Tiers of Vocabulary

Vocabulary involves understanding the meaning of words and using these words appropriately in language. Vocabulary can be classified into three tiers by the frequency of use, complexity of words, and the meaning of the word.

The three tiers include:

Tier 1 - Basic/General Vocabulary

There are around 8,000 words in this tier of vocabulary. These words are generally established by the end of primary school and, for most children, do not need to be specifically taught. These are words used in everyday conversations that children learn from listening and context. Within this tier, the words generally have one meaning. Tier 1 words include nouns (e.g. girl, tiger), verbs (e.g. run, chased) and adjectives (e.g. blue, beautiful).

Children with a language/learning disorder or who are learning english as a second language may need specific instruction with Tier 1 words.

Tier 2 - Descriptive Vocabulary/High Frequency/Multiple Meaning

There are approximately 7,000 words in Tier 2. These words include words that are used frequently over multiple contexts, words that contain multiple meanings (e.g. spring) and an increased number of descriptive vocabulary. Words in this tier include: disaster, fortunate, measure, terrified, analyse.

Tier 2 words are necessary for:

To decide if a word belongs to Tier 2 consider:

If the answer to the above questions is 'yes' then the word is likely to be a Tier 2 word. If not, it is probably a Tier 3 word.

It is recommended that teachers focus on Tier 2 words for teaching as these words will have the greatest impact on student vocabulary knowledge for reading comprehension and written expression.

Tier 3 - Low Frequency and Context Specific

There are approximately 400,000 words in this tier of vocabulary. These words are specific for each subject/domain and include words such as amino acid, latitude, microeconomics, photosynthesis.

These words are necessary to understand specific concepts taught in subjects. These words are context-specific and necessary for in-depth understanding of subjects. As students move to upper secondary, they are required to understand many Tier 3 words.

These tiers of vocabulary can be used to help determine which words to target during vocabulary intervention support. It is recommended that Tier 2 words are targeted to maximise efficiency of teaching.