A Comprehensive Guide to Everything You Need to Know about Spelling Bees
This guide contains the answers to all of your questions about spelling bees. You’ll also find information and strategies for how to learn spelling bee words using an English learning system driven by technology and phonetics.
With the Ultimate Spelling Bee Guide, we’ll help you:
- Know the best tools for learning and practicing spelling for spelling bees
- Learn the history of spelling bees and their significance on English learning
- Understand the rules and trends of English spelling bees
- Change the way you learn to spell and speak words by introducing you to new learning techniques with SpellQuiz
- Discover how spelling bees can benefit learning, language and literacy
Part One: Introduction to the History and Dynamics of Spelling Bees
- What is the definition of a spelling bee?
- How did the name “spelling bee” originate?
- When was the first spelling bee?
- What are the rules of a spelling bee?
- How are words chosen for spelling bees?
- How many different words are used in spelling bees?
- How do you enter the spelling bee championships?
- What is the Scripps National Spelling Bee?
Part Two: How to Effectively Practice for a Spelling Bee Competition
- How do I use Phonetics learning to speak and pronounce words correctly?
- How can I teach my child to spell and read words with precision so that they can win a spelling bee?
- What is the best way to practice for a spelling bee?
- How is a spelling bee different from a spelling test?
- What are the best resources for spelling bee training?
- How can I make spelling bee practice more fun?
- What’s the best way to remember long words for a spelling bee?
- Where do I find a spelling bee word list to practice with?
How did the name “spelling bee” originate?
Everyone knows what a spelling bee is, but not many people know what its name actually means. After all, it would be a bit bizarre to find a bee that can spell.
The truth is, the “bee” in “spelling bee” remains a mystery for most people. Students usually assume that the bee refers to the insect. This is only logical considering both the modern usage of the word “bee” and that the insect features on the Scripps National Spelling Bee logo.
Generally speaking, today the “bee” in “spelling bee” could be the insect, but that’s not how the world’s most famous English language competition was initially named.
Over the years, the word bee has not only been used to describe the insect but has had many other meanings. Some centuries ago, bee (or been) used to refer to a social gathering, a meeting of friends and neighbors where everyone participated in one joint activity, such as sewing, for example. Usually, such “bee” activities were done with the aim of helping a friend or a family member. To give an exact Merriam Webster dictionary definition, the Middle English word bene normally meant “voluntary help given by neighbors toward the accomplishment of a particular task.”
That said, it is possible that calling the black and yellow insect “bee” was inspired by the fact that bees and beehives share their social and industrious nature with humans and their gatherings. Yet, in recent years, linguists made a strong claim against this interesting theory. Instead, they suggested that the word bee derives from the Old English bene or boon which means “a prayer, a favor.” This explains why bees were activities in which people helped a neighbor or friend in need. How the insect got its name most likely had nothing to do with them.
The first time the word bee appeared in print was in 1769, and it was in the context of a “spinning bee.” Later on, expressions such as “husking bee,” “apple bee,” and “logging bee” began to be used.
The word “spelling bee” was officially created in 1875, but it had probably been used in the spoken language for some years before. What is certain, though, spelling competitions had existed for quite some time before they became known as “spelling bees.”
For instance, spelling bees used to be connected to much more violent words, such as “spelling fight” and “spelling combat.” In print, the competition was addressed as a “spelling match” as early as in 1808. What inspired these “matches” was Noah Webster’s (the founding father of Merriam-Webster) spelling books, first published in 1786. These books were part of the elementary school curriculum, so of course, students all over the country enjoyed getting into “spelling combats” for many years before the bee came along.
Evidently, bee is a much better choice, because it is short, easy to spell and remember and, most importantly, it has a positive meaning. We, for once, are glad there are no spelling fights on TV these days.
When was the first spelling bee?
Now that you know what the spelling bee is, you must be wondering who invented this wonderful competition.
Even though the ideas about “spelling matches” and “spelling books” started in the late 18th century, the first national spelling bee competition was organized on June 17, 1925, by a newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky called The Courier-Journal.
That’s right; it was a newspaper who we need to thank for the spelling bee.
Another eight newspapers collaborated with the Courier-Journal to organize the historic first national championship which combined several local spelling bees. Since then, the national spelling bee competition has been held every year; except from 1943 to 1945 during World War II.
Isn't that an impressive record?
Going back to the 1925 national spelling bee that took place at the National Museum in Washington, D.C. This first national spelling bee had only nine contestants (six girls and three boys).
Just imagine, about two million students had participated in school spelling bees. But only nine people got to meet President Calvin Coolidge before the contest began.
The first person to win the first official national spelling bee was an 11-year old boy called Frank Neuhauser. The winning word he spelled correctly was a pretty tough one - “gladiolus.”
For his effort, young Frank received $500 in gold and, the free trip to D.C.
It gets better.
