A spelling bee is a competition where contestants, usually children, are asked to spell English words. The concept is thought to have originated in the United States, and is usually perceived to be a solely English language practice. Today, National Spelling Bee competitions for English are held in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Indonesia, among others.
The United States National Spelling Bee was started in 1925 by The Courier-Journal, the newspaper of Louisville, Kentucky. In 1941, the Scripps Howard News Service acquired sponsorship of the program, and the name changed to the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee (later simply "Scripps National Spelling Bee"). As well as covering the 50 U.S. states, several competitors also come from Canada, the Bahamas, New Zealand and Europe.
In the United States, spelling bees are annually held from local levels up to the level of the Scripps National Spelling Bee which awards a cash prize to the winner. The National Spelling Bee is sponsored by English-language newspapers and educational foundations; it is also broadcast on ESPN. Since 2006, the National Spelling Bee's championship rounds have been broadcast on ABC live. In 2005, contestants came from the Bahamas, Jamaica, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Canada, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and a German military base, as well as the United States. This was the first year that spellers from Canada and New Zealand attended the competition. The final authority for words is the Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary, the Webster's Third New International Dictionary. The annual study list is available from Scripps, either online or in print.
The Spelling Bee of Canada started with a local contest in 1987 in Toronto, Ontario. In 1996, contestants were accepted from other provinces. However, it has been overtaken in media coverage by the newer (and newspaper chain-affiliated) CanSpell National Spelling Bee.
The National Senior Spelling Bee started in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1996. Sponsored by the Wyoming AARP, it is open to contestants 50 and older. Maria Dawson is the only contestant to ever win two back to back titles at The National Spelling Bee.
Word Cup also includes a fundraising campaign for literacy organizations, whose funds are distributed by the Word Cup winners to participating projects.
Usually, but not always, the student who places first at their school bee goes on to a district or regional bee. At this level, there is no fixed word list to study. The top 10 children at the district bee go on to the regional/state bee. Many schools in the country stop spellers at this point from continuing on to the national bee, mainly because of inexperience. The number of students who do head on to the national bee varies from state to state. If a student succeeds the regional bee, they usually hire tutors to help them prepare.
Serious spelling bee competitors will study root words and etymologies, and often foreign languages from which English draws, in order to spell challenging words correctly. Spellers also study words used in previous bees; there are several preparatory materials published in connection with the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The previous resource was called the Paideia word list (from the Greek word meaning education and culture), and has since been discontinued.
In the year 2006-2007, the Scripps National Spelling Bee started publishing a new book of words called Spell it! Devoted spelling bee participants also use other reference books, which feature strategies, methods and lists to help the