Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Disciplinary Literacy

Reading: Big Ideas


It is commonly agreed that there is a strong relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension (McKeown, Kucan, & Beck, 2008; Stahl, 2003). Thus, as students engage in reading and responding to texts within each discipline, they need to have an understanding of important words before they read or have strategies for determining word meaning as they read. Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002, 2008) provide a framework for the types of words readers encounter in all texts, based on a three-tier model:

Tier 1 Words: Everyday, basic, and high-frequency words that, when pronounced correctly, are familiar to native speakers of the language (e.g., notebook, table, excited, begin).

Tier 2 Words: Words that are more sophisticated and refine or extend understanding of known concepts; in essence, words mature readers encounter frequently in spoken and written language. Many of these words have general utility across disciplines and thus would qualify as general academic vocabulary. Examples of Tier 2 words are contempt, gallantly, fallible, sustain, and reiterate.

Tier 3 Words: Words that are encountered less frequently in general reading and are often limited to use in specific disciplines (e.g., algorithm, mitosis, mummify, hyperbole). Sometimes, Tier 3 words have multiple meanings, as is the case with the word product, which has general definitions that are likely known to students before they encounter a different meaning of the word in mathematics.

Reflect: Read a portion of text that you use in your curriculum. List key vocabulary from the text that relates to Tier 2 and Tier 3 words (3–5 words for each tier). Then, reflect on these questions: 

  • How would you present and teach these words in each Tier to assist students in comprehending the text? 
  • Which tier(s) of vocabulary do you typically emphasize in your instruction? 
  • Which tiers are most challenging for your students? Why?