When Frank returned to his hometown Louisville, Kentucky, the city even held a parade in his honor. The crowds made sure to bring bouquets of Frank’s new favorite flower – the gladiolus.
This spelling battle took only 90 minutes. Right after Frank came 11-year old Edna Stover from New Jersey. Frank and Edna were competing for the first place, but she misspelled the word “gladiolus” as “g-l-a-d-y-o-l-o-u-s.”
This brought her the second place and $250.
What other words appeared in this first short spelling bee championship? The other seven spellers failed to spell the following words: moribund, valuing, statistician, blackguard, propeller, cosmos, and skittish.
Not so tough, was it?
Would these words make it to today’s national finals?
In fact, Mister Neuhauser told The Washington Post he wouldn’t have been able to pass the first round of the spelling bee in 1993.
As you probably know, if you can’t attend, you can watch the national spelling bee on TV.
But this wasn’t the case with the first national championship.
The NBC live broadcasted the national finals for the first time in 1946. However, even then the NBC did not make it a regular TV show, and the national spelling bee had only been shown twice more in 1974 and 1977 on PBS.
Since 1994, the national spelling bee has been broadcasted on the cable-television channel ESPN, with a short trip to ABC in 2006.
Evidently, the spelling bee has changed drastically since 1925, but the spirit of education, competition, and valuing the brightest young minds in the country and beyond still persist.
How do you enter the spelling bee championships?
Each year, millions of children take part in different spelling bee competitions around the country and abroad. Yet, only a few of them end up on national TV.
How do they do that?
There are two major steps to getting to the national spelling bee championship.
First, you need to start low and win your school spelling bee.
Second, you must then qualify to represent your school at a regional spelling bee and, of course, win it.
As if these two steps alone are not hard enough to accomplish, there is a number of other eligibility criteria that all aspiring spellers must take into consideration.
First things first.
Not any school spelling bee contest will qualify you for the championship. Your school must be enrolled in the Scripps program and determined to send a student to the official regional spelling bee.
The Pre-enrollment period usually starts on August 1, nearly 10 months before the annual championship takes place, and it extends all the way to mid-December.
That being said, even if your school doesn’t participate in the Scripps spelling bee program, students and parents have a lot of time to convince the administration to give it a try.
Once that is done, the winner of the school competition advances to the regionals. A regional spelling bee typically includes several counties, and sometimes even an entire state.
Not all the rules of the national competition apply to regional competitions, so the organizers have some flexibility as to how they choose their representative.
What’s unique about these regional-level competitions is that they must have sponsors, usually local newspapers, which host the contest and send the winner to Maryland for the championship.
There are over 280 sponsors at the moment, meaning that there are over 280 regional competitions and winners who qualify for the national championship.
Is there any way kids from schools which do not participate in the official Scripps program can end up in Maryland?
Self-sponsored spelling champions are free to send their application to the Scripps National Spelling Bee and hope to get an approval.
This small exception to the rules and regulations is especially useful for children who are homeschooled or live in very rural areas.
It is also important that you fulfill these two criteria on the road to the national championship in the same year.
You must enter the regional and the national competition immediately after you win the school competition.
More precisely, only the spellers who are declared champions of a local spelling bee in the same year when the national competition takes place can compete.
The Scripps Bee also limits who can qualify for the national championship based on age and grade.
Only students enrolled in the eighth grade or below as of the year when the Scripps championship takes place can advance to the finals.
The winners of any high school spelling bee, unfortunately, cannot run for the grand prize.
Because students (and their parents) go crazy about the spelling bee, Scripps has made it one of the eligibility rules that the speller must not repeat a grade to extend their spelling bee eligibility.
That means can’t stay in grade eight until you’re 18 hoping to win the national spelling bee. In fact, the maximum age is 15.
Relating to that, skipping school to get to the spelling bee championship won’t do any good either.
The Bee will check whether the applicants continue to follow “normal school activity” throughout the preparation period for the championship.
Here, Latin, Ancient Greek, Modern Greek and English Literature do not qualify as “normal school activity,” but any four or more courses which are not languages and spelling taken for at least four hours per day will suffice.
Another significant thing to note is, that if your parent, sibling or even a first cousin works for the E.W. Scripps Company, tough luck.
The Bee does not allow any relatives of the Scripps’ employees to consider for the national spelling bee.
The only way this could change is to politely ask your relative to find a new job.
Finally, there is some level of bureaucracy to the national spelling bee, too.
Once a speller qualifies for the championship, they must register online by filling in a completed online Champion Registration form.
There are some other statements, certificates, and agreements that need to be signed and sent before the qualifying speller can head towards Maryland for the preliminaries.
As you may know, there is a number of small things that a speller must comply with to get all the way to the national spelling bee.
Still, two most difficult tasks are winning the school spelling bee and winning the regional bee.
After those two tasks are complete, all other requirements will be a piece of cake.