Should My Child Participate in a Spelling Bee?

Give your students Spelling Power in Only 15 Minutes a Day!

Should My Child Participate in a Spelling Bee?

Spelling Power's multi-sensory instructional approach boosts spelling retention.

It is that time of year again; time for the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee Championship. This year's preliminary events have already happened and the championship event will be televised on Saturday, June 4, 2022. Every year, after the national event, I get questions from parents about whether it is a good idea to have their students participate. Unfortunately, I generally find that spelling bees are a very ineffective way for most students to become competent spellers for three main reasons.

First, the very nature of a traditional spelling bee is an ineffective way to help students to improve their spelling. Bees generally eliminate the poorest spellers first – the poorer the speller the quicker they are eliminated. The better spellers, shall we even say “natural spellers,” are the students engaged the longest in a spelling bee type event. If your goal is to help your students improve their spelling, you will find an alternative approach to a spelling bee found on page 241, number 12 (Checkers) of Spelling Power more useful. This approach is adapted to keep the poorer spellers engaged with the words at their level of ability the longest.

Second, many spelling bees test words not frequently used by students. If you wish to improve your students' spelling ability and accuracy and their ease in spelling while writing, expending large amounts of time to learn words that are seldom, if ever, used by students is a poor use of the their academic time. Better uses of students' spelling time are approaches such as used in Spelling Power. Spelling Power's list of the 5,000 most frequently used words is a proprietary list scientifically selected and arranged into levels by word frequency and further, within levels by phonic and spelling rules. The 2,000 most frequently used words by children appear at the lowest levels and higher levels have the words most frequently used by high school, college, and adults. Learning words that are high frequency respects students' academic needs and results in the quickest improvement of students' spelling abilities.

Finally, spelling bees are generally oral tests of spelling. The purpose of spelling is to aid writing and later to assist reading the text. It is much easier to complete an oral spelling test than a written spelling exam. Oral spelling eliminates many challenging tasks associated with written spelling. Some people think, “If you can read, you should be able to spell.” However, that is definitely not the case. Written spelling is not just the reverse skill of reading, because it involves more than just reciting the spelling of a word. Written spelling requires more than five distinct tasks, including thinking of the correct word to use (both as part of the composing process and then knowing which spelling is correct in context); remembering the correct sequence of letters; remembering how to form each of the letters properly; having the hand-eye coordination to write letters legibly; and finally, possessing the visual discrimination skills to be able to proofread for correct spelling. As you can see, this is a very simplified list of the skills involved. It is a big task! That is why there are so few natural spellers of the English language. It is also the reason Spelling Power recommends that spelling tests always be written in form and not oral tests. This is still an issue even when the spelling bee provides contestants with white boards to write out the word before spelling it orally. This tool is to help students who are tactile and kinetic “feel” if they have the correct spelling. It does not transform the bee into a written test since contestants are not required to write the word during the competition.

Now that I have explained the three main reasons I do not recommend participation in spelling bees, I should clarify that I am not saying that students should never compete in a spelling bee. Some students really do love the challenge of a spelling bee type activity. However, I don't recommend using it as a required instructional method. That said, if one of your students really wants the challenge of competing in a spelling bee, let him do so during his free time. If you want to have students participate in more useful study, I recommend that you use Spelling Power's organized word list along with its scientific method. After they have mastered those high frequency words, they can use the lists of Frequently Misspelled Word Lists found on the Spelling Power Teacher's Resource Site. This site is included in your Spelling Power purchase and includes many resources useful for teaching with Spelling Power. (Learn how to sign up for Spelling Power Teacher's Resource site here.)

Using Spelling Power's 10-Step-Study Sheets and review processes to memorize any list of words, even words that are not high frequency, is an effective method. In fact, every year, after the various levels of bees, I get calls from parents letting me know that their student used Spelling Power's methods to study for the bee and that their child was a winner. I have even received reports of students who use Spelling Power who were winners at the national level.