Posted 10/3/11
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
Spelling bee pdf [downloaded 3296 times]

Lesson plan outline

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. Let students share and compare answers before playing the clip a second time and allowing them to correct their work.
  5. 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
  6. Offer help as your students prepare. Also give access to dictionaries if possible. Make sure students’ definitions and example sentences are sound.

  7. 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.
* Could you say it again?
* 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)

Follow up

Here are some other Scripps National Spelling Bee clips that can be used for follow up activities:

You could also look at the “I before E except after C” rule.

Image credit

The bee photograph was taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Posted 10/3/11

12 Responses to Spelling bee

  1. Georgia Maneta says:

    I like the fact that apart form the actual lesson, I can give my students a glimpse of the Americans’ culture/ life. Very detailed and thorough lesson plan! Well done Jamie!

  2. Georgia Maneta says:

    I like the fact that apart from a usual lesson, I can provide my pupils with a glimpse of the Americans’ cultute/ life! Very detailed and thorough lesson plan Jamie! Thank you!

  3. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Georgia
    Spelling bees find themselves in all sorts of places. They were once featured in the Simpsons in the episode “I’m spelling as fast as I can”
    This could be fun to use as well
    Jamie :)

  4. Stanimira Paskova says:

    Spelling is so important in EFL teaching/learning that I immediately liked the idea and the suggested plan to revise vocabulary and improve spelling via Spelling Bee competition, really great stuff; I`ll definitely use it in the classroom.

  5. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks Stanimira
    Yoiu have reminded me that a good friend has just released a book on spelling. Here is the link:
    I can recommend it
    Jamie :-)

  6. Steve says:

    Some of my intermediate students knew about spelling bees from The Simpsons. The activity worked really well and the students were delighted that they now know a word that not many native speakers know! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Steve
    If the word is sardoodledom, even my computer spell check doesn’t know it!
    Jamie :)

  8. Agnieszka says:

    Brilliant! Going to use it with my students; thanks!

  9. Alexandra says:

    This is a great lesson for my Polish teenagers! They love American culture and any lesson that gives them insight into it. This is also great practice for them. They often struggle with spelling because of their L1 interference (a is e and e is i, etc.). We need all the fun practice we can get! Thanks1

  10. Jean Arnold says:

    Very clever. Thanks for creating and sharing these excellent, fun lessons, Jamie! What a great resource.