Science of Reading Lessons For Middle School - Vocabulary


Learn how the Science of Reading relates to Middle School with the 3 Tiers of Vocabulary

When I first heard about the Science of Reading, I was sure it was some new-fangled way to box up my teaching as a middle school ELA teacher.  

Then there was a required course from my district in order to maintain my certification.  I begrudgingly began the course but then my eyes were opened:  Science of Reading isn't new - it's what we had always been taught in our teacher preparation classes back in our college days!

In short, the Science of Reading says that reading comprehension is the product of decoding and language comprehension.  

In my school, students with decoding issues in Middle School are placed in an Intensive Reading class.

So that means language comprehension is the area in which middle school ELA teachers can focus.  One of the areas of language comprehension is vocabulary.  And I have found that understanding the 3 Tiers of vocabulary is a key component to student success with comprehension.

So what are the Three Tiers of Vocabulary?

Tier 1 Vocabulary Words:  Basic Vocabulary

Tier 1 Words are the foundation for reading comprehension success

Tier 1 words are the most fundamental words in the English language.  These are words like "house", "baby", "car" and many more.  They are the building blocks of language and are used in everyday communication.  

While middle school students are likely to have acquired these words throughout their childhood, it is important for teachers to ensure that students are actually familiar with these words because if they are not, they may require specific intervention.

Tier 2 Vocabulary Words: High-Frequency Words

Teaching Tier 2 words will increase our middle school students' ability to comprehend text

Tier 2 bridges the gap between basic vocabulary and more specialized words.  These are words that are frequently encountered in various texts (and contexts), that have synonyms and antonyms, and therefore are essential for comprehension.  

Examples of these words include "contrast", "analyze" and "conclude".

Unlike Tier 1 words, students benefit from explicit instruction in Tier 2 words.  Why?  As middle school students encounter more complex texts, they need to understand the nuances of words to extract deeper meaning from the text.

For example, if the question is "How does the development of the main character influence the meaning of the text?" but the student doesn't know what the question means by "development" or "influence", they really cannot answer the question even if they actually know the how the character changed and how this impacted the theme of the text.

Tier 3 Vocabulary Words:  Specialized Words

Tier 3 words need to be taught in context of our everyday reading.

Tier 3 are domain-specific words that are subject-based and have limited use outside of specialized fields.  They are characterized by their technical and content-specific nature.

While middle school students may not encounter these types of words frequently, they are nonetheless important for truly understanding various content.  The word "constitution" is a Tier 3 word as is "photosynthesis" and "thesis".

These words are best taught in context as you come across them in your regular texts and lessons as an exercise in using context clues.

Now what?:  What Do The Three Tiers of Vocabulary Have to Do With Me As A Middle School ELA Teacher?

The bottom line is this:  If we want to increase our students' comprehension skills and have them show gains, we need to spend time explicitly teaching Tier 2 words. 

There are many ways to teach vocabulary, and I'll break those down in another post.  For now, if you are looking to get started,  I have taken each of the first 8 reading standards and extracted the Tier 2 words that are standard-specific and used in questions like the example from above.

Get the bundle here:

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