Academic Vocabulary

Tier 2 – The Big Change in Vocab

Tier 2 VocabTier 2 Vocab2The following annotated samples call attention to Tier Two and Tier Three words in particular texts and, by singling them out, foreground the importance of these words to the meaning of the texts in which they appear. Both samples appear without annotations in Appendix B. (Source: CCSS Appendix A, pp. 33-35)


Example 1: Volcanoes (Grades 4–5 Text Complexity Band)
In early times, no one knew how volcanoes formed or why they spouted red-hot molten rock. In modern times, scientists began to study volcanoes. They still don’t know all the answers, but they know much about how a volcano works.

Our planet made up of many layers of rock. The top layers of solid rock are called the crust. Deep beneath the crust is the mantle, where it is so hot that some rock melts. The melted, or molten, rock is called magma.

Volcanoes are formed when magma pushes its way up through the crack in Earth’s crust. This is called a volcanic eruption. When magma pours forth on the surface, it is called lava.

Simon, Seymour. Volcanoes. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. (2006)

Of the Tier Two words, among the most important to the overall meaning of the excerpt is layers. An understanding of the word layers is necessary both to visualize the structure of the crust (“the top layers of solid rock are called the crust”) and to grasp the notion of the planet being composed of layers, of which the crust and the mantle are uppermost. Perhaps equally important are the word spouted and the phrase pours forth; an understanding of each of these is needed to visualize the action of a volcano. The same could be said of the word surface. Both layers and surface are likely to reappear in middle and high school academic texts in both literal and figurative contexts (“this would seem plausible on the surface”; “this story has layers of meaning”), which would justify more intensive instruction in them in grades 4–5.

Tier Three words often repeat; in this excerpt, all of the Tier Three words except mantle and lava appear at least twice. Volcano(es) appears four times—five if volcanic is counted. As is also typical with Tier Three words, the text provides the reader with generous support in determining meaning, including explicit definitions (e.g., “the melted, or molten, rock is called magma”) and repetition and overlapping sentences (e.g., . . . called the crust. Deep beneath the crust . . .).

You Try It!

Example 2: Freedom Walkers (Grades 6–8 Text Complexity Band)

From the Introduction: “Why They Walked”

Not so long ago in Montgomery, Alabama, the color of your skin determined where you could sit on a public bus. If you happened to be an African American, you had to sit in the back of the bus, even if there were empty seats up front.

Back then, racial segregation was the rule throughout the American South. Strict laws—called “Jim Crow” laws—enforced a system of white supremacy that discriminated against blacks and kept them in their place as second-class citizens.

People were separated by race from the moment they were born in segregated hospitals until the day they were buried in segregated cemeteries. Blacks and whites did not attend the same schools, worship in the same churches, eat in the same restaurants, sleep in the same hotels, drink from the same water fountains, or sit together in the same movie theaters.

In Montgomery, it was against the law for a white person and a Negro to play checkers on public property or ride together in a taxi.

Most southern blacks were denied their right to vote. The biggest obstacle was the poll tax, a special tax that was required of all voters but was too costly for many blacks and for poor whites as well. Voters also had to pass a literacy test to prove that they could read, write, and understand the U.S. Constitution. These tests were often rigged to disqualify even highly educated blacks. Those who overcame the obstacles and insisted on registering as voters faced threats, harassment and even physical violence. As a result, African Americans in the South could not express their grievances in the voting booth, which for the most part, was closed to them. But there were other ways
to protest, and one day a half century ago, the black citizens in Montgomery rose up in protest and united to demand their rights—by walking peacefully.

It all started on a bus.

Freedman, Russell. Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
New York: Holiday House, 2006. (2006)

Spoiler title
 Tier 2 – determined, second-class, worship, obstacle, literacy, rigged, disqualify, obstacles, harassment, grievances

Tier 3 – racial segregation, Jim Crow, white supremacy, discriminated, segregated, poll tax, registering

The first Tier Two word encountered in the excerpt, determined, is essential to understanding the overall meaning of the text. The power of determined here lies in the notion that skin color in Montgomery, Alabama, at that time was the causal agent for all that follows. The centrality of determined to the topic merits the word intensive attention. Its study is further merited by the fact that it has multiple meanings, is likely to appear in future literary and informational texts, and is part of a family of related words (determine, determination, determined, terminate, terminal).

Understanding the excerpt’s Tier Three words is also necessary to comprehend the text fully. As was the case in example 1, these words are often repeated and defined in context. Segregation, for example, is introduced in the second paragraph, and while determining its meaning from the sentence in which it appears might be difficult, several closely related concepts (white supremacy, discriminated, second-class) appears in the next sentence to provide more context.

Tier 1 & 3

Tier 1 Vocab Tier 3 Vocab