It was my 2nd year teaching.  I was in my first grade classroom working with a small group when we our assistant principal came over the speaker.


"Teachers.  Bus 99 has arrived at the school.  Bus 99 is here."


Anyone else know what bus 99 meant?  Back in the day, that was code for lockdown.  Our elementary school was in lockdown because we had an intruder on campus.


I quickly and as calmly as I knew how, gathered my firsties, crammed us all in the corner of my classroom where we couldn't be seen from the door.  That actually was our classroom library, our reading corral, and so we all squished inside the corral fences.  I turned out the lights, closed the blinds, locked the door and then squished inside with my school babies.


And then I did what many other teachers do around the country when this happens.  I read a book.  I grabbed a Dr. Seuss book from the library and read with the calmest, happiest voice on the outside while my heart beat out of my chest in desperate prayers on the inside.  When I finished one book, I answered questions from kids who were starting to get restless and nervous.  I answered as honestly and calmly as I could and gave little information because... I had no information at all about what was happening outside my classroom.


Just to set the time frame for you...  I'm not kidding when I say I had no info.  There was no massive group text.  There was no app to sound an alarm.  The only internet access I had was on my desktop computer clear across the room from where we were.  I taught with an overhead projector, not a digital whiteboard.  And no one knew what an iPhone was.  Instead, I was frantically texting my husband, "I love you"s from my super cool Nokia phone. :)  It literally feels like it was a completely different age of teaching.


What seemed like hours, was really only minutes that passed when we finally got the announcement that Bus 99 had left the school.  And we could resume normal teaching... ha.  Yeah right.  Like anything normal was happening for the rest of the day!  


Years later, we've exchanged bus 99 for ALICE training here in our state.  We locked all outside doors and drastically increased our visitor protocols.  We know more about how to keep our kids safe and what to do in these situations.  We practice with our kids on what to do at least once a month.  And we brainstorm with even our littlest kindergartners on strategies to barricade our classrooms and stop an intruder.


We do this acting like we teach in some kind of war zone.


Because actually, we kinda do.  


Here, in the United States of America, we send our most precious possessions to school in a country where there are more guns than we have people.  In a country where it is legal to buy a military assault riffle.  Where background checks aren't strong enough.  Where kids can, on their 18th birthday, go buy the most lethal of weapons and take out their anger on our most vulnerable.


Are guns the only problem?  No.  We have a mental health crisis like nothing we've ever seen.  


Is easy access to guns the only problem?  No.  People will find a way to a gun, legally or illegally if they are motivated enough.


Does the 2nd Amendment need to be scratched out of the constitution?  No.  I believe we should protect our right to bear arms... with in reason.  


(But remember, there were no assault weapons when our founding fathers wrote the constitution.   There were muskets and rifles that took about 20 seconds to load between shots.  That's a massive difference.)


I pray that this time, our lawmakers are willing to sit down and have a personal conversation.  Not a Democrat to Republican chat.  Not political discourse.  But an actual conversation between human beings.  I hope we can forget about the high dollar lobbyists and agree on some simple, common sense measures that will make a big impact like banning assault weapons and stiffening background checks.


Because this is the only country in the world where this happens routinely.  And we all cry, are sad, change our profile pics to "Pray for _____" and then a few weeks later go back to our normal lives fully expecting this to happen again.


It has to stop.  Our kids shouldn't have to spend their school day planning for a war with a shooter.   Our teachers shouldn't have to go to work in fear wondering when their school will be the next headline.  Our parents shouldn't have to pray their kids come home from school when they drop them off.  It. Has. To. Stop.


Years ago, in my own school lockdown, I would find out after school that day that one of my colleagues was threatened by a very angry parent and had come to the school.  Thankfully, our school resource officers diffused the situation quickly and everything was okay.  


But for so many schools, teachers, communities, students and parents, it hasn't been okay.  And until we decide to ask our lawmakers to sit down and solve a problem reasonably with children in mind, another school is just waiting to be next in a long line of tragic, not okay endings.


Feeling helpless like me?  Contact your US Reps and Senators and let them know that enough is enough.

Have you ever heard old proverb, "How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time."?

The same is true in spelling multi-syllable words.  Stay with me...

The science of reading changed so much of my literacy instruction and all for the better.  Last year, homeschooling my 2nd grader allowed me to think seriously about spelling.  

By second grade, kids are ready to perfect the letter combinations for almost all 44 sounds.  The transition in 2nd grade is beginning to spell multisyllabic words.  And sooooo many kids start struggling with spelling because keeping up with all those sounds in those big words is HARD!  So, how do we make that transition a smooth one?  How do we help kids successfully go from spelling CVC words to 3 syllable words in less than 2 years?  And what interventions can we use to support spelling multisyllabic words.

