The School SLP

Tier 2 Vocab Words Sorted By Artic Sounds

tier 2 vocab words speech

What Is Tier 2 Vocabulary?

Tier 2 vocabulary words are high frequency words that are widely used among a variety of environments (including school curriculum). These words are highly important for reading comprehension and more in-depth describing abilities. Examples of Tier 2 vocabulary words include: majestic, consume, transport.

On the other hand, Tier 1 vocabulary (“basic vocab”) are high frequency words that are usually more concrete in nature. They don’t require direct instruction (e.g. girl, red, cow, house). Tier 3 vocabulary is less frequent and more specific to a single context (e.g. molecule, circumference).


The Importance of Tier 2 Vocab

Tier 2 vocabulary words typically have multiple meanings and are used across many settings. We use Tier 2 words at work, at home, on vacation, at a restaurant, etc. They are riddled throughout school curriculum! However, at my Title 1 school, many children have had limited exposure to these words, despite how frequently they occur in the curriculum. Direct instruction of vocabulary words can have significant benefits for reading comprehension (Shahl & Fairbanks, 1986).


Don’t Be Afraid To Use BIG Words!

Having a strong vocabulary is key to success in all academic areas. This article brilliantly underlines the importance of effective vocabulary instruction and gives practical examples for direct vocabulary instruction. In the article, the author quotes vocab expert Dr. Anita Archer:


“…scholars in the field note that “teachers with many struggling children often significantly reduce the quality of their own vocabulary unconsciously to ensure understanding.” So they “reduce the complexity of their vocabulary drastically.” “For many children the teacher is the highest vocabulary example in their life. It’s sort of like having a buffet table but removing everything except a bowl of peanuts-that’s all you get.”


Who else has been there? Intuitively, when you know children are struggling to understand, or are inferring that a child probably doesn’t know a specific word, it makes sense to “dummy down” your language so that they will understand. We want them to feel successful and to comprehend what we are saying. But as educators, we are depriving children of quite possibly their only language-rich environment when we do this!


Articulation + Vocabulary: Can We Kill 2 Birds With 1 Stone?

Almost every single speech therapy articulation flashcard contains a Tier 1 vocab word, right? What if we started to incorporate more Tier 2 Vocab words into articulation therapy? I started this practice accidentally. Quite a few of my students are working on the complex cluster “thr” for which exists fewer words. Therefore they were practicing words such as “thrive” and “threat” weekly. Here’s what the session looked like.

  • We may fly through some of the easier words (e.g. throw, three), but each session when we get to “thrive” and “threat” we discuss the words in more depth.
  • Pictures are incorporated. We expand on a word with this form or a semantic map.
  • We talk about how a tree may thrive and grow strong roots, or how as students they may thrive in second grade.

I’ve found that it takes multiple weeks before I feel they’ve truly mastered the meaning of a word. That thought was supported by the following table that was presented at a recent conference:


Vocab instruction is most effective when it involves rich experiences to which a student can attach language and new words. So I don’t think this should be the only method of instructing vocab, but I do think that it’s a great way to get more bang for your buck out of your artic sessions and is a great idea for mixed speech/language groups.

Marzano’s Tier 2 Vocab Words Sorted By Artic Sounds

I found working with higher tiered vocab words during artic groups to be so beneficial that I sorted Marzano’s Tier 2 Vocab Words by the artic sounds that the majority of my students are working on. Click the picture for the free download:

tier 2 vocab artic

If your student is working on /s/, try throwing  “summarize” or “basin” in the mix for a while instead of “sock” “sit” and “sun.” Once they get those, add some new Tier 2 words.

Marzano’s original list, found here, includes common words in grade level curriculum for Math, Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies. Therefore, it is not an exhaustive list of Tier 2 vocabulary words. Email us at if you have more words for us to add to the list or leave a comment below.

Some of Marzano’s list might be classified as Tier 3 words that are subject specific, or words that are common across academic instruction.  This study demonstrated that a group of kindergartners benefited from direct instruction of “school vocab” words such as select, identify, match, illustrate. Read the plain language review of the study here! Although this study looked at learning through storybook reading, these common “school” words could other great additions to your articulation lists.


As SLPs we should be leading our schools in providing language rich environments for our students. Let’s try tossing some of the basic vocab words during artic sessions and incorporating some vocabulary words!



Elleman, A, Endia J. Lindo, Paul Morphy & Donald L. Compton (2009) The Impact of Vocabulary Instruction on Passage-Level Comprehension of School-Age Children: A Meta-Analysis, Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2:1, 1-44, DOI: 10.1080/19345740802539200

Lowman, J., Stone, L. T., & Guo, J. (2018). Effects of interactive book reading for increasing children’s knowledge of instructional verbs. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 1-13. doi:10.1177/1525740117745639.

Stahl, S. A. and Fairbanks, M. M.1986The effects of vocabulary instruction: A model-based meta-analysisReview of Educational Research, 56: 72110.