Spelling Bees

The PROPER way to do a spelling bee


I have always thought spelling bees were ridiculous. They prove nothing.

Spelling has to do with the written word.

So why are we testing it orally?


This would be like winning an essay contest by playing football. One has nothing to do with the other.


There are many people who can speak and understand verbal English. Learning to read and write is another matter. Isn't that what we really want to test here?


Lets look at reality.

The way people know how to spell is primarily through reading. The way people check their writing is by reading it over. (That is why it is called "proofreading" not "proofspeaking").


Second reality - whenever someone asks me how to spell a word, the first thing I do is write it down ! Only by writing and looking at it can I tell if it is correct. Then I call it out.

I don't spell when I speak, I spell when I write. It is visual, not verbal.


Another point - if you just call out the words, you can forget what you said.

Try this: Name all the relatives in your extended family, including cousins and nephews, but don't write these names down.

Did you come to a point where you think "Now who did I miss?" Or, someone replied "You said his name already."

Ah! You are now disqualified. You lose. You obviously don't care about your relatives at all!!


See what I mean? Now, if you started writing down the list of all your relatives, then you would look at the list as you go. When your quick memory went through its list, you can look at what you've written, and realize what you need to add.


This is what happens in these silly spelling bees. A person can know how to spell just fine. But ask him to call it out...he not only has to remember how to spell the word, but remember the letters he has called out already.

This is stupid.

The only people who can win spelling bees, are those that can not only spell, but have a certain gift with a particular type of memory.

It would be okay on a game show, or on a trivia contest. But we are trying to encourage students to know how to spell properly!! A great many of those students who fail the spelling bees, at any level, may actually be able to spell, but don't have that memory gift.

As I said before, the traditional spelling bee proves nothing.



THIS is the PROPER way to do a spelling bee:

Have a pad of blank paper and a pen at a podium.

When each student comes up, they have the chance to write the word. They can look at it, rewrite it, until they are satisfied. (Time limits can be mandated for advanced levels.)

When they are sure of their final answer, THEN they can call it out, reading directly from the paper they wrote on.



You let them write, because spelling is associated with writing.


You let them write, because they can see what letters they've put - so when calling the letters out, it will be exactly the letters, they will not have accidentally repeated or skipped a letter.


You give them time to write, and to scratch out, because many of us write faster than we think.

For example, often I will write "to" when I meant "too", or "their" when I meant "there". Often when I write an article, in my first draft I skip words entirely because my brain has moved on faster than my pen could go.

Then there are those who are learning that level of vocabulary, and just need the extra time to be sure.

Just being up in front of the room can make a student feel nervous and not think as sharply as he does at his desk.

What about those with learning disabilities? If the end result is a person to know how to get his final word correct, and they can if given paper and time, then we should let them do that.

We need time to proofread by ourselves, then we can let someone else be the judge.


THAT is genuine proof that the person does know how to spell that word. It will show that a person knows how to spell, and did not just fail because it is a memory game.


MF 2003