An academy places a great deal of emphasis on direct vocabulary instruction. An important aspect of direct vocabulary instruction is selecting appropriate terms to teach. Beck and her colleagues (2002) designated three tiers of words: basic words like clock, happy, and baby are in Tier I; more advanced general academic or literary words like coincidence, absurd, imaginative, commercial, muscular, duplicate, and restrict are Tier 2; and domain-­‐specific words such as pronoun, algebra, isthmus, and quark are in Tier 3. Most native speakers of English will acquire Tier 1 words through conversation, reading, and daily experiences. However, there are two notable exceptions: students from lower socioeconomic status families and English learners. These students may require direct instruction in the basic Tier 1 words listed in this document. These 2,845 basic terms, along with 5,162 advanced terms, were listed in the book Teaching Basic and Advanced Vocabulary (Marzano, 2010).

Tier I Terms

Tier I terms should be explicitly addressed at the elementary level. Stated differently, by the time academy students are ready to  articulate to the sixth grade they should be well graded in the Tier I terms. This should be done in a systematic fashion that involves three components: 1) the word list and student notebooks, 2) the practical activities, and 3) the video instructional activities.

1. The Word List and Student Notebooks. The Tier I terms are organized into 420 semantic clusters. They are listed in Appendix A at the end of this section. As the name implies, the clusters are sets of related terms. For example, Cluster 35: Baby animals. Bunny, cub, pup, tadpole, calf, kitten, puppy. The clusters themselves are organized sequentially with the first one being the most basic. This means that the cluster contains terms that are highly frequent in the English language. The second cluster contains terms that are a little less frequent and so on. Each student should have a book entitled Building Background Vocabulary: Tracking My Progress.
That book contains all 420 clusters as depicted in figure 6.1.

Notice that in figure 6.1 each Tier I term is listed with a scale that ranges from 4 to 1. The values of the scale are:

  • 4: I understand even more about the term than I was taught.
  • 3: I understand the term and am not confused about any part of what it means.
  • 2: I am a little uncertain what the term means, but I have a general idea.
  • 1:  I am very uncertain about the term. I really don’t understand what it means.

This scale is a form of self-­‐assessment that students should update on a systematic basis. Also note in figure 6.1 that some words are labeled Challenge Words. These are Tier II words that also have similar meaning to the Tier I terms in the cluster.

For more information on components 2 and 3, please refer to the Marzano Academy Implementation Manual (a resource for partner schools).

Tier II Terms

Tier II terms are also a part of the schoolwide approach described above. Specifically, each cluster includes challenge words. For example, for Cluster 35, Baby Animals, depicted in figure 6.1, the following challenge words are listed: chick, colt, fawn. These are the Tier II words that coincide with the Tier I terms in Cluster 35. In effect, if students have at least a working knowledge of the terms in the 420 clusters and the challenge words for those clusters, they will have a sound grounding in the Tier I and Tier II terms in the English language.

Tier III Terms

As described previously, Tier III words are domain-­‐specific terms that students encounter as part of instruction in specific subject areas. The level 2.0 content in the proficiency scales explicitly list the Tier III terms important to each measurement topic. A useful activity relative to Tier III terms is to highlight their importance by displaying them in word walls and playing academic games that involve them. For the elementary level, Appendix B (incldued in the Implementation Manual for current school partners)contains the Tier III terms for English language arts, mathematics, and science.

Vocabulary Instruction in High school

The discussion about vocabulary instruction thus far has pertained primarily to grade levels below high school. This noted, there are some students who could benefit greatly from instruction in Tier I and II terms and even some of the elementary Tier III terms. Such
instruction typically occurs in small group or one-­to-­one formats. For the most part, vocabulary instruction at the high school level takes place in subject matter classrooms and focuses on the score 2.0 terms listed in the proficiency scales.


Beck, I. L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L.  (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction.  New York: Guildford Press.

Marzano, R. J. (2010). Teaching basic and advanced vocabulary: A framework for direct instruction.  Boston: Heinle-Cengage.