Three Tiers of Words: Three Reading Strategies: Increased Personalization and Understanding

At the heart of great teaching is differentiation; this teaching tactic of differentiation inside of the teaching content area applies to language acquisition, stages of language, and academic language development; this work will help students across multiple content areas (P2).

In researching this teaching topic area, I reflected on two effective techniques for teaching academic language through a differentiated approach.

FIRST: Three Tiers of Words for Differentiated Instruction

  • Tier One includes vocabulary that the student already knows; teaching these words will help the student activate their prior knowledge.
  • Tier Two words are important over many years in many disciplines both your own and others; examples include parallel, theme, and base; teaching these words will help students make connections to ideas outside of the content and reinforce the meaning in the content.
  • Tier Three words are technical with narrow definition; these words should be taught for the lesson and looked up for further clarity; a student will engage the text at an analytical level.

SECOND: Three Levels of Reading for increased meaning and differentiated instruction

  • Level One, read for general understanding (identify words in all three tiers)
  • Level Two, making personal connections to other content areas
  • Level Three, extending the text to connect and converse with other texts

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Breaking the academic words into these three tiers allows both the teacher and the students to strategically approach the task of learning. By emphasizing the vocabulary early in the process of learning it can be reinforced at every step of the lesson.

In pre-reading students can identify words across tiers and note their meanings.

In connecting to personal experiences, a second stage of effective reading, students can connect their experiences of each word (especially Tier Two Words) in other classes to the text that they are examining and use the Tier One Words, words they already know, to build their knowledge and connection to the new text.

Finally as a student reads for deeper meaning, they are ready to ask bigger questions about the words and their interconnected meanings. By engaging in a process of inter-textuality, they will solidify the understanding and be able to comment on the text in relationship to other texts they have read.

Academic words in all three areas continually emerge in both Theatre Arts and English Language arts because both content areas examine texts from multiple sources with multiple narratives. I often tell my students that my class is not simply a drama class. Rather, my class is every class in the disguise of a drama class. Students must be prepared to speak about any topic that they know about. Because of this, they build their understanding of both of the first two tiers. Some common examples of these words are: inner-monologue, character development, and memorization.

The third tier words are then used most commonly through the language demand and are particular to the performance assignment. One simple example would be, blocking (the specific movement of actors on the stage).

Because of my research into the three tiers of academic language and three common phases of reading, my instruction has changed. I am more apt to point out academic words that make a connection between subjects and encourage students to read a text three times for increased clarity and deeper meaning. With each reading of the text I can guide the student by suggesting that they look for general understanding on their first time through a text, connections between the text and other subjects on their second read, and the conversation between one text and another in their third reading.

By using this three tier and three read through strategy, students are more likely to fully understand and personalize the text. Because a central practice of Theatre Arts is personalization and finding increased meaning, these strategies are invaluable to the students (and to myself). Further, different students will be reading at different levels. Knowing which level a reader is working on will allow myself to differentiate my instruction for that student.

One consequence of using this technique is lost time. It will take students three-times longer to complete any reading assignment. Because of this, reading assignments must be both shortened and be given in class time for guided completion. However, the benefits will outweigh the cost. Students will generate more connections inside of my content area and in content areas outside of my classroom.

Cross Content Collaboration

Collaboration within the school community can be an effective way to reach students across content areas and to help create new and renewed engagement for students and teachers; to do this teachers must collaborate across content areas and use appropriate communication to do so.

My most recent collaboration with a teacher outside of my subject area is an improvisation and health project. In the project, students must investigate and research health issues that are relevant to their lives and then use that research to build a character in drama. The characters then come together for a “community meeting” and discuss the issues of relevance in their improvised lives.

This project started with student research; this research was summed up in a inter-disciplinary meeting that shared the outcomes across content areas between drama and health. These pictures represent the research compiled by the students.



This information, generated by the students, was then summed up and shared with all the participating teachers so that it could be used in three ways. First, by using the foundational knowledge the health teacher is able to bring additional resources to the students so that their information that they use in drama can be more substantial.

Second, the students generate characters in an improvisational-based format that utilizes all of the research and gathered information. Based on the content from health class, students must create a back-story for their characters, character objectives and relationships, and character traits such as vocal and physical patterns.


Lastly, this information, in addition to the work in class and the additional research in health class, is used to create a joint rubric. Students will receive a single summative evaluation that addresses their learning in both classes.

Every piece of written information is shared via Google drive so that both of the associated teachers can easily add and adjust content as the unit progresses.

This project exemplifies collaboration within the school because it is a unit that has and will continue to grow together. It allows students to combine their knowledge across content areas; this project further demonstrates this standard because it requires both of the collaborating teachers to communicate professionally in both written and verbal forms.

In summary, this project created a powerful effect on my students. They reported that the best aspect of the project was the integration of multiple subjects. Placing the health content in an improvisational format allowed them to explore the issues in both meaningful and personal ways. Further, this project created an excellent template (in both communication and lesson planning) for collaborations that I am sure will follow between the health teacher, other teachers, and myself.

In future iterations of this project, I will be sure to communicate with other teachers earlier in the year. While we had ample time to complete the project, the planning late in the year gave us undesirable timing when it came to the shared class time for the initial collaboration and the community meeting that the students jointly participated in.

Theatre of Differentiation

Over the course of teaching and teacher training, it is important to center one’s practice on areas of potential growth. To do this, one must be reflective, collaborative, and evaluative of one’s teaching practice.

From one classroom to the next and one student to the next, education is never the same. There are similar aspects and best practices that are universal. However, the reality of it is that every day educators face new situations caused by a combination of contextual issues that come with each student.

These issues include: developmental issues of nature and nurture, an integration of multiple learning styles, and a student’s Zone of Proximal Development.

Nature and Nurture: As I noted in the first class discussion, neither side is every completely correct. Continue reading “Theatre of Differentiation”