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.  

Money is a HUGE part of the math curriculum for 2nd graders!  It can be a pretty abstract concept for many kids, but I love using hands on, real world money activities and games to bring counting money to life.  Let's take a closer look at a few of my favorite money activities and money games for second grade.

Alexander, Who Used to be Rich...

I love this book so much.  But honestly, I just love Alexander no matter what book he's in!

The story is perfect for walking through a real world example of using money and counting coins.  Because our goal for this lesson is identifying the value of coins, that is what I really focus on for each slide of the story.

Then, we play Roll A Dollar and kids practicing adding pennies up to one dollar!

Counting Collections of Coins

Making money realistic and relating it to the real world is so important!  This digital game does just that!  We go through these slides together and count the coins to write the price on the tag.

Once we practice this skill together, kids get in partners and grab 10 coins from their prepared bag and count their collection!

Building a Collection of Coins

Who doesn't want to help Granny with her fruit stand?  I love this activity because it can be digital or printable.  Plus, depending on the group's decision, there are so many ways to work through Granny's fruit stand!

You can find all of the money activities and lesson plans for 2nd grade math in my Guided Math Workshop Lesson Plans.


Last week, I blogged about why I said goodbye to guided reading.  

But that doesn't mean I gave up on small groups altogether.  

This teacher LOVES her some small group intervention time.

So, if not guided reading for literacy intervention, then what?  Data driven groups.  That's what.

But what does that look like?  Is it a complete 180 from guided reading?  How much relearning am I really gonna have to do here? (Pssst: not much.  It's really much easier than you'd think!)

Let's chat about data-driven reading groups.  I'll walk you through a sample class data set.  We'll talk about how I assess, set up groups, plan for them, and what my schedule for meeting with kiddos looks like!

Assess the Standards

In traditional guided reading, the first thing we did was test our kids' reading level, right?  In data driven reading groups, we also assess first!

But the evidence from the science of reading tells us that levelized readers aren't the best way to grow readers.  Levels can be subjective, and word difficulty doesn't consistently increase with the level.  The criteria for leveling books is multi-faceted and so none of the components fully consider word recognition.  

In data driven reading groups, I assess the standards.  To make it simple, I started with the assessments the school I was at already required: Acadience (formally, DIBELS) and PAST.  There was no need in adding additional stress with additional assessments--UNLESS I needed more information.

K-1 Acadience (DIBELS) takes care of letter naming, segmenting sounds, decoding CVC words and Oral reading.  

PAST takes care of phonemic awareness.  Beginning in 2nd grade, the MAZE (part of Acadience) addresses some comprehension portions of reading.

As a kinder teacher (at the time I started data driven groups), those were all of the assessments I needed.  And I was already doing them. 

What assessments is your school already requiring?  Can you use those to find skills to target with your students?  If you are in a school that still requires you to assess reading levels, are you also asked to use Acadience/DIBELS with your kids?  If not, the full Acadience and PAST assessments are available online for free and are surprisingly quick and easy!

Record the Data

Once I'm finished assessing my kids, I record the data.  Well, actually, I record the data as I go, but who's counting?? :)

I use this digital data wall literally assess a kid and then type it in on my laptop.  This digital template is already set up for first grade with the DIBELS and PAST benchmarks already listed.  But it is easy to edit for the grade and assessments you are using.

Then, after I'm finished assessing, I go back and color code my data for at risk (very below), low risk (bubble kids), on grade level and above. 

Group By Data Points

Now, I'm ready to group my kids.  

I print out the grouping pages that I need from my Data Driven Groups resource.  These three pages shown below are the ones I'll be walking through in this post.  You can find tons of different grouping pages here.

For my phonemic awareness groups, I printed out a blank page because all of the skills I need to address were on multiple pages...so I'm just saving paper!  In the top category boxes, I wrote in each skill from PAST that I need to address with at least one of my kids in my sample class.  Then, I wrote the names of the kids for each category.  Notice that for the PAST, kids are only in one category...the stage they are currently working on becoming automatic at.  Also, notice I combined D1 & D2 and E2 & E3 because they are very similar and both skill groups were very small.  When I do this, I just note which subskill each kid needs to focus on so I can do that individually in the group.

For my phonics groups, I had some pre-alphabetic readers and early alphabetic readers.  Not all of the skills need to be addressed with my kids, so I'll only use the columns I need.  Again, I wrote down the kids' names under EACH category they need help with.  Notice that for phonics, they may be in multiple categories.  I will not put kids in two of the same type of subcategories though.  For example, I will not have a kid in boy the read VC and read CVC columns even if they can't do both of those, because they need to first focus on VC, then I can move them to CVC.  But I could have a kid in read VC and spell beginning sounds, because those are different types of sub skills--decoding and spelling.

