Monthly Academic Tier 2 Word Lists


One of the major shifts in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is the renewed focus on the importance of tier 2 general academic vocabulary.   Leading researchers have long recognized and supported the importance of the intentional explicit instruction of tier 2 words scaffolded throughout the school years and supplemented by words of interest, content study and literature.  Following the work of Beck, McKeown and Kucan, the CCSS references three levels or tiers of words that are vital to comprehension.


Tier One words are the words of everyday speech usually learned in the early grades, albeit not at the same rate by all children. They are not considered a challenge to the average native speaker, though English language learners of any age will have to attend carefully to them. While Tier One words are important, they are not the focus of this discussion.

Tier Two words (what the Standards refer to as general academic words) are far more likely to appear in written texts than in speech. They appear in all sorts of texts: informational texts (words such as relative, vary, formulate, specificity, and accumulate), technical texts (calibrate, itemize, periphery), and literary texts (misfortune, dignified, faltered, unabashedly). Tier Two words often represent subtle or precise ways to say relatively simple things—saunter instead of walk, for example. Because Tier Two words are found across many types of texts, they are highly generalizable.

Tier Three words (what the Standards refer to as domain-specific words) are specific to a domain or field of study (lava, carburetor, legislature, circumference, aorta) and key to understanding a new concept within a text. Because of their specificity and close ties to content knowledge, Tier Three words are far more common in informational texts than in literature. Recognized as new and “hard” words for most readers (particularly student readers), they are often explicitly defined by the author of a text, repeatedly used, and otherwise heavily scaffolded (e.g., made a part of a glossary).

- Common Core State Standards. p.33



The lists of words that follow are examples of types of tier 2 words that students may encounter in particular grade levels.  These lists are by no means totally representative of all words students should learn, nor are they calibrated in such as way as to be precisely focused at each month.  They are instead a group of words that have been created using a number of resources such as Dolch Most Common Words, Academic Word Lists developed by Averil Coxhead, and populated by other frequency, literature and "highly likely" word groups collected from a number of resources. All I have done is order the words so that teachers will have a representative list so they can share a common focus in their vocabulary planning.

Remember- it is not THE list, it is A list, so I encourage you to read the words, study them, revise the lists with your students in mind but remember the importance of ensuring that all teachers have an understanding of the importance of intentionally teaching students vocabulary that is both enriching and offers words of "high mileage".


It is essential that teachers understand that this resource is not a grade level spelling list or that they represent all words that students will need or use.  The intention of these lists is to create a denominator of words that can be an intentional focus for instruction that would be supplemented by other words generated by student interest, classroom investigations, thematic words, words from literature…words that may vary from class to class but with the monthly list as a common core. 


Activities, word investigations, interacting with the words, embedding them into everyday use, following Marzano's Six Steps to Effective Vocabulary Instruction, playing games, actively involving students in the choice and activities, and systematic instruction are all ways to ensure that students have the opportunity to learn, understand and use a wide range of vocabulary that when supplemented by regular, wide reading, directly assists word recognition, reading confidence, and comprehension.



Brian Green


Creative School Services


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