Scripps National Spelling Bee – Ground Zero for the original National Spelling Bee, in existence since 1925, and sponsored by E.W. Scripps since 1941.
North South Foundation – In existence since 1989, the North South Foundation sponsors numerous academic competitions – including spelling, geography, vocabulary, math, and even neurology. The NSF competitions are open to students of South Asian descent, and proceeds help fund scholarships for students in India.
Met-Life South Asian Spelling Bee – Another spelling bee circuit open to students of South Asian descent, its purpose is to “search for the best speller of English words in the South Asian-American community.”
North America Spelling Champion Challenge – This spelling bee, an offshoot of the Spelling Bee of China since 2016, provides North American spellers a chance to compete with Chinese spellers each July in Towson, MD and Riverside, CA. The NASCC also includes a week-long camp for beginner and intermediate spellers to hone their skills before taking on more advanced spellers in a weekend competition.
SPELLING RESOURCES – THE BASICS
Words of the Champions – A list of 4000 words that provides the source of words used at all Scripps bees, from classroom level to qualifying bees…and possibly the national bee itself. Words of the Champions includes the 450 word school list. All words are grouped into three levels of difficulty. Every speller should study this list, and national bee aspirants should memorize it outright.
Merriam-Webster Unabridged – In 2017, this website became the official source of words for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. As such, the “MWU” is indispensable for any serious speller. Among similar information provided in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the online version provides some spoken pronunciations. However, some entries lack important information such as written pronunciations and etymologies. As a result, the print edition is also good to have (see comment on Webster’s Third New International Dictionary below).
Spell It! – This list, compiled by Scripps, consists of over 1100 words used in many bees ranging from school bees to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The list covers all levels of difficulty (from lemon to schadenfreude) and existed, unchanged, from 2007 through 2019. It was officially retired for the 2020 bee season, and Words of the Champions replaced it as an official source of words for the Scripps circuit.
Denver Public Schools Semantics – Here is at least one reason why Colorado and Denver regularly represent so well at the National Spelling Bee. The semantics program, run by Bill Schaefer, is an excellent spelling program, incorporating intense study of words, roots, and etymology. It also includes numerous spelling bees with written tests and oral tests throughout the year. Want a daily 10-word spelling quiz? It’s here, too. Highly recommended for spellers of all skill levels.
SPELLING RESOURCES – FOR SERIOUS SPELLERS
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary – The print edition of Merriam-Webster Unabridged is highly recommended for any speller who wishes to compete in spelling bees seriously. The “W3” often contains valuable information that the MWU doesn’t have, despite not being updated on a regular basis. It also comes with a free one year subscription to Merriam-Webster Unabridged. If you can find a CD-ROM of the W3, this will be tremendously helpful as well. (NOTE: Merriam-Webster no longer sells the CD-ROM, and does not offer tech support if you have issues with it. Caveat emptor.)
Consolidated Word List – Released in 2004, the CWL contains over 23,000 words used in bees dating back to 1950. Although Scripps does not have a policy of consulting the CWL when creating their own lists, the CWL is still essential learning for any serious speller. (Download this list as you would like…but please think twice before printing this nearly 800-page document!)
Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary – Although this is not an official source of words for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the Learner’s Dictionary is still an excellent resource. If a word is in here, it’s a very good bet it is also in the W3 or Merriam-Webster Unabridged. This website contains definitions that are often much easier to understand than those in the W3. (For example, compare the definitions for the word blitzkrieg in the W3 and in the Learner’s Dictionary.) Plus, the online version is free. This is my first choice for spellers of all skill levels wishing to improve their vocabulary.
Word of the Day – Trying to expand your vocabulary and spelling prowess, one word at a time? This website, courtesy of Merriam-Webster, can certainly help. You can also subscribe to the podcast, narrated by Peter Sokolowski, lexicographer and editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster. (The link to the podcast is beneath the video.)
Vocabulary.com – A great website for helping with learning…well…vocabulary! Very interactive and a valuable resource.
FreeRice.com – Also a great website to aid in learning vocabulary. For every vocabulary question you answer correctly, the United Nations World Food Programme donates 10 grains of rice to help fight world hunger.
COACHING / OTHER ONLINE RESOURCES
Hexco – The most well-established of spelling bee preparation companies, this Texas-based business has been distributing a variety of spelling materials since 1983. Hexco now offers materials for academic competitions of all sorts, but remains true to its spelling roots; it has offered spelling coaching packages for years as well.
Jeff Kirsch, PhD – Dr. Jeff Kirsch (PhD in Spanish) competed in the National Spelling Bee as a child, and later won the National Senior Spelling Bee. Since 2007 he has coached five spellers who have finished in the top ten of the Scripps NSB finals.
The Sesquipedalian – Grace Walters is another excellent coach. Check her record: a Scripps runner-up in 2017, a champion in 2018, and three of the eight octochamps in 2019! Currently enrolled at Rice University, she still finds time in her busy schedule to coach students.
Sylvie Lamontagne, Spelling Coach – Sylvie is one of the best coaches out there. She also happens to be a past student of mine, and among the top spellers in any year, bar none! Her students regularly place in the Scripps finals.
Spell Pundit – A very powerful resource developed by former spellers, for future spellers. This website includes words and entries from throughout the MWU. Top ranked spellers and past champions provide the pronunciations. Spell Pundit is user-friendly, highly organized and great for serious spellers who want to pursue spelling on their own.
Spellbound – A respectful, winsome, and often hilarious documentary from 2002 by Jeffrey Blitz. This movie follows eight students on their various and sometimes profoundly different journeys to the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee. An Oscar nominee for best documentary feature, Spellbound is essential watching for anyone interested in “stepping up to the microphone.
Akeelah and the Bee – Another excellent movie from 2006 about a girl from south central L.A. whose unusual talent for spelling is discovered by teachers and nurtured by a demanding coach. However, she suffers considerable resistance from classmates and even her family. Cameos abound, including Katie Kerwin McCrimmon (1979 Scripps NSB winner and past ESPN bee commentator), Dr. Jacques Bailly (1980 Scripps NSB winner and current pronouncer), and George Hornedo, a Scripps national competitor in 2004 and 2005.
Breaking the Bee – This insightful and fascinating documentary from 2018 explores the dominance of spellers of South Asian descent in spelling bee culture nowadays. Since 1999, the vast majority of Scripps NSB winners have been Indian-American – including an unbroken streak from 2008 to 2018. This movie helps to answer the question why.
A Boy Named Charlie Brown – Dating back to 1969, this is an oldie but a goodie. The first feature movie based on the Peanuts comic strip follows our favorite blockhead as he enters his school spelling bee…and wins! Suddenly, Charlie Brown is confronted with competing in the National Spelling Bee. How far can he go? Can Snoopy, his trusted beagle, be the key to his success?
A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago – This randomly titled blog contains the most detailed National Spelling Bee blogging on the internet. If you can’t be in Washington for the national bee, watching the bee on ESPN and reading this blog is the next best thing.
Scripps National Spelling Bee on Flickr – Here’s the Brobdingnagian collection of thousands of pictures taken of the National Spelling Bee. The collection dates back to 2011, and photos are taken by official Bee photographer Mark Bowen.