More than just definitions!

Jennifer Sumerlin

8th Grade Teacher

English Language Arts

Social Studies

ECU Graduate Student

Vocabulary - Selection Matters

According to Kimberly Tyson's blog, "Tier 2 words include frequently occurring words that appear in various contexts and topics and play an important role in verbal functioning across a variety of content areas." It is important that teacher select Tier Two Vocabulary words very purposefully because all tier two words are not equally important. Therefore, teachers should consider a variety of factors when choosing vocabulary to teach. According to Isabel Beck, Margaret McKowen, and Linda Kucan, tier two vocabulary words should be chosen based on their "mileage". In other words, how useful the word will be in the student's vocabulary repertoire. Students should be taught tier three vocabulary only when needed within a content area.

What Do I Plan to Do With This Knowledge?

I plan on referencing the chart that was provided by Dr. Faulconer with our module's vocabulary resources. This chart was from Word wise and content rich: Five essential steps to teaching academic vocabulary by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. It provides a basis for selection of tier two vocabulary words. The chart is replicated below. This is especially true in my Social Studies classes. For example, I will try to focus on those words that are transportable throughout content areas such as innovation, credibility, or excavate just to name a few. I would focus on these types of vocabulary terms and use tier three vocabulary, such as Lords Proprietors, only when it is essential to understanding.

Considerations for Selecting Vocabulary Words Topic Questions to Ask


• Is the word representative of a family of words that students should know?

• Is the concept represented by the word critical to understanding the text?

• Is the word a label for an idea that students need to know?

• Does the word represent an idea that is essential for understanding another concept?


• Will the word be used again in this text?

◦ If so, does the word occur often enough to be redundant?

• Will the word be used again during the school year?


• Will the word be used in group discussions?

• Will the word be used in writing tasks?

• Will the word be used in other content or subject areas?

Contextual Analysis

• Can students use context clues to determine the correct or intended meaning of the word without instruction? Structural Analysis

• Can students use structural analysis to determine the correct or intended meaning of the word without instruction?

Cognitive Load

• Have I identified too many words for students to successfully integrate?

Figure 1. Considerations for Selecting Vocabulary Words (Fisher & Fry, 2008)

Nuance - a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound.

Teaching students nuances is more important than teaching synonyms. It is important for students to understand the relationships between and among words.

According to Fisher and Frey, 2012, "The ability to discern between these gradients of meaning is a skill tested on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and other college board exams. Truly 'the difference between the right word and the almost right word' can impact a student's ability to use precise language." (p. 45)

New Strategy to Implement to Teach Nuances
I'd like to try having students create a shades of meaning chart. My first writing unit is a narrative essay. I want to connect the narrative essay requirements to the shades of meaning activity. Therefore, I will focus specifically on overused adjectives, such as pretty, and character traits, such as smart or mean. In Social Studies, shades of meaning can also be used to describe events with historical significance such as social conditions, conditions during war, or the effects of natural disasters. For example, to say that the living conditions for people living in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina were bad would be an understatement. It would be much more appropriate to say that conditions were devastating.

This video discusses the importance of teaching nuances:


Another Great Resource


This website provides the meaning of a wide variety of words.

Also, it provides a video using the word pertaining to a real life situation.

Check out of the video for the word "zealous". http://www.vocabahead.com/VocabularyVideos/Videos/TabId/59/VideoId/1021/Default.aspx

How I Plan to Use This Resource

I plan on using this website anytime a word we are discussing in class that is available! I think the definitions are very accessible for middle grades readers. I also think that the videos help the visual learners make connections with the vocabulary.

I plan on using this resource in correlation with my shades of meaning activity. For example, the adjective "zealous" could transform the meaning of a student's writing if replacing the adjective "excited".

The Age Old Question.....How Do I MOTIVATE Struggling Readers?!?!

In Chapter One of "Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading", author Karen Tankersly sets out number of strategies to help motivate struggling readers. She points out at the beginning of the chapter that "around the 4th grade, teachers shift their focus from 'learning to read' to 'reading to learn' in the different content areas." (p. 2) Often these struggling readers became master evaders and sometimes act out in class to hide the fact that are struggling with the reading material. Young people are motivated to read things that are interested in, therefore it is up to the teacher to make sure reading is seen as helpful and interesting.

What Do I Plan To Do With This Knowledge:

I plan to continue using varied texts and giving students the opportunity to discuss reading materials. I also plan on giving my students reading interest inventories. This will assist me in recommending books for my students to read independently. Lastly, I would like my students to participate in at least one book club. To implement this, I plan on using suggestions from Karen Tankersly's book. I will pre-select ten novels and have a preview week, in which students can thumb through the books to help in their selection. I will advise students about the readability rule, "if students encounter 7 unknown words among the first 100 that they read, then the book is probably too difficult from them." (p.7) After receiving a list of the top 3 books a student would liek to read, I will place them into their book club groups. For the first book club session, I will provide each group with discussion questions and written expectations for group members. I will allow the groups to assign their own roles such as luminary, connector, captain, character builder, artist, and vocabulary collector. After each discussion, I will have the students complete a reflection about how well they performed their role and how well their group worked together. I am hoping that this fun approach to reading independently will motivate some of my reluctant readers to take ownership and find enjoyment in their independent reading.


Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life.New York, NY: The Guilford Press

Common Core Connections: Unpacking Academic Vocabulary. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2015.

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2012). Improving adolescent literacy: Content area strategies at work (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2008). Word wise and content rich: Five essential steps to teaching academic vocabulary. Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann.

No Tears for Tiers: Common Core Tiered Vocabulary Made Simple l Dr. Kimberly's Literacy Blog. (2013, May 26). Retrieved September 22, 2015.

Tankersley, K. (2005). The Struggling Reader. In Literacy strategies for grades 4-12 reinforcing the threads of reading. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.