Spelling Bee Tips and C-O-N-G-R-A-T-S to Fairmont Spelling Champ

Last week, Fairmont Private Schools – Historic Anaheim Campus student Winston Z. (7th grade) won the Orange County Spelling Bee! Winston competed against 46 other top-notch spellers from the county. Spellers ranged from 6th to 8th grade. After 10 rounds of high-stakes spelling, the competition came down to Winston and Audrey L. from St. John’s Episcopal School. In round 13, Winston won the competition by correctly spelling “terete.” We bet his language arts teachers at the Historic Anaheim and Anaheim Hills (Winston’s former campus) campuses are proud!

Winston will move on to the next level of competition at the Scripps National Spelling Bee this summer in Washington D.C. Winston’s county win assured him and a chaperone complimentary trips to the competition. What a summer!

Spelling Bee Tips

In honor of our super speller, Winston Z., here are some tips to become the very best speller you can be!

Write it Out On Your Hand

Like many things in life, words, particularly the spelling of, are easier to spell when viewed in a physical form and not just from the far recesses of one’s mind. Spelling bee contestants are certainly not allowed paper and pen (or pencil, or quill, or crayon, or any other kind of writing tool), but they are allowed their imagination. When asked to spell a word, contestants can pretend to write the word on the back of their hand, using their finger as an imaginary pen. It’ll help them better picture the word and the order of its letters.

Practice Makes Perfect

Spelling bee contestants may be so focused on the spelling, they forget the other skill they’ll need to succeed in competition: the ability to speak in front of others. Practice is essential, not just of spelling, but of doing so in front of an audience. Contestants should practice spelling in front of friends and family and even ask questions to a “practice” moderator.

Learn Diacritics

Back in the day, before Google could simply pronounce a word for you, the little symbols (diacritics) over words in the dictionary was how one learned the correct way to pronounce a word. Spelling bee contestants should get to know these symbols and practice pronouncing with them.

Flashcards Are Your Bestfriend

A large part of being an expert speller is memorization. Contestants or parents, find your (or your child’s) grade level on the 2017 School Spelling Bee Study List (you’ll need a teacher to access this) or Merriam-Webster and Scripps’ Spell It! and create flashcards from the study words. Move on to upper-grade level cards once the first 100 are memorized if using the 2017 study list. Go through the flashcards as often as possible: car rides, waiting rooms, between class assignments, before dance class or soccer practice. Contestants should get to know these cards like a favorite book! And even when moved on to the next grade level’s cards, return back to older sets for refreshers.

Study Roots and Etymology

Memorization is unfortunately not enough. Inevitably amidst the bright lights on that spelling bee stage, the moderator will give at least one word that was missing from that flashcard stack. That is where studying roots and etymology comes in. For example, let’s say a contestant starts studying roots and comes upon the root “vac” which in Latin means “empty.” They’ll start to notice the similarity in definitions of the words with that root, like “vacuum,” “vacation,” and “vacate.” If a word is given at the spelling bee and the definition includes something about being empty, there’s a good chance they’ll know to spell at least part of it “v-a-c”!

It also helps to know etymology, as different origins can help decipher the spelling. For example, if given the German word “seltzer” and a contestant has studied German etymology, they’ll know though there’s a soft “s” sound, German words, compared to English ones, use “t-z” more commonly for that sound.

Read Frequently

Take a break from flashcards and studying to jump into the world of fiction (or non-fiction)! Reading exposes contestants to more words and their correct spellings, even if they aren’t actively studying them. Regardless of what contestants choose to read, make sure it’s at a reading level that introduces new words and presents a challenge. Use the dictionary to look up unknown words for pronunciation and definitions.

Start Reading that Dictionary

Reading anything is helpful, but for serious study, it’s time to sit down with the beast herself: the dictionary. Contestants should read through and accustom themselves with any unfamiliar words and their spellings. Then create flashcards from any words whose spelling will need to be studied. It might be dry, but it’s a sure way to sharpen spelling skills!

While these tips should prove helpful to spelling bee contestants, anyone can use them to better their spelling skills! It’s always a good idea to brush up, even in a world with spell checking programs. You never know when it’ll come in handy!



Photo by: Orange County Department of Education

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