Using Children’s Books to Target Tier 2 Vocabulary

A couple of years ago I attended a presentation at the ASHA convention given by Dawna Duff entitled Robust Vocabulary Instruction. The presentation was all about targeting tier 2 vocabulary using children’s books. If you are unfamiliar with tiered vocabulary check out my blog post here. If you are interested in learning how to select and target vocabulary while reading with your preschooler, read on!

Why Teach Vocabulary?

  • Vocabulary is a critical piece of reading comprehension
  • Vocabulary intervention benefits all children but is most beneficial for kids with language difficulties
  • Effective vocabulary instruction is explicit, intentionally designed and involves careful target selection

Step-by-Step Vocabulary Selection

  1. Pull out your book of choice and flip through the pages. Create a list of all the words you think the child does not already know.
  2. Cross out any words that are not considered tier 2. Ask yourself these questions: Can the word be used in different contexts? Does the word have different meanings? Does the word have a high frequency synonym that the child understands? If the answers are yes, it is likely a tier 2 word.
  3. Narrow your list to 5-6 target words, determining which will be the most beneficial to the child in multiple contexts.

Step-by-Step Vocabulary Instruction

  1. Contextualize: How was the word used in the story? Talk about the word in context of the story.
  2. Define: Provide a definition of the word using words the child already understands.
  3. Different example: Provide an example of the word in a context different from the story.
  4. Interact with examples: Have the child tell you about something related to the word. Relate the word to something familiar to the child.
  5. Phonological rehearsal: Ask the child, “What word are we talking about?” so the child can practice producing and recalling the word.


Using the book, The House at Poor Corner by A.A. Milne, one of the 5-6 words you could select is forget. First, read the story and target your selected words by repeating the sentences containing the words and providing a brief definition using everyday language. For example, when describing the word forget you could say, “When you forget something, you don’t remember it.” After reading the story review the words and teach more in depth with the following procedure. Keep in mind instruction can span a few days or sessions.

  1. Contextualize: Christopher Robin wanted to be remembered, so he told Pooh not to forget him. He wanted Pooh to think about and remember him. If Pooh forgot about him, he would not think about him.
  2. Define: Forget means you don’t remember.
  3. Different example: You can forget people like in the story but you can also forget things. Maybe you go outside but you forget your shoes! You didn’t remember them so you have to go back inside and get them.
  4. Interact with examples: Tell me about a time you forgot something? Fill in the blank… If you don’t forget something you _________ it. What kind of things might you forget about? How might you feel when you forget something… happy or sad?
  5. Phonological rehearsal: “What word are we talking about?”

Duff, Dawna. Robust Vocabulary Instruction. ASHA Convention, Philadelphia, PA, November 2016.

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