Spelling Development

Let's back up for just a sec.  How did we get to this multi-syllable spelling spot in 2nd grade?

First we hear sounds in words, and then we say the sounds (phonemic awareness).  Next, we see the sounds and decode them (phonics).  Last, we write sounds we hear correctly (spelling).  Early literacy development in one snapshot?  Here you go!

This is the work of kinder and first grade phonics for almost all 6 syllable types.

So then, the job of 2nd grade is to get better at spelling all syllable types and spelling them within two syllable spelling words as well.

And often times this is where the break down happens because long words can sometimes sound like a huge string of jumbled up sounds.  But if we teach kids to hear the individual syllables in longer words, they can be more successful spellers.

My favorite way to do this is with magnetiles!

Syllable Manipulatives

My son, like most boys :), LOVES building.  So anytime I can add in blocks or building to our learning, it's going to be a win!  

When we started working on spelling multisyllable words in 2nd grade, we used magnatiles to help us.  First, I would tell him the word to spell.  

For example, let's use the word carefully.

Next, he repeated the word and counted the syllables (a phonemic awareness skill that should've been mastered in kindergarten... another reason why kinder teachers are soooooo important!!)

CARE - FUL - LY

Once he counts 3 syllables, then he grabs three magnatiles.

He lays the three magnatiles out and pushes them together as he repeats the syllables.  CARE-FUL-LY.  

If this sounds familiar to you, it's because this is *just* like pushing letter sounds with 2-sided counters into the Elkonin boxes in kinder and first grade.  

(All of these skills build on each other and that's why it's so important to master them at the phoneme level before they are mastered at the syllable level.)

Spell the Syllables

Now that hopefully has been divided into 3 syllables using 3 magnatiles, spelling this big word is MUCH easier.  All he needs to do now is spell a CVCe word, a CVC nonsense word, and a suffix.  And the CVCe and CVC spelling skills are first grade spelling skills!

That's the magic of breaking longer words into single syllables.  It's much easier to spell one of the 6 syllable types than to think of spelling the entire word together.

Remember that elephant question?  Let's take a look at that again with spelling in mind...

Now my 2nd grader is ready to spell a 3 syllable word... one syllable at a time!  We use a dry erase marker to spell on the magnatile first.  

Then, he rewrites that on his paper.

Once he got really good at this process, we were able to use the magnatiles to count and visualize the syllables and then just write the word on paper.

The next step after that was to take away the magnatiles when he was ready, and just count the syllables and write one syllable at a time.  

The process is the same each time.  But the support becomes less as his confidence and independence increase!

Honestly, with a few sessions of practice with magnatile support, he was ready to just use the syllable boxes on our spelling slides in our phonics unit and that was enough support without the tactile help of the blocks.

You can grab this -ly phonics unit here or shop all of the digital phonics units here.  

And here is the affiliate link for my fav set of magnatiles if you want to add them to your classroom manipulatives.  You can read how I also use magnetiles for writing sentences in K-1.  If you can't tell, we love us some magnatiles around here!! :)

Analyzing data is an important life skill... and learning how to do can and should start early in the primary grades.   I use the 5 C's of data to help kids learn the process of analyzing data: Create, Collect, Count, Compare, and Communicate.  Let's take a closer look at each of these and what it looks like in the K-2 classroom.


Data Anchor Chart

During our 2nd grade math block last year, we talked about analyzing data using the 5 Cs: Create, Collect, Count, Compare, and Communicate.  This is just a helpful guide to help kids understand the process of analyzing data.  Sometimes we do all of those.  Sometimes, we skip to comparing data that's already been created, collected and counted for us.  But all of these are important steps that even adults go through to analyze data.


When we talked about this in 2nd grade, we made the connection to my husband's job.  He does data analysis all day every day for Walmart.  And many people depend on his analyses to be correct so that they right amount of the right things get on the shelves! :) (no pressure, right??)  So, data analysis is a life-long skill that we use as adults.  


Here's a look at what our anchor chart looks like.  (You can find the template for this here.)


Collect the Data

Collecting data can be as simple as asking "Would you rather?" questions and tallying answers as a class.  For group or independent work, I love having hands on tools to help them collect the data.  With my 2nd grader last year, we used legos because he's obsessed with lego building right now.


He grabbed a handful of legos, measured them and tallied the results!



