I lost my spelling bee, is there hope?

My child just participated in a spelling bee, but did not win. What can I do?

Start thinking about next year’s bee. The speller has just seen how well prepared some of the competitors were, and it is your job to encourage him/her to try to join the ranks of those that placed high in the bee or to win the bee next year. Start with 30 minutes of word study a day, if possible, and expand this into a serious summer project for interested students. Summer is the time of year when more time is available with less interruption from school studies and activities. A couple of hours a day is a good, steady pace, and this can be broken into several shorter periods each day.

There are several directions to go, but the primary goal here is to increase your student’s word foundation to several thousand words so that when he/she is given an unfamiliar word, the speller can mentally search his word bank to see if there is a similar word. For younger spellers, start with VerboMentor or VerboFlips or the printed version, which is Verbomania. For more advanced spellers, consider learning a large bank or words, such as a volume (4,500 words) of VerboMentor or VerboFlips and a volume of NewNat’sMentor or NewNat’s Flips. Going back and forth between the vocabulary-enriching words and the obscure words is a good plan. Most spellers enjoy the bizarre words and want to go straight to that level, but it is critical not to miss the vocabulary-enriching words. Many of these are given in the first off-list rounds at any bee, and these are often the predominant words on written tests.

Learning some of the Latin and Greek roots (EtymaMentor or EtymaFlips or EtymaNotes) and words derived from these help immensely with piecing words together. Learning some of the spelling rules also helps, and learning rules for the language families is also good practice. With these your speller can use a searchable version of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, and search for all the words that have German in the etymology and are spelled with –ie- somewhere in the word to verify that these are have the long ‘e’ sound. He/she can search for all the words that end in –ible and peruse the list. A search can be made for all words that have –phag- from the Greek word phagein meaning to eat. There are less than 500, but barely. These are all fun, 50 cent words, such as sarcophagus, meaning flesh eating

Students learn more easily when the new knowledge is related to something they already know, so keep building from one search to another. After you search for –anem- words from the Greek word anemos meaning wind, you’ll find a few words in the list that come from the Greek words a meaning notI and haima meaning blood, as anemic. Now search for all the words in the dictionary that have haima in the etymology. Here they will learn that most words from haima have -hem- in the spelling of the word just –em- as in anemic.

Bouncing back and forth between studying a long list of words, learning a new rule, searching the dictionary, and learning a new root will keep the student on task better than just studying long, printed list after long, printed list. The key is to keep the student interested in spelling and learning new words!