Tier 2 Vocabulary: An Indicator for Success

What helps define success in language learning? How do language teachers decide how much you know? How do teachers assess students writing?

Beck and Mckeown suggested in 1985 that language is made up of three tiers of vocabulary, however we will focus primarily on Tier 2 language. Tier 1 words are used in everyday life and are basic and rarely carry multiple meanings. The functionality of English verbs, adjectives, nouns and adverbs are prevalent at this level and the ones that second language learners must acquire first. Tier 2 words appear across many areas of language and are more high-frequency but are normally used by more mature speakers. Examples of Tier 2 words are benevolent, fortunate, cunning and merchant. They play an important role in instruction but can be difficult for 1st or 2nd language student because they often have multiple meaning, used across different subject areas and primarily are descriptive words that add depth of meaning for the reader. However, they play a vital role for students´reading and writing skills and ultimately are the indicators of success in language acquisition.

So how can students and teachers use tier 2 vocabulary successfully? According to Building Academic Vocabulary: Teacher´s Manual by Marzano and Pickering the following steps are recommend:

  1. Begin with a story or explanation of the term. Modelling how you use the word in your life or in conversation may be helpful to students.
  2. Have students put information into their own words. This process, which I call "recoding," is necessary to make sure students understand the word. This is a vital step in the memory process. Skipping this step can be disastrous as students may have a misconception that will be placed in long-term memory through incorrect rehearsals (Sprenger, 2005).
  3. Ask students to draw a picture or a graphic representation of the word. According to Ruby Payne (2009), if students cannot draw it, they really don't know it.
  4. Provide several engagements with the term and have students write them in a notebook. Research suggests that writing is good for the brain and memory, so using those notebooks or some other platform for writing is important (Snowdon, 2001).
  5. Informal rehearsals are just as important as formal ones. Engage students casually in conversation using the term. Putting them in pairs and letting them discuss their definitions is a good way to see if all students are storing the same information.
  6. Play games with the words. Games are a brain-compatible strategy for reinforcing learning. Actively processing vocabulary words in multiple ways allows the brain to store information in multiple memory systems, thus making access to that information easier with multiple triggers or cues (Sprenger, 2010).
Taken from Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core by Marilee Sprenger

So teachers should ask themselves constantly, ´What tier 2 words have I used today in my lessons? How can I use them more?´But more importantly, teachers have to constantly judge whether the word is useful and how often students might encounter it in their reading and writing. Frequency of usage is important so to be sure that students are recycling their Tier 2 vocabulary. Teachers must try to connect vocabulary to other words and use multiple synonyms in their teaching to provide a platform where students can make meaningful connections. Teacher´s should also keep in mind that their is no particular method to selecting age appropriate vocabulary because language does not function that way. Rather vocabulary, and tier 2 vocabulary, manifest itself throughout the students´ daily lives and are adjusted according their environmental influences.

However, teachers, examination boards and language entrance tests clearly assess our language learning and determine students´success in reading and writing. Language teachers´must be cognisant of this fact and make sure that they are using Tier 2 language in their teaching.
March 6, 2019
Mi vida antes del Covid- 19 (IMPERFECTO) A-2
Profile Picture
Alejandra Santiago
August 7, 2020
Profile Picture
Abby H
August 7, 2020
The Origins of popular English Idioms
Profile Picture
Jen Mc Monagle
August 7, 2020