Choosing The Best Tier 2 Vocab Words In Books

Vocabulary sometimes gets left out in primary grades because we feel like we
have “bigger fish” to fry in getting kids to actually decode and read.

But explicit tier 2 vocabulary instruction needs a place at the table in the
Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom too.  I love using
picture books to
teach vocabulary during our whole group reading lessons.  It’s quick, authentic, and so easy that you can leave it on your sub

You can read about the routines I use in
this blog post, but today, I’m answering a question I often get about tier 2 vocabulary
words.  How do I decide what words to do?  Where do the words come
from?  And what exactly are tier 2 words anyways?

What Are Tier 2 Words?

Before talking about what tier 2 words are, it’s important to remember what
tier 2 words are NOT.  Words can be classified as tier 1, tier 2, or tier
3 words.  Tier 2 words are NOT sight words or mortar words.  Those
are tier 1 words.

Tier 2 words are also NOT academic vocabulary words like herbivore or voting.
Those are content specific, tier 3 words. 

Tier 2 vocabulary words are those colorful words that make books exciting.

beckon, brilliant, shimmer, chuckle…. just to name a few!  Need some
more examples?  Get a sneak peek at all of the words I use for
all 25 books I have lessons for

Most quality picture books that are intended for read alouds are full of tier
2 words.  You just have to train your eye to look for them.

Now that we can agree on what tier 2 words are, let’s talk about how to choose
the most effective tier 2 words.

Find A Good, Solid Picture Book

First, before I can think about the wordlist, I need to find
the book.  In my non-expert opinion, the best book for explicit
vocabulary is one that is engaging, has great illustrations, and is one I’m
already using for something else!

For example, last year in 2nd grade homeschool, we did a
Next Gen Science unit on landforms
and talked about erosion.  We were already reading
this fiction book in science to
illustrate erosion cause and effects.  And we were also already using it
in writing to study the author’s craft of descriptive phrases.

So, I decided to look through it and see if I could find enough tier 2 words
to make a
out of for vocabulary.  BAM!  Done!  We read the book during
our reading time and did
the vocabulary lesson
and then also reread it during science and focused on erosion cause and
effects to introduce our STEM challenge. #winning

Another thing to consider is that the reading level of the book. 
Patterned books like, Brown Bear, Brown Bear are probably not
going to work for teaching tier 2 words.  Those type of books are going
to be full of tier 1 words and not helpful.  So, no beginning readers,
leveled readers, or repetitive texts for the most part.

On the other hand, content books are not going to be great either. 
Reading a non-fiction book about erosion would be great during science, but it
wouldn’t be as helpful when studying tier 2 words because the academic
vocabulary, or tier 3 words, would be getting in the way of learning tier 2
words.  Instead of being able to critically think about the tier 2 words
I choose, kids would get “stopped up” needing to know the content specific

A good, solid, fiction story that’s engaging and one I’m already using is
exactly the kind of book I’m after for explicit tier 2 vocab lessons.

Now then, let’s choose some words!

Words Kids Aren’t Saying

The first tier 2 words that jump out at me when I’m previewing through a
possible picture book are words my students aren’t using in everyday

I go through the book and write down every word that is off the beaten path
for my kids to use in classroom conversations.  

Maybe my kids say their snack tastes “really good,” but not “delicious.” 
Delicious could be a possible tier 2 word to teach.  Or, if my group uses
delicious, but they don’t often say, “scrumptious,” then maybe that’s the word
I write down.

It’s important to know that I write down the root word and then teach all
variations of the word during the lesson.  I also add a checkmark every
time I see the word (or a version of it) repeated.

You know your kids best.  Listen to their conversations.  They are
letting you know when they talk which vocabulary words they are most
comfortable using.  By explicitly teaching tier 2 words, we are
increasing their oral language skills and, eventually their reading
comprehension and writing style.

Words You Want Kids To Write

Speaking of writing… that’s another thing I consider when choosing tier 2
words.  Which words do I want to see kids using in their writing?

With that in mind, I go through my list of words for the book I’ve chosen and
mark through any words kids are already using in their writing.  This is
because I don’t always hear kids say all of the words that are in their
vocabulary.  Our written language is different than our spoken
language.  We use words in our writing that sometimes we don’t have the
opportunity to say in casual conversation.  Because of this, I know that
if kids are correctly using a tier 2 word on my list in their formal writing,
then it’s a word they have a solid understanding of, even if they don’t say it
in conversations.  

I also star words that I would LOVE to see kids include in their writing the

The Most Bang For My Buck

I like to keep my list of words I teach in a
vocabulary lesson
to somewhere between 3 and 6 words, depending on the time I have to teach, the
age group I’m with, and the difficulty of the words.

Usually, when I first make my list of possible words, I have more than
that.  In my example, I started with 17 words that are unusual to hear my
kids using in the classroom.

Then, I marked through words kids already use in their writing and starred
words I want kids to use the most.

Now, I’m ready to look over the list again, thinking about the words that are
going to give me the most bang for my buck.  What do I mean by

I’m looking for words that my kids don’t use, but if they started using them,
there would be a lot of opportunities to use that word.  

For example, crest is a great, tier 2 word, but not one my kids would have
many opportunities to use in their speaking or writing.  But, invade is a
word I could totally see them using more, especially boys! 🙂

I’m also looking for words that we can illustrate well, use in everyday
sentences, and have multiple synonyms so that it will strengthen their
comprehension and understanding of the word.  

Finalizing the List

In the example I’ve been using with
The Tide Is Coming In, I’m for sure using the word “defend” because it was used in the text
multiple times.

I also chose fortress, invade, rogue, and deposit because they are unusual
words my 2nd grader wasn’t saying or writing and I knew he didn’t know the
full meaning of those words.

Now that I’ve narrowed my 17 word list down to 5 words, I’m ready to
teach!  I use Google slides to teach the words whole group (or they can
be assigned in Google classroom).  And I print out the independent page
for some writing practice and reinforcement.  You can find this lesson
all of my Tier 2 lessons already planned and ready to teach here.  

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