Learn what works

Pre-teaching vocabulary can take place before or during reading. However, most Tier Two words will most effectively be introduced and taught after reading. Here are the things to consider when deciding if words need to be pre-taught:

Before Reading Considerations

  • Pre-teach words that need to be clarified so that they don’t inhibit comprehension.
  • Pre-teach words briefly.
  • Pre-teach words when students are required to read text independently.

During Reading Considerations

  • Explain words to ensure that they don’t inhibit comprehension.
  • Choose words that can be explained quickly and then continue reading the text.
  • Explaining words during reading is usually done while reading aloud.
  • If students are reading longer texts independently, break the text into sections and pre-teach only those words they will need for the next section.

See how it works

Sample Planning Guide (3rd grade)

Introducing Words Before or During Reading

When students are reading independently some Tier Two and Tier Three words may need to be explained before the reading because they are key to understanding the text.

To introduce a word before reading:

  • Characterize the word as it is typically used: “Shutters are on either side of a window, on the outside of a house.”
  • Give a student-friendly definition: “Shutters are like two little doors that can be pulled in over a window if there is a storm coming. They protect the window from rain, hail, or wind.”
  • Explain briefly how the word is used in the text students will be reading: “Here they are closing the shutters before a hurricane.”

When texts are being read aloud to students, words necessary for comprehension may be introduced during reading. To introduce a word during reading, the teacher briefly explains the word as it is encountered.

Remember, most teaching of new vocabulary will take place after reading the text. This is when extended explanations, repeated exposures, and rich understandings of words will be developed. However, in some instances, vocabulary explanation prior to the reading will help struggling readers comprehend text.


Do what works

Planning Template (Vocabulary Instruction)
Classroom Implementation Log


  • Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing Words to Life. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • Beck, I.L., McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2008). Creating Robust Vocabulary: Frequently Asked Questions and Extended Examples.  New York: Guilford Press.