I also have oral language and comprehension group pages as well that I can add kids to.  Often times, my oral language kids are my ELL kids or low language kids.  I can add those kids based on their ELL level or anecdotally as I notice oral language skills that need more work.

I want to make sure every kid is in a group.  If not, I need to consider what extension groups I could offer for those kids.  This is often where my comprehension groups come in. And for those kids with great comprehension, we work on writing their comprehension skills, like writing a retelling of a story, etc.

Now that I have my kids listed in groups, I'm ready to plan!

Plan the Lessons

Once I sort out my groups, the planning starts.  This is where data driven reading groups become much, much simpler than guided reading.  I look at each skill group and ask myself...

What content should I plan for this skill?  I preplan my list of words or letters we will work on for the week.  I typically only work a week at a time because I like to adjust as my kids grow or struggle.   

What supplies do I need to work on this skill?  For many groups, I will want some manipulatives like colored blocks or felt squares for my phonemic awareness groups.  Dry erase markers, marker boards....anything that I would need for those groups.  Then I get it all together and make sure those things are organized and easily available near my small group table.

I can add all of this information to my lesson planning pages and add them to my small group binder.  Now all I'll need to do is open up to our lesson plan and get started!

As a side note....the lesson planning page is basically the longer version of the groups page.  You do you. :)  If you like one better than the other, use it.  If you like both, go for it!  For me personally, I like to do just the groups page and I keep a separate list of words by sound or feature to reference!

Meet With Kids 

Remember stressing over your schedule with guided reading?   In my head, I was like, "Ok, 2 groups a day, but I have 5 reading groups.  2 of my groups need to see me every day, but that won't work.  Can I manage to just meet with my highest group once or twice a week.  Wait, what about my bubble kids?"  Am I right??

This is the main thing I LOVE about switching my small group mindset to data driven groups.  There is no schedule.  No really.

For those of you who know me in real life, I know you are shocked.  Because I LOVE me a schedule.  I LIVE by a schedule.  But this was the most freeing part for me with data driven groups.  Remember those group pages I filled out?

Those became my "schedule."  Or, more accurately, my checklist.  

So, how does that work? Well, because I am a Type A teacher, I just simply go in order and use those columns like a checklist. 

In this sample class, I would start with my Phonemic Awareness Groups and meet with that PAST level D group.  Then, I would add the date we met (and minutes if needed for RTI) and any notes I had.  

As soon as I finished that group, I would call the next group, and so on.  

For these skill groups I'm showcasing in this post, they are short.  Sometimes just 5 or 10 minutes.  Maybe 15 minutes.  So I can fit way more groups in than the old school guided reading groups. (Yes, I continued to do reading groups with decodable texts.  That blog post is coming next....hang tight!)

My main focus for small group time when I was in kinder was during their center time.  The teacher I was long term subbing for used traditional kinder centers.  I pulled during that time and I didn't just pull one group per center.  I just called a group back and moved on through the groups, switching centers with my timer, not based on when I finished a group.  

Other kinder teachers had the kids on a class set of Chromebooks doing independent interventions while they pulled.  

The other **fabulous** thing about data driven groups is because they were so short, I was able to meet with them throughout the day, not just during centers.  If I had it together one morning and finished attendance early, I could pull a skill group or oral language group during morning work.  I pulled a group or two during snack time.  Or while kids were finishing up their writing work.  Any part of my literacy block where I had a "free" minute where I didn't need to walk around and monitor kids, I could pull groups.

So, in this sample class, I have a total of 14 skill groups.  Like I mentioned before, these are not all of the skills or intervention groups I would have.  This is just a sample!  Once I make it through all 14 groups, I start back over and do it over again.  

On average, I would say I had about 20 or so literacy skill groups in my kinder class and was able to get through all groups at least once a week.  But that doesn't mean I only met with each kid once a week.  In my sample class we've been using, that would mean that my highest kid, "William" would be met with twice a rotation for just these skills and my lowest kid, "Cooper" would be met with 7 times per rotation for just these skills.

Want to use all the Data Driven Binder Organizational Things??  You can find them here!

Okay.  Whoah.  That was a TON of info.  Maybe more than I initially intended to share.  Have I convinced you to make the switch yet?  What questions do you still have?  Drop your questions in the comments and let's keep the conversation going!

And next up on the blog, we'll be talking about using decodable texts as a reading group!

