The Scripps National Spelling Bee has been running since 1925. It is held in Washington D.C. every year at the end of May. Although contestants are schoolchildren, the competition is intense. It is televised and the finals are aired at primetime. Despite the name, it seems that it has nothing to do with bees.
- Language level: Pre-intermediate (A2) +
- Learner type: Teens; Adults
- Time: 40 minutes
- Activity: Spelling competition
- Topic: Spelling
- Language: Functional questions about words (How do you spell? etc)
- Materials: Video; Worksheet
Lesson plan outline
- Show students the clip of Kennyi Aouad getting the giggles while attempting to spell sardoodledom (see above). Ask them to watch without paying too much attention to what is being said. Ask if they can work out what is happening.
- Explain to students that Kennyi is a contestant in the most famous annual US spelling competition called Scripps National Spelling Bee. Find out if students were aware of the existence of English spelling competitions. If not, are they surprised that they take place? Point out that contestants generally have to spell obscure, low frequency or specialist words (sardoodledom, for example).
- Give out copies of the Video Worksheet (included in the PDF download). Students have to read a transcription of the exchange between the contestant and competition official. The task is to work out the questions that the contestant asks and write them in the spaces provided. Full instructions are provided on the sheet.
- Let students share and compare answers before playing the clip a second time and allowing them to correct their work.
- Tell students that they are going to prepare their own Spelling Bee competitions. Give out copies of the Spelling Bee Preparation Worksheets (included in PDF download). Ask students to look at their vocabulary notebooks and choose 5 words with difficult spelling that they have already met (this is an opportunity for vocabulary revision). For each word, students should:
- Make sure they know how to pronounce it
- Identify its part of speech (noun, verb, preposition, adjective, adverb, etc)
- Write their own definition of the word
- Write an example sentence containing the word in context
- Arrange the class into groups of between 4 and 6 students. In their groups, students take it in turn to be quiz master and give all other group members a word to spell. Group members can ask any of the questions below before writing down their answers. Write the questions on the board and encourage students to use them.
Offer help as your students prepare. Also give access to dictionaries if possible. Make sure students’ definitions and example sentences are sound.
* Could you give me the definition?
* What part of speech is it?
* Could you use it in a sentence?
Each correctly spelled word gets a group member one point.
Variation: Whole class format
Compile a list of words with potentially difficult spelling and use it for a spelling quiz in class. All students should write down (i.e. attempt to spell) all of the words that you pronounce. They can then mark each others’ answers. Importantly, they should be able to ask you any of the questions suggested in stage 6 above. Possible lists include:
- Commonly misspelled words that you have identified while correcting students’ written work.
- Themed words with potentially difficult spelling. For example, if you were about to start/revise a topic on money, you could choose: Financial, economy, debt, currency, inflation, etc.
- Give the words a mystery spelling theme and ask students if they can work out what it is after the competition. For example, words with doubled letters (disappoint, balloon, beginning, etc), words with silent letters (bomb, island, psychology, etc), words containing -ough, (through, although, cough, etc), words containing the /eɪ/ sound (break, neighbour, straight, etc)
Here are some other Scripps National Spelling Bee clips that can be used for follow up activities:
- A compilation
- Trevor Mahoney asks if a word contains a schwa
- Numb what?
- The forbidden question
- Trailer for the film: Akeelah and the Bee
You could also look at the “I before E except after C” rule.
The bee photograph was taken from Wikimedia Commons.