Oral language is one of the strongest predictors of reading success. In order for children to decode words and comprehend what they mean, they must first have the words in their mental lexicon. This is often frustrating for teachers because students who are English language learners or students who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds start school significantly behind their same-age peers in the number of vocabulary words they know and can use in their expressive language. There are three tiers of vocabulary that teachers should consider when planning vocabulary instruction:
- Tier 1 words – basic, everyday words that usually do not require instruction; ELL students will require instruction in Tier I words. (i.e. talk, chair, happy)
- Tier II words – More sophisticated words that are high-frequency and occur across subjects and in various contexts (compare, elegant, purpose, summary, educated)
- Tier III words – words that are often only found in technical texts or are domain-specific (hypotenuse, theorem, denominator)
Academic language tends to include vocabulary from all three tiers, but especially Tiers II and III, including elaborate discourse patterns that may be unfamiliar to ELL students. The following resources include very helpful information on how to teach academic language.