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Spelling Bee Resources: A Guide for Students, Parents, and Educators

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More than 472,000 words; 562 contestants; a national broadcast on ESPN; champions who go on to be doctors and scientists. It’s no wonder the Scripps National Spelling Bee has become a revered American tradition.

While Scripps gets all the attention on the national level, there are numerous local and regional spelling bees that take place every year all over the country. These competitions are a valuable opportunity for children under the age of 14 in the United States. This opportunity includes the development of language skills, but can also offer students a wide range of other personal enrichment activities.

History of the Spelling Bee

Typically, when we talk about the spelling bee, this refers to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The Scripps National Spelling Bee was established in 1925 through the combined efforts of nine newspapers. It was meant to consolidate and formalize smaller spelling competitions that took place in the United States. The first winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee was 11-year-old Frank Neuhauser, who won the competition by correctly spelling “gladiolus.”

However, it is important to note that while the Scripps National Spelling Bee is perhaps the most well-known spelling competition, it is far from one of a kind. Spelling bees were popularized in the United States during the 19th century, well before the establishment of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Additionally, many similar spelling competitions are held around the world. 

Why Should You Encourage Participation in Spelling Bees?

As mentioned, spelling bees can offer a wide range of opportunities for children. These opportunities include:

  • Development of reading and writing skills

  • Improvement of self-confidence

  • More options for social networking

  • Development of social skills

  • Development of good time-management skills

  • Development of good study skills

  • Improvement of communication skills

  • Improvement of critical thinking skills

  • Better understanding of language structures and history

  • More time to bond with family and friends

  • Travel opportunities

  • More exposure to different people, places, and cultures

Students can gain these benefits through preparation for a spelling bee, as well as during the contest itself. 

How to Prepare for a Spelling Bee

To some degree, the way that you or your child should prepare for a spelling competition depends on their unique personality and situation. In addition to understanding what strategies and resources are available, it is important to consider the child’s personality, learning style, and personal goals. This can help you determine which strategies and resources will be most effective. It also may be helpful to test the waters with a few different options to determine which seem to be the best. 

Spelling bee competition with black backgroundSpelling bee competition with black background

Spelling Strategies

By utilizing some basic spelling strategies, a child can drastically improve their spelling performance. This is because these strategies offer additional clues to work with beyond simple rote memorization. You are likely to find more success if you try out several different strategies that your child can have in their toolkit. These strategies include:

  • Teach basic rules: There are many grammatical rules (e.g., “i” before “e” except after “c”) that a child can use as guidelines for spelling. While many of these rules do have exceptions, they can still be used as a good fallback strategy. 

  • Break down a word phonetically: Teach your child which letters are typically associated with particular sounds. While this method isn’t foolproof, it can help your child determine what the most likely letter combinations are. 

  • Teach etymology: With a solid understanding of common root words, your child may be able to decipher the spelling of a word based on its meaning.

  • Use words in different ways: Have your child say the word, spell it out loud, write it down, and use it in sentences. It is important to present the word in different ways so that their brain continues to actively process the input. 

  • Use mnemonic devices: A mnemonic device is any tool used to prompt a memory. This can be as simple as teaching your child to think “Wed-nes-day” when prompted with the word “Wednesday.” 

Tips for Helping Your Child Study

There are also many general approaches you can take to help your child study. These include:

  • Creating a dedicated study space: A dedicated study space can help improve study habits by reducing distractions and reinforcing scheduling.

  • Asking them to explain things in their own words: This will help ensure that they are learning and not parroting. Additionally, repeating the information in their own words may help reinforce their memory. 

  • Presenting the information in various ways: This is another way to ensure that your child is absorbing the material rather than just regurgitating the information. 

  • Making your child feel comfortable asking questions: Perhaps the most important part of learning is asking questions if you are uncertain. As such, it is valuable for children to learn early on that it is a good thing to ask questions and tell you if they are struggling with something.

  • Ensuring that they have a good study-life balance: Over-studying can cause a wide array of problems such as stress and fatigue. It is important to keep an eye on their progress and their mood to ensure you aren’t overdoing it. 

It is also important to always ensure that the material your child is studying is age-appropriate.

