Spelling bees test a student's ability to correctly spell words. The first American spelling bee was held in Kentucky in 1925. The format quickly became a national practice, and the publishing company Scripps began to sponsor a national bee in 1941. Spelling bees remained a popular competition through the 20th century and into the 21st. The rules for a spelling bee are the same for both the national competition and smaller contests held in a classroom setting.
Identifying the Word
A person known as the pronouncer will say the word to be spelled. The student can ask to hear the word again or for its definition. She can also ask the pronouncer to use the word in a sentence and to define the word's part of speech.
If a word has a homonym, which is a word that sounds the same but is spelled differently, the pronouncer is responsible for letting the student know the definition of the word to avoid any confusion in spelling.
Spelling the Word
When a student is ready to spell a word, he should first say the word to be spelled, then spell it out. When he is finished spelling the word, he should once again pronounce it to let the judge and pronouncer know he is finished. A student can stop in the middle of spelling a word and start over, however he must respell the word the exact way he spelled it before starting over or risk elimination.
Students who misspell their word are eliminated from the competition. If all students misspell their words in a round, no one will be eliminated and the round will start over.
When only two students are left in the competition, the rules of the game change slightly. If the first student misspells a word, the second student must spell it correctly and must also spell the next word on the list correctly in order to win the spelling bee. If the second student fails to spell the first word correctly, a new word is given to the first student to spell. If the second student fails to spell the second word correctly, the first student has a chance to spell it. The bee ends when a student successfully spells both words.
Judging the Spelling Bee
A judge makes all the decisions regarding whether or not the words are spelled correctly. Participants in the spelling bee face the judge so that he can see their lip movements and make sure they understand what word they are spelling. If a judge feels that the speller does not understand the word, he can work with the pronouncer and speller until all parties reach an understanding of the word.
Based in Pennsylvania, Emily Weller has been writing professionally since 2007, when she began writing theater reviews Off-Off Broadway productions. Since then, she has written for TheNest, ModernMom and Rhode Island Home and Design magazine, among others. Weller attended CUNY/Brooklyn college and Temple University.