I felt like I was teaching vocabulary haphazardly, and without much focus or direction.

For this reason, I want to share with you a valuable strategy that can significantly impact our students’ vocabulary acquisition: tiered vocabulary.

So, what is tiered vocabulary? It’s a classification system that categorizes words into different tiers based on their frequency of use and importance in academic and everyday contexts. By understanding the three tiers of vocabulary, we can better prioritize our instruction and scaffold our students’ vocabulary development effectively.

The Three Tiers of Vocabulary

  • Tier 1: Basic Vocabulary – These are words that are commonly used in everyday speech and conversations. While they do not require explicit instruction, reinforcing them is important for vocabulary consolidation.
  • Tier 2: General Academic Vocabulary – These high-frequency words are essential for understanding complex texts and expressing oneself effectively. Explicitly teaching Tier 2 words enhances students’ comprehension and expression across different content areas.
  • Tier 3: Subject-Specific Vocabulary – These specialized words are specific to particular subjects or domains. While they require targeted instruction within the context of that subject, they are crucial for deepening understanding within a particular discipline.Free Amigos Ancient vector and picture

By implementing a tiered vocabulary approach, we can prioritize instruction on words that will have the greatest impact on students’ academic language proficiency, differentiate instruction to meet the diverse needs of our students, enhance students’ comprehension and expression across different content areas.

How Can I Implement Tiered Vocabulary in My Classroom?


  • Teach Tier 2 and Tier 3 words explicitly. Provide definitions, context, and multiple opportunities for students to encounter and use these words in meaningful ways.

Tiered Vocabulary Instruction

  • Encourage students to maintain vocabulary journals where they can record new words, their definitions, and provide personal examples or sentences

Tiered Vocabulary Instruction using interactive Notebooks

  • Create word walls that display high-impact Tier 2 and Tier 3 words. Use these along with relevant visuals or examples, to reinforce vocabulary throughout the year.
  • Design activities and assignments that require students to apply tiered vocabulary in context, promoting deeper understanding.

Tiered Vocabulary instruction using vocabulary in context

By embracing this approach, we can optimize our students’ language development, academic achievement, and overall communication skills. Let’s empower our learners with the tools they need to express themselves eloquently, comprehend complex texts, and thrive academically. 

Looking for vocabulary resources to help guide instruction? Try these!

Grades 1-3 Vocabulary Morning Work

Grades 1-3 Vocabulary Morning Work

Vocabulary in Context Grades 1-3

Vocabulary in Context Grades 4-6

Need more ideas on Teaching Vocabulary? Check out these blog posts!

Which Vocabulary Words Should you Be Teaching and When?

Making the Most of Your Morning Work-A Vocabulary Focus


Happy Teaching!

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