 For 10 years, I built a balanced literacy classroom with an emphasis on guided reading.  I worked hard to master the art of intentional small groups, knowing each of my kids levels, their strengths and weaknesses, and whipping out a new guided reading schedule in my sleep.

And after 10 years, I had it down pat for the most part.  Doing guided reading was in my blood.  I believed in it because we saw growth in students.   It was what I knew how to do...and I was good at it.

And then I went through my first science of reading training and realized the guided reading model wasn't evidence based.  The Fountas and Pinnel levelized readers were not facilitating decoding.  They were encouraging kids to use context and pictures to guess unknown words.  This was a HUGE mind blow and mental shift for me.  

But when I really sat down to reflect, I realized that while some kids were growing, others just weren't.  Many of my babies would progress to a level C and just get stuck and never move on.  

There were other problems with it too.  I would have a full group of level G kids, but half of them struggled reading the text and the other help needed comprehension work.  So, I was having to split my instructional focus because I didn't want to have to split them into two separate groups...because of TIME.

Speaking of time...  A good, guided reading group takes 20-30 minutes.  That means I could meet with 2 groups a day.  10 groups a week.  And if I met with my kids who were really struggling every day, I only had one other group a day I could meet with...without extra help from other teachers.  What about my bubble kids that really needed me every day?  What about my high kids that were bored and needed some extension? 

How could I be everything to everyone and help facilitate their growth in reading?  It was time.  It was time to say goodbye to my career-long BFF, guided reading.

It was at this point, that I started a long-term sub position in kindergarten.  The school had moved to science of reading and our whole group reading curriculum very much aligned with the science of reading.  But I couldn't NOT do any small group work.  

The guided reading teacher in me wanted to hurry up and form some reading and pre-reading groups.  But we didn't have levels for kids, because that's not best practice.  But I had to do something to give my kids small group intervention.

That's when data driven reading groups were born.  That's when I decided to use the reading data I DID have on my kids to group them and work to improve their weak areas or extend their strengths.  That's when I realized that levels didn't matter.  

Because inside of all of those levels were a variety of skills the kids needed to be able to read at that level.  And not all kids on a level G reached that level for the same reason.  For some, it was decoding.  For others, it was retelling.  For others, it was a language or vocabulary issue.  

By throwing out levels, and digging deeper, I could group kids by their gaps in skills and fill those holes to help them progress even faster.

And the best part?  Most of the time, that skill work required 5, 10, 15 minutes tops.  So, I could meet with at least 3 groups a day during 45 minutes of centers in kindergarten.  And sometimes 6 or 7 groups!

Data driven reading groups were an absolute game changer for me.  And they can be for you too?

Are you ready to make the switch?  In my next blog post, I'll be talking about the nuts and bolts of data driven reading groups and what you can do to set them up in your classroom. (HINT:  It's a bazillion and one times easier to figure out that guided reading.  Really, it is.)

The beatitudes are a must unit of study in Sunday School or children's church.  And honeybees just make the first part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount that much more fun and engaging!   Here's look at my go to review games and crafts for our BEEatitudes unit from our Sunday School curriculum.

Bee-Atitudes Hive Craft

I love a good craft to work on and add to each week during our Sunday School units.  And this one is UH-dorable, ya'll and soooooo easy!

All you need is yellow paint, an old pencil with the eraser still in tact :), a yellow ink pad and a thin, black marker pen.

The first week, we paint the hive using the yellow paint and the pencil eraser.  We just dot the hive without painting over the words.

Then, each week, we add a bee to the hive.  We find the blessing we learned about that week and add a bee beside the blessing to show the beatitude that brings that blessing.  We used a thin, Sharpie pen to write the beatitude by the bee.

For this example, my son used the directions from Ed Emberley's books for making the bee!

Here's a look at the finished hive!

The Beatitudes Review Game

I love this review game because we can use it during the whol Beatitudes unit long and just change out the questions for each lesson.  Print, laminate and post the flower cards around the room with velcro dots on them.  

Then, I cut the circles out for the lesson we were working on and put velcro on the backs of those.  

I attached all of the circles to a flower around the room and we were ready to play!

To play, I partner kids up and say, "Bees, Buzz!" and they buzz around the room.  A few seconds later, I say, "Bees, Land!" and the bees "land" near a flower.  

Next, I ask the review question from the Beatitudes unit game and the bees with the correct answer buzz!  If they tell us the correct answer, they get some sort of honey-themed snack like honey teddy grahams or honey nut cheerios! :)

The next week, I just change out the circles, and we are ready to play again without my having to reteach how to play!

You can find these activities and more in the Beatitudes Unit.

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