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Week 1: Learning How To Study For The Spelling Bee

Hello everyone,

Welcome to my blog. School is well underway, and for those of you who want to try to make it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, it is time to get started –if you have not already done so. I would primarily like to address the first timers in this week’s blog; although returning spellers might find some of the information useful.

One of the questions that I have been asked over and over again by parents of young spellers is “Where do I start?” and “How do I start?”

First of all, find out when your school is participating in the Scripps Spelling Bee. Next, find out when your school is planning to hold its spelling bee, and see whether you can obtain the list they will be handing out. Start studying this list.

Simultaneously, start on the “Spell It” released by National Scripps to your school -if your school has it.This booklet has some great spelling tips –be sure to go through them and make use of the links for definitions and pronunciations  of these words.

It is extremely important to keep a running list of the words that you misspell; whether you use a notebook, quizlet, word document or anything else- is up to you. The important aspect is to underline the letter(s) that tripped you up and figure out how to not make the same mistake again. This truly is your job as a speller(or parent of a young speller) because each individual has his or her own way of learning this. Some general questions you coud ask yourself are: Is this a connecting vowel? Is the letter part of a standard prefix or suffix? What is the root of this word?

It is worth learning the common roots, especially in Latin and Greek words.

The next question, I am usually asked is whether there is a systematic way of studying words. Let me demonstrate this by referring to some Latin words from Spell It 2014. You can use the same approach with words in the 2015 Spell it.

Before I start, let me say this. I know from experience that a child really does not enjoy looking up words in a dictionary- it is extremely time consuming. Depending on how serious you are as a speller you could do one of the following:

·       If you are planning to only concentrate on the words in Spell It, follow the links to study the pronunciation and definitions of the word.

·       If you are serious about competing in spelling over the next few years subscribe to Merriam Websters Third Internation Dictionary online since it will give you all the pronunciations and word roots for the word.

·       If you are in between the two, then look up the words on a free online dictionary-either Merriam Webster or The latter has a feature,  where the word is pronounced.


If you are a first time speller, and are not familiar with the diacritical  markings, learn the standard ones first. Here are the standard ones I used with Samir. If you are familiar with diacritical markings, you can skip this portion.

Now let’s get started. The word is listed first, followed by the part of speech, the standard pronunciation within slashes (generally at a school bee, area bee, or regional bee, alternate pronunciation of a word will not be given),  and then a short definition. There is no need to memorize the whole definition, read it and then remember the key word(s).

Finally, I will give some tips based on that word, that can be used for other words. My comments are in italics.


inane: \i|nān\: adjective:Lacking significance, meaning or profundity. Empty.

Just remember lacking meaning- this really covers the gist of all the meanings. There is no common root in this word. The end –e is responsible for the long sound \ā\.

        Separate the word into syllables when spelling:  in-ane.

        Now scan the rest of the words on this page do see if there are any words with the ending –ane. There are not, so move on to another word.


ambivalent:  \am’bivələnt\: showing contradictory feelings.

In the etymology of this word you will see ambi- listed. The hyphen lets you know that this is a prefix.This is a good time to learn that  ambi- means both. Generally when you are ambivalent about something, you are fluctuating between two feelings.

Now scan for words that seem to have similar roots. You have ambiguity so learn this at the same time.


ambiguity: \ambə̇’gyü d.ē\  (notice that –t- makes the sound\d\):noun: uncertainty of meaning or intention.

        Do you see the role of ambi- in this word?

        -ity,  pronounced \əd.ē\   or \ətē\ , is a noun suffix meaning quality, state, degree.

        Now scan the rest of the page to see if you can see any words with similar components. Learn affinity, unity, and fidelity at the same time since they all have the suffix –ity.


incriminate: \ə̇n’krimə,nāt\: verb: to charge with a crime or fault; to charge with involvement in something undesirable.

Notice the schwa is spelled by an –i-. What word do you know with a similar meaning that can help you remember this –i-? Most of you will be familiar with the word criminal; this could help you remember the –i-; or if you like learning roots, you can see that crimin- is the root for crime in Latin.

When spelling this word, pracitice spelling it in syllables:


in2- is a prefix meaning in:within:toward:into: on.This prefix appears in innate. Be careful with intractable, incorruptible, and incredulous since the prefix –in1 is a different prefix meaning not.



interrupt: \,intə’rəpt\: verb: to interfere with the continuation of something.

inter- is a prefix that means between, and rupt- is from the Latin root rumpere meaning to break. Younger spellers can remember that any word with –rupt- will have to do with breaking in some way. For example, when you are interrupting someone you are ‘breaking’ their flow of doing something.

Note that in the word interrupt, the two r’s  exist since one is the end of a prefix, and the other is the beginning of the next root.

Spell the word in syllables: in-ter-rupt.

When you scan the list you will see the word rupture which means to break.Learn it along with this word so that you can remember that a word with –rupt- will relate to breaking in some way.


amicable: \’amə̇kəbəl\: adjective: friendly.

Note: -able and –ible are adjective suffixes that mean capable of, or tending to. amicus in Latin means friend.Do you see how this ties into the definiton of amicable?

Spell the word in syllables: a-mic-a-ble

At this time you could learn the –ible and –able words on the list as well as the roots\prefixes that appear in them.


magnanimous: \mag|nanəməs\: adjective: showing courageous spirit, nobility of feeling, or generosity.

        This word has three components: the first is the stem magn- from magnus meaning great, the second in the stem anim- from animus meaning spirit, and the third is the adjective suffix  -ous which in means full of, possessing the qualities of.Literally this word means full of great  spirit.

        Spell the word in syllables: mag-nan-i-mous.

This would be a good time to learn the word animosity.


omnivorous: \äm|niv(ə)rəs \: adjective: 1. eating everything.

2. avidly taking in everything as if devouring.

Here I would like to point out that many words have what I like to refer to as “Extended meanings.” What I mean is this:

The common meaning is the first meaning. The second meaning can be thought of as an extrapolated\extended\abstract meaning since it means you are avidly taking in something with your eyes or mind, not necessarily eating it physically.

I would suggest that advanced spellers learn to associate the abstract meaning of a word  with the its more commonly known meaning.

There are two parts to this word: the prefix omn\omni- meaning all, and the suffix –vorous meaning eating: feeding on. So now if you come across another word with either of these roots you will have a better chance of spelling them!

For example carnivore and herbivore which appear on the same page. You will notice a slight variation in the ending since they are nouns. Here the noun suffix –vore is used which means one that eats.


Now you have a more systematic way of learning words- in groups that have the same prefixes, suffixes, or roots….much easier on your brain. The added benefit to this approach is that many times it can help you piece together unfamiliar words.


Anyway, I hope that this helps some of our younger spellers feel less anxious about learning so many new spelling words.


Till next time.



Jyoti Patel.