Spelling Bee Words by Grade Level

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is broken down into three levels of difficulty: 

  • One Bee: For early elementary school students

  • Two Bee: For later elementary school students

  • Three Bee: For middle school students

spelling bee levels with example wordsspelling bee levels with example words

Words that have been used at the One Bee difficulty level include: crowd, secret, health, amazed, and snarl. Words that have been used at the Two Bee level include: concentrate, dissolved, reasonable, gamma, and momentous. Words that have been used at the Three Bee difficulty level include: reluctant, sojourner, accordance, suffused, and hydrargyrum. Use our word finder to uncover more study words.

Helpful Spelling Bee Study Tools

There are many different types of study tools that can help a child develop their spelling skills. Like study strategies, study tools should be chosen based on the needs and preferences of the individual child. 

Analog Study Tools

Analog study tools are concrete resources such as textbooks, work booklets, and flashcards. These can be purchased or created. Many such existing tools are specifically endorsed by the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and these may be a good place to start. 

Additionally, the Scripps National Spelling Bee offers several suggestions for children’s books and novels that are a great resource for helping your child develop a rich vocabulary. These include works like “Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover,” “Winterhouse,” and “Shadowshaper.”

Apps and Digital Games 

There are many digital word games available on a variety of devices that support the development of spelling and language skills, including:

  • Words With Friends: This digital multiplayer game is very similar to the game Scrabble, with players building words with various point values. If you get stuck, a Words With Friends cheat can help.

  • Wordscapes: Players use the given bank of letters to create all possible word combinations

  • WordBrain: WordBrain is a word-search game that offers increasingly difficult jumbles as you move forward.

  • Spellerz: This game teaches spelling and typing by encouraging the player to use these skills to defeat alien invaders.

  • Word Club: This online platform endorsed by the Scripps National Spelling Bee offers a variety of gamified learning activities. 

  • Reading Eggs: This app teaches language skills by addressing different elements of reading and writing through a variety of games.

  • Spelling Shed: This app supports gamified learning of standard spelling words and offers settings that benefit students with dyslexia. 

Physical Games and Activities

There are also many games you can play in-person to improve spelling and language skills. These include:

  • Scrabble: Scrabble is a board game where players build words on a grid using letters printed on tiles. Some schools offer Scrabble tournaments.

boys playing scrabble at tableboys playing scrabble at table
  • Bananagrams: Similar to Scrabble, players use lettered tiles to build words. However, Bananagrams revolves around the ability to form words more quickly than your opponents rather than strategically placing them on a board.

  • Quiddler: Quiddler is a card game where players use lettered cards to build words. 

  • Upwords: Upwords is similar to Scrabble, but tiles are allowed to be stacked on top of each other. 

  • Boggle: In Boggle, players shake lettered dice into the game’s playboard, and then they must build words based on adjacent dice combinations.

  • Apples to Apples: Apples to Apples is a word association game where players present cards from their hands that they feel are most closely related to the card drawn by the dealer. There is also an Apples to Apples Junior for younger players. 

Further Resources for Finding Helpful Study Tools

There are many more spelling-related study tools and games available than those listed above, and the following resources can help you find which ones will be best for your child:

  • Offline word games: Twelve free games you can play anywhere, including 4 Pics 1 Word, Bonza Word Puzzle, Classic Words Solo, and more.  

  • Popular word games for iPhone: Eleven games that are the best on iOS, including 7 Little Words, CodyCross, and Scrabble GO.

  • Word games for Nintendo Switch: Unique verbal challenges, such as Typoman, Happy Words, and Spellspire, that are essential for anyone who has a Nintendo Switch system. 

  • Google Home games: If you have Google Home speakers, you can indulge in fun audio-based word puzzlers that won’t disappoint.

  • Alexa word games: Amazon’s Alexa assistant offers a variety of great games, from classics such as Mad Libs and Twenty Questions to newcomers such as Heads Up! and Grand Slam. 

  • Pen and paper games: Where it all began. Check out these nine simply enjoyable ways to improve your verbal skills with nothing but a writing utensil and a piece of paper. 

  • Top 5 board games for kids: These entertaining vocabulary-builders — such as Scrabble Junior, Wordplay for Kids, and Words on the Street Junior — are sure to beat boredom before it ever begins. 

Additional Spelling Bee Resources

For even more information on the spelling bee, check out the following useful resources:

The Spelling Bee for the Win

The spelling bee isn’t just a fun and exciting competition — it’s a way to improve your child’s vocabulary, memory, and cognitive skills. Take advantage of the many games and resources available for aspiring spellers of any age. Even if they don’t walk away a national champion, they’ll improve their verbal skills at a crucial time in their life.

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