Spelling Bee Champion’s Tips

SpellingSpelling can be a challenge for many while others have a knack for it.  Recently, Ryan Himmelsbach, a Long Island 7th grader and first place winner of the Regional Scripps Spelling Bee, was interviewed and asked how he remembers how to spell words that most people would find very difficult.  Besides hard work, discipline, and many hours of preparation, the winner said, “I just take notice of a lot of words that I see.”  This might seem obvious, but students struggling with spelling usually do not “notice” words. Spelling requires analysis of word parts.  The poor speller tries to remember the whole word as one unit rather than getting inside the word and seeing which letters represent the individual sounds in words. Once the details are noticed, the next step is storing the word in both auditory and visual memory. You must hear the parts and remember the visual symbols in the correct sequence.

If you have ever watched competitors in a Spelling Bee, the participants always ask for the words to be repeated, the definition, the part of speech, and the language of origin.  Why is this helpful?  First, the word must clearly be heard and understood.  Since homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently) come up quite often, the definition clarifies which word to spell.  For example, cent (coin), sent (delivered), and scent (fragrance) are homophones and need definitions to indicate which word to spell.  Knowing whether the word is a noun, verb, adjective or some other part of speech can help focus the speller.  Probably, the most useful question is the language of origin.  Certain patterns in language will help the speller know which letters to think about in words.  A word ending with an “i” such as macaroni, ziti, or manicotti, would be Italian.  Words with the “ch” as the /k/ sound are from the Greek language. 

When Ryan’s mother was asked about his Spelling Bee victory, she said that he did not know all the words he was asked, but he was able to “piece them together because he learned all those other things.”  She was really talking about patterns of words.  Without knowing every word in the dictionary, but by knowing patterns in words and understanding how words work, including the rules that dictate these patterns, Ryan was able to win the contest.  Learning words by seeing the relationships between words not only improves spelling, it improves vocabulary.  The study of morphology, learning meaningful word parts such as prefixes, suffixes, and root words helps the speller recognize specific aspects of words.  The Greek word part “therm,” meaning heat, will be seen in numerous words such as thermos, thermometer, thermal, and thermostat.  Instead of studying the word letter by letter, the strong speller remembers word parts. 

Not all of us will be spelling champions like Ryan, but we can all learn to improve by looking at the habits of strong spellers.

Faith Borkowsky, Owner and Lead Educational Consultant of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching, is a Certified Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner, is Orton-Gillingham trained, and has extensive training and experience in a number of other research-based, peer-reviewed programs that have produced positive gains for students with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, ADD/ADHD, and a host of learning difficulties.

High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching is located in Plainview, Long Island. Read about what we can offer you and your child: http://highfiveliteracy.com.

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