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 – open to Indian American students, and funds scholarships for students in India.
Met-Life South Asian Spelling Bee – Another spelling bee circuit, 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.
Merriam-Webster Unabridged – Indispensable for any speller with sights set on competing at the National Spelling Bee. As of 2017, this website is the official source of words for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Among similar information provided in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the online version provides some spoken pronunciations, which can be valuable. However, some words are missing important information such as written pronunciations and etymologies; this is at least one reason why the print edition is also good to have (see immediately below).
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary – The print edition is absolutely required for any speller who wishes to compete in spelling bees seriously. Until 2017, the Scripps National Spelling Bee and its qualfiying bees used this dictionary as the basis for all word information. It is still very, very strongly recommended for serious spellers, particularly since it often contains information missing from Merriam-Webster Unabridged. However, it is now out of print, so expect this dictionary to become rarer and rarer as time goes forward. These usually come with a free one year subscription to Merriam-Webster Unabridged. If you can find a CD-ROM of “Webster’s Third,” this will be tremendously helpful as well. (NOTE: Merriam-Webster no longer sells the CD-ROM, and does not offer support if you have issues with it. Caveat emptor.)
Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary – Although this is not an official source of words for the Scripps National Spelling Bee – nor for any word lists that come from Scripps – this is still an excellent resource. If a word is in here, it’s a very good bet it is also in the Third New International Dictionary 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. Recommended for all, but especially for beginner spellers.
ONLINE LEARNING RESOURCES
Spell It! – Trying to figure out what words to study? Start here. 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 has not changed for years.
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 toward the bottom of the WOTD page.)
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. (NOTE: The website is currently undergoing an overhaul. Stay tuned for more developments.)
Patel Spelling Prep – Samir Patel is perhaps the most accomplished and best-known speller in the history of the National Spelling Bee never to have won – he earned third place in 2003 as a third grader, and tied for second in 2005. His mother, Jyoti Patel, was his dedicated coach, and her years of experience are invaluable. She has authored a number of materials including word lists and phonetics guides for various languages. In addition, she contributes to a blog regarding spelling patterns.
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.
Jeff Kirsch, Ph.D. – I’m not the only coach for spellers with their sights on the National Spelling Bee. Dr. Jeff Kirsch (Ph.D. in Spanish) competed in the National Spelling Bee as a child and decades 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.
Hexco – Perhaps the oldest and most well-established of spelling bee preparation companies, this Texas-based group has been distributing a wide variety of spelling materials since 1983 – not just for students, but for pronouncers as well. 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.
Spellbound – A respectful, winsome, and often hilarious documentary from 2002 by Jeffrey Blitz that 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 even slightly interested in “stepping up to the microphone” — not to mention their families. (Word to the wise: words from this movie find their way onto the national word list from time to time!)
Akeelah and the Bee – Another excellent and essential movie from 2006 about a girl from south central L.A. whose unusual talent for spelling is discovered and nurtured by teachers and a demanding but fair coach, but who suffers considerable resistance from classmates and even – or especially – 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 – An oldie but a goodie. Dating back to 1969, the first feature movie based on the Peanuts comic strip follows our favorite blockhead as he is persuaded to enter his school spelling bee…and wins! Suddenly, Charlie Brown is confronted with the prospect of 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 and very prolific blog contains perhaps the most assiduous, detailed National Spelling Bee blogging on the internet. If you’re not lucky enough to be in Washington for the competition itself, 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.