Count & Compare the Data

After the data has been collected, we are ready to count and compare the data.  When we first work on this, I give the kids the "collected data" so that they can just focus on the counting and comparing.  Here's a peek at a graph I've used in kindergarten and first.


And in 2nd grade last year, our comparing got a little more in depth.


Communicate the Results

Once kids have been exposed to "filling in" a variety of data display types, it's time to really focus on analyzing each display type.  We talk about how to recognize a pie chart versus a bar graph.  We talk about when it would be best to use tallies and when it would be better to use a table or bar graph.


One of the first things we do when focusing on data displays is sort them together.


Then, the kids have a chance to match data displays independently during our guided math hands-on time.


You can find these graphing activities in my 2nd grade Guided Math Plans and additional, seasonally themed graphing printables here.




When I first started teaching 15 years ago, phonics and phonics readers had a bit of a bad rap because they weren't as engaging and there was little to no comprehension piece to those phonics readers or decoding words practice.


But why not?  Why not add comprehension work along with the decoding practice to give our reading a purpose?  It was a no-brainer for me to beef up our decoding work by taking an extra few seconds at the end for comprehension.


Our basic routine is simple.  We read the words, highlight the focus sounds and then I ask meaning questions.  There are 3 main types of questions that I ask to add that comprehension piece to our decoding routines.  Let's take a closer look at each of them.


Word meaning I spy

This game works best after decoding a word list.  First, we read our decodable words from our digital phonics lessons.


Then, we play I spy.  Here's an example with the short decodable word lists we use each day in our digital phonics lessons.


"I spy a word that rhymes with bag." (swag)

"I spy a word with the /sk/ sound." (skip)

"I spy a word that is another word for dot."  (spot)


I use I spy questions about sounds, rhyming, definitions, synonyms, antonyms, multiple meaning words and more!


This simple activity is easy to do in any setting with any list and increases kid's critical thinking skills.  In order to answer each question, they must be able to understand the question you asked, decode the words again, and figure out the answer to the question.


I've done this using Think-Pair-Share during whole group phonics, or by giving kids dry erase boards to record the correct word in small groups!  


Use it in a sentence

This one is self-explanatory.  The only difference is that after a decoding word list, I don't say the word.  I'll say...


"Turn to your partner and use the first word on the list in a sentence."


For a challenge, ask your kids to use two of the words in the same sentence!


TEACHER TIP:  When we share, I ask the person to tell me their partner's sentence for additional accountability, and to practice their listening skills. :)


I like to keep our comprehension work pretty quick and to the point, so we do this orally.  But this would make an easy writing task for extension work if you needed a way to tie it in to writing and spelling as well.


Illustrate the Word

There are two ways I like to use this strategy.  One way I use this is by having students illustrate a word I call out and they illustrate it on their copy of their decodable words.  


Sometimes, it's as simple as...


"Illustrate the word LIP."


Other times, I combine the I spy with the illustrations...


"Circle the word that means fake hair.  Illustrate it."


The other way I like to use illustrations is by playing pictionary.  I draw the picture and the kids guess the word!  This one is super engaging, but is best for a smaller list of 3-5 decodable words so it's not overwhelming to the kids to find the correct word.


If you're looking for decodable word lists you can find the digital ones I've used in these examples in my Super Phonics digital lessons and the printable words lists in my decodable packets!



Vocabulary sometimes gets left out in primary grades because we feel like we have "bigger fish" to fry in getting kids to actually decode and read.


But explicit tier 2 vocabulary instruction needs a place at the table in the Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom too.  I love using picture books to teach vocabulary during our whole group reading lessons.  It's quick, authentic, and so easy that you can leave it on your sub plans!  


You can read about the routines I use in this blog post, but today, I'm answering a question I often get about tier 2 vocabulary words.  How do I decide what words to do?  Where do the words come from?  And what exactly are tier 2 words anyways?


What Are Tier 2 Words?

Before talking about what tier 2 words are, it's important to remember what tier 2 words are NOT.  Words can be classified as tier 1, tier 2, or tier 3 words.  Tier 2 words are NOT sight words or mortar words.  Those are tier 1 words.


Tier 2 words are also NOT academic vocabulary words like herbivore or voting. Those are content specific, tier 3 words. 


Tier 2 vocabulary words are those colorful words that make books exciting.


beckon, brilliant, shimmer, chuckle.... just to name a few!  Need some more examples?  Get a sneak peek at all of the words I use for all 25 books I have lessons for below!


Most quality picture books that are intended for read alouds are full of tier 2 words.  You just have to train your eye to look for them.


