How to Help a Child to Become a Spelling Bee Champion

by Sheryl Faber

Spelling bee champions may have good memorization skills and study habits but, for the most part, these champions are made, not born. It takes much study time and concentration to learn the numerous words they must know how to spell. The good news is that there are many techniques, study aids and other methods of learning the spellings of a multitude of words.

Instruct your child to observe some spelling bees in progress. Have him listen to the questions that the contestants ask the officials. They might request the definition, origin or sentence placement of a particular word. Contestants might take their time in spelling out the words to ensure accuracy. Some might take deep calming breaths before starting to spell a word. These are all tips and suggestions your child can utilize when the time comes for him to compete.

Give your child regular oral spelling tests. Children frequently have a fear of public speaking, so it's important to familiarize your child with oral spelling tests. Typically, the first round of a spelling bee is written, but the most important and final rounds are oral. If possible, practice spelling tests in front of family members and friends so your child becomes comfortable speaking and spelling before an audience.

Allow your child to study on his own. A 2006 Scripps spelling bee study headed by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, found that deliberate practice, defined as the solitary study of word spellings and origins, was a better predictor of National Spelling Bee performance than having others quiz the speller or having the speller engage in leisurely reading. The study report states that while solitary study requires more effort than other types of study, it has the best results.

Review the words with which your child has repeated difficulty. Make a list of the common words your child misses throughout her practices and studies. Review these words with her or give her time to study them on her own several times before a spelling bee competition date. Use oral tests, written tests and flashcards to assist in her retention. Instruct her to write out the words several times to fix them in her mind.

Utilize tools such as dictionaries, maps, study guides and encyclopedias to find practice words for your child. It is also helpful if she is familiar with a foreign language as many English words are derived from other languages. Challenge friends and neighbors to quiz your child on words with which they are familiar from their work and school environments. Play family word games such as Scrabble and Bananagrams often for more entertaining instruction.


  • Reading can be an effective, long-term means of learning how to spell. Keeping a constant flow of reading materials on hand for your young competitor will help him continue to grow his vocabulary and spelling abilities throughout his lifetime. Although not as effective as solo study, reading is an interesting and informative method of introducing new words.


  • Pushing your talented child into these activities may make spelling exercises a huge chore for the young person. Give her several breaks and alternate the different types of practices to keep her on track. Coming up with contests that have small silly prizes, or allowing your child special privileges when he spells all the words correctly provide extra incentives for continued exemplary work.


  • "The Big Book of Spelling Tests;" Orin Hargraves; 2007

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