Like many kids in middle school, I entered my local school’s spelling bee. For four years, springtime was taken up with dreams of the National Spelling Bee. I practiced hard, and did fairly well. I made it to my school district’s bee during all four years that I was eligible. I made it to the spelling bee three out of the four years, placing sixth in the regional bee one year, and placing second in the regional bee during my last year. The girl that beat me ended up with that coveted trip to Washington, DC, to compete in the national spelling bee. If you have a child that has dreams of doing well in the spelling bee, or if you are a child that wants to do well, this is what I learned.
Study a Lot
Natural spelling talent helps (I usually tested out of my class’s weekly spelling test in third grade and was given harder work), but it will only take you so far. If you want to go far in the spelling bee, it helps to study. My mom spent hours working with me on my words. We probably studied at least an hour, nearly every day, during the spelling bee season. If you don’t have someone to help you, there are computerized flashcard programs that can help. Flash My Brain is a program that you can put your spelling words in as audio files.
What words should you study? Schools that register for the spelling bee are sent 25 copies of the book Spell It! It is available for free download at www.myspellit.com. It lists words by country of origin.
If you have already mastered Spell It!, Scripps Howard produces a consolidated word list, which you can use. This word list can be downloaded from the Scripps Howard web site at spellingbee.com. It is a compilation of more than 100 spelling bee word lists that have been used since 1950, and contains 22,014 different words. Learn the words that appear frequently first, then learn the words that appear with moderate frequency, then move on to the words that appear infrequently, if you get that far.
At this point, you’re probably a spelling genius. You should do well.
Learn How to Pronounce the Words
All the practice in the world is not going to help you if you’re pronouncing the words wrong. This problem was ultimately my spelling bee downfall. During my last spelling bee, they asked me to spell the word “pathos.” I had practiced that word many times, but every time I practiced it, we pronounced it path-ose, with a short a. The word is pronounced “pay-those,” with a long a. I spelled it “p-a-i-t-h-o-s,” and got it wrong. The winner was able to spell it correctly, along with the next word, and went on to Washington, DC.
When I was in the spelling bee, I concentrated primarily on the book that my local Scripps Howard spelling bee sponsor distributed at the time, which was called Words of the Champions. I didn’t even know that there was a consolidated word list. Almost all the words that were asked in the bees I participated in came out of that book. However, Words of the Champions had around 3,000 words in it. The Paideia, which was distributed from the 1990s until just a few years ago, had about 4,000 words. Spell It! has less than 1,000 words. You may wish to move past the Spell It! book and get a copy of the Paideia from one or more of the previous years. While Spell It! will probably get you to your district bee, if you want to go farther, you will probably want to know more words.
If you plan on doing well in the national bee, the competition is tough. In recent years, they have televised the words from the spelling bee, and the difficulty of the words is much harder than the words that were used locally when I competed. Becoming familiar with the words in the Consolidated Word List will help you on that level.
Since the eighth grade, I have forgotten some of the words that I learned, because I don’t use them all the time. However, the spelling bee has been a help to me even to this day, because as I study words, I am fairly confident that the words I use often are spelled correctly, and I know when I don’t know how to spell a word. The spelling bee is a great competition to get involved in, no matter how far you progress.
“Scripps National Spelling Bee.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scripps_National_Spelling_Bee