Language ArtsSpelling bees have long been a way for students to demonstrate academic prowess through a means other than writing papers or answering questions in class. This article discusses the Scripps National Spelling Bee and spelling in general. The 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee

On June 14, 2012, Snigdha Nandipati of San Diego, a fourteen-year-old, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee by providing the correct spelling of guetapens, a French-derived word meaning "ambush" or "trap," and coming from a phrase referring to premeditation. She bested 278 spellers from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense Dependents schools, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, Canada, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Ghana, New Zealand, China, Japan, and South Korea. The competitors were 51.1% girls and 48.9% boys. The preliminaries, semifinals, and finals are broadcast on television by ESPN stations.

It was the fifth year in a row that an American student of Indian descent  had won the contest, and the tenth time in the last 14 years. Many of them were inspired by Nupur Lala, who won in 1999 and is featured in the documentary Spellbound.

It might seem obvious that a spelling bee is meant to test students' spelling. This may be true in the classroom, but the National Spelling Bee has three other purposes besides: to increase students' vocabularies; to help them learn concepts; and to assist them in developing correct English usage.

There are a number of requirements for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but the most basic are being less than 15 years of age at the start of the school year and being in 8th grade or lower in February of that school year. For the 2012 bee, the youngest student was Lori Anne Madison, aged 6, of Lake Ridge, Virginia, and she is the youngest speller ever to have competed. Detailed eligibility requirements can be found here.

Winners of the bee receive a cash prize, a savings bond, a college scholarship, and reference libraries from Merriam-Webster and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Spelling Bee History

Bee is an old word for a gathering, and the gathering originally seems to have been centered around a practical task. There were spinning bees, husking bees, logging bees, and quilting bees. The first use of spelling bee in print was 1875, but gatherings to compete in knowledge of how words are properly spelled were taking place prior to that.

Many spelling bees did and do take place within classrooms, grades, and school populations. Prior to the popularity of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, local bees operated under local rules, and some still do. Holding a spelling bee can be as simple as having all students stand up, giving them words to spell in turn, and having them sit down when they've missed a word, cycling through those standing until only one is left.  But now that the national version has become so popular, local version may imitate the Scripps' rules to give students practice. Scripps' guidelines, provided here:

The National Spelling Bee took shape in 1925 through the collaboration of nine sponsoring newspapers and the consolidation of a number of locally held spelling bees, with Scripps taking over sponsorship in 1941. It has been held every year except 1943 to 1945 during World War II.

Studying Spelling

There are a variety of ways to study spelling.
  • You can use the Scripps National Spelling Bee study site, Spell It! created in partnership with Merriam-Webster, and available at The site provides the official study words for each year's national contest, but it also provides extended information about each word and can be used to increase the spelling capability and vocabulary by anyone, even if not preparing for the national bee. Words are organized by language, language groups, and eponyms. Each group includes study words, challenge words, tips, and printing facilities.
  • The national finals pronouncer, Dr. Jacques Bailly, has written a collection of hints entitled How to Study for a Spelling Bee, available here. Dr. Bailly advises students to group words according to patterns, and to find ways to work on words that cause particular problems. He also provides advice for dealing with words that you don't know.
  • Books on spelling can help you take a methodical approach to learning to spell and also provide in-depth information about patterns and outliers, as well as place spelling in a context. For example, Painless Spelling 3rd edition  addresses the history of the English language (which leads to spelling challenges not found in a language like Spanish, for example), why learning to spell is important, and the challenges of spelling in the 21st century (including different spellings of the same word used in different contexts (u no what I mean?). It then focuses on patterns in English spelling and covers the usual suspects:
* three letter words
* consonant blends and digraphs
* short, long, and miscellaneous vowel sounds
* "silent" letters
* compound words
* abbreviations
* contractions
* prefixes and suffixes
* confusing words
* Greek and Latin etymology
* predictable spelling changes
  • Pretending to write or type the words is a way that many spellers add a kinesthetic element to their spelling memory.

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