Now that we can agree on what tier 2 words are, let's talk about how to choose the most effective tier 2 words.


Find A Good, Solid Picture Book

First, before I can think about the wordlist, I need to find the book.  In my non-expert opinion, the best book for explicit vocabulary is one that is engaging, has great illustrations, and is one I'm already using for something else!


For example, last year in 2nd grade homeschool, we did a Next Gen Science unit on landforms and talked about erosion.  We were already reading this fiction book in science to illustrate erosion cause and effects.  And we were also already using it in writing to study the author's craft of descriptive phrases.


So, I decided to look through it and see if I could find enough tier 2 words to make a lesson out of for vocabulary.  BAM!  Done!  We read the book during our reading time and did the vocabulary lesson and then also reread it during science and focused on erosion cause and effects to introduce our STEM challenge. #winning


Another thing to consider is that the reading level of the book.  Patterned books like, Brown Bear, Brown Bear are probably not going to work for teaching tier 2 words.  Those type of books are going to be full of tier 1 words and not helpful.  So, no beginning readers, leveled readers, or repetitive texts for the most part.


On the other hand, content books are not going to be great either.  Reading a non-fiction book about erosion would be great during science, but it wouldn't be as helpful when studying tier 2 words because the academic vocabulary, or tier 3 words, would be getting in the way of learning tier 2 words.  Instead of being able to critically think about the tier 2 words I choose, kids would get "stopped up" needing to know the content specific words.


A good, solid, fiction story that's engaging and one I'm already using is exactly the kind of book I'm after for explicit tier 2 vocab lessons.


Now then, let's choose some words!


Words Kids Aren't Saying

The first tier 2 words that jump out at me when I'm previewing through a possible picture book are words my students aren't using in everyday conversations.  


I go through the book and write down every word that is off the beaten path for my kids to use in classroom conversations.  


Maybe my kids say their snack tastes "really good," but not "delicious."  Delicious could be a possible tier 2 word to teach.  Or, if my group uses delicious, but they don't often say, "scrumptious," then maybe that's the word I write down.


It's important to know that I write down the root word and then teach all variations of the word during the lesson.  I also add a checkmark every time I see the word (or a version of it) repeated.


You know your kids best.  Listen to their conversations.  They are letting you know when they talk which vocabulary words they are most comfortable using.  By explicitly teaching tier 2 words, we are increasing their oral language skills and, eventually their reading comprehension and writing style.


Words You Want Kids To Write

Speaking of writing... that's another thing I consider when choosing tier 2 words.  Which words do I want to see kids using in their writing?


With that in mind, I go through my list of words for the book I've chosen and mark through any words kids are already using in their writing.  This is because I don't always hear kids say all of the words that are in their vocabulary.  Our written language is different than our spoken language.  We use words in our writing that sometimes we don't have the opportunity to say in casual conversation.  Because of this, I know that if kids are correctly using a tier 2 word on my list in their formal writing, then it's a word they have a solid understanding of, even if they don't say it in conversations.  


I also star words that I would LOVE to see kids include in their writing the most.


The Most Bang For My Buck

I like to keep my list of words I teach in a vocabulary lesson to somewhere between 3 and 6 words, depending on the time I have to teach, the age group I'm with, and the difficulty of the words.


Usually, when I first make my list of possible words, I have more than that.  In my example, I started with 17 words that are unusual to hear my kids using in the classroom.


Then, I marked through words kids already use in their writing and starred words I want kids to use the most.


Now, I'm ready to look over the list again, thinking about the words that are going to give me the most bang for my buck.  What do I mean by that?  


I'm looking for words that my kids don't use, but if they started using them, there would be a lot of opportunities to use that word.  


For example, crest is a great, tier 2 word, but not one my kids would have many opportunities to use in their speaking or writing.  But, invade is a word I could totally see them using more, especially boys! :)


I'm also looking for words that we can illustrate well, use in everyday sentences, and have multiple synonyms so that it will strengthen their comprehension and understanding of the word.  


Finalizing the List

In the example I've been using with The Tide Is Coming In, I'm for sure using the word "defend" because it was used in the text multiple times.


I also chose fortress, invade, rogue, and deposit because they are unusual words my 2nd grader wasn't saying or writing and I knew he didn't know the full meaning of those words.


Now that I've narrowed my 17 word list down to 5 words, I'm ready to teach!  I use Google slides to teach the words whole group (or they can be assigned in Google classroom).  And I print out the independent page for some writing practice and reinforcement.  You can find this lesson here and all of my Tier 2 lessons already planned and ready to teach here.  






Back to Top