Vocabulary Complexity Across Tiers
As children move through each grade level the instructional vocabulary becomes more specific. This specificity is necessary if children are to articulate their thinking about advanced content and complex ideas with precision. This is what Straczynski meant when he said, “The quality of our thoughts is bordered on all sides by our facility with language.” Children must have the words to express nuances in meaning and to clearly formulate and articulate their thoughts about advanced content. That requires mastery of higher levels of vocabulary not used in every day conversation. Tier II and III vocabulary have exponential instructional potential because this is where many English cognates can be found for Romance languages. This type of vocabulary also lends itself well to a study of morphology and analysis of prefixes, suffixes and base/root words.
Teachers can front load this vocabulary by telling students, “Here are the words will you need in order to talk about what we are learning today.” Students should experience vocabulary as a part of their active learning and thinking rather than as a separate academic area. Vocabulary is best learned by its intentional and frequent use in each of the four domains: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Teachers that build in scaffolds like word banks, anchor charts, sentence frames, personal dictionaries, and word walls can foster the use of new words and hold students accountable for their mastery. Not every concept has vocabulary which progresses across all three tiers, but for those that do, you can see the increased complexity both linguistically and in the cognition required for understanding and use. If we want our students to be precise thinkers, they must have the precise words to describe their thinking. Thinking and vocabulary go hand in hand because it is with words that we frame the boundaries of our thoughts, anchor them in memory, and share them with the world.
Click Vocabulary Complexity Across Tiers for a PDF of the above chart.