Ah, good! Someone showed up. I figured in a forum like this there would be some champion spellers!
Cotta Offspring has a natural spelling ability inherited from Cotta Dad and finally buckled down and won his school spelling bee this month. It was a real test of wits and both contestants locked horns over a 2 day period in a terrifying mano-a-mano blood bath.( Well, it seemed like it to us since he had gone down in the first round last year over ‘cabana’.)
Anyway, we face the district bee in February and I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions on how to help coach him. I watched the ’Spellbound’ documentary and paid a lot of attention to last year’s National Bee since a kid from his school was there competing. I have always been highly competitive and Offspring is not so I feel that I should let him do this at his own pace, but I want to help him succeed if that’s what he wants.
So other than handing him a Webster’s Abridged, hijacking every conversation with things like ‘pleiotropically’ and finding him a pronunciation website - got any pointers?
I gathered from Spellbound thet you don’t need Webster’s, a list of words is supplied. Is that not the case? I would be happier if that weren’t true because it made the whole contest seem vaguely stupid when I picked that up.
You can get the list of all previous words used but an actual study guide is not supplied. We asked because one year all of the ‘non-winners’ were given little booklets of words to study for next year. Most of the Spellbound kids seemed to use the dictionary of their choice.
The only suggestion I can think of is to have Offspring brush up on his Latin and Greek roots – the roots of words, that is; I’m not making any assumptions about his heritage. I have no specific study guide to recommend, and I don’t know if this method is generally helpful or if it only helped me (and I’ve never seen Spellbound), but I became a better speller once I was aware of the “likely” spelling of certain sounds (if that makes any sense).
I think you put your finger on on point that is greatly overlooked in spelling bees: yes, they are tests of knowledge, but they are deliberately designed to be tests of endurance, and above all nerve. I’ve always likened them to gladatorial combat.
When you get to the city (or county) and state level, most of the kids are pretty sharp spellers, yet many will fall on words that they almost certainly know, especially in later rounds. A certain percentage simply ‘can’t take it’ and drop out. In my state, the bee always outlasted the prepared word list. We’d start again at the top, and almost as many of us fell on the “baby words” the second time around. [I suspect the crabbiness and fatigue of the judges contributed: when there ae still over a hundred kids left at 7 pm, they can be brutal]
Give some serious attention to the mental side of the game – paying relaxed attention (if possible) when the other competitors are spelling; not getting nervous; etc. As a competitor, I didn’t think highly of those who ran through the full litany of available tools [definitions, using the word in a sentence, etc.,] on words I thought were easy, but for some kids this can be akin to the ritual at the free throw line in basketball: you’re not really bouncing the ball to gauge its properties, you’re doing it to center yourself. It’d be downright negligent to simply “go for the throw” during the playoffs
Have your child practice enunciating. A fair percentage of the contestants fall on slips, slurs, or indistinctly pronounced letters or combinations. Depending on the child, the temptation to spell too fast or mumble in training can be strong. As you drill, focus on optimal presentation, as well as spelling.
As Philosophr indicates, that list drastically decreases once you understand the origins of the words. You don’t have to be fluent in Latin, Greek, French, German, Celtic, and Norse, but it does help immensely to recognise when a word comes from those roots.
It’s funny, but when I read the OP I thought of Ken Jennings, the 74-time Jeopardy champion.
Ken Jennings is obviously not the smartest human on the planet, but he was smart enough to win. And he won, against many competitors who I am sure knew as much as he did, mainly because he was supremely confident in himself, knew his optimal strategy and stuck to it, and stayed calm and collected even in tough situations.
Beyond learning word origins, I think the secret to success is, as KP points out, staying calm, staying in a routine, not panicking, and learning how much time is available and to calmly use it all.
Practice in actual competition conditions. Have the child actually get up on some sort of raised stage or dias, pose the words in exactly the way they would be in competition, and run the “bee” in exactly the way it would be run. If at all possible have the kid actually use a microphone as per competition conditions; people can get a little freaked* out by microphones. Remember, the more the practice is like the game, the better prepared you are. By making the competition situation seem more familiar, it will be easier for him when the actual situation presents itself. Make it fun, but familiar.
** = freaked (freek) intr/tr. v. (unkn. org.) - To become or cause to become frightened or upset.*
Oddly, that was the most surprising! I have seen the Offspring hyperventilate giving a presentation but he had the ‘killer game’ on for two days. He seemed relaxed but he does spell very quickly and I am afraid that is what will get him in trouble. On the other hand, if it works for him, should I try to change that? There is the root question: How much coaching is too much or, how much meddling is a Good Thing?
My parents used to drill me for several hours each night on the past years’ word lists. Also, I second misnomer’s suggestion about learning Latin and Greek word roots. Basic medical terminology would probably be good too.
I have to add, though, that I would wait until he asks for your help. By 8th grade I was so sick of the pressure from my ubercompetitive parents that I purposely missed the first word at the lowest level round (“balloon”) just to get out of the whole thing.
When I was in elementary and middle school I won five county spelling bees. I never had any special coaching or word lists, and my parents didn’t get involved past coming to the bee itself and cheering me on. What helped me was reading. I had a set of encyclopedias that I leafed through from time to time, but it was mostly novels, biographies, histories, and general young-adult reading. The more words you’re exposed to, the more likely you are to recall them. To this day, when I hear a word pronounced I usually get a mental image of it at the same time, and I think that goes back to having seen it in print.
As I have aged my ability to spell has greatly deteriorated. I attribute this to the fact that my career has not been one that required me to read or write a great deal. However, I sometimes find it immensely helpful if I can write the word down and see if it looks right. Is this something that is allowed in spelling bees? Some people are much more visually oriented than other people and would benefit a great deal from visual cues. In my case, I am about the least visually oriented person you will ever meet (if I lift my mind from my thoughts long enough to realize you are there) but this technique helps even me. Never having seen a child at a spelling bee holding a tablet, I would assume that all writing is forbidden (I wanted to say verbotten here but figured I would butcher the spelling)… but I don’t really see why if they are issued blank tablets to begin with and throw away each page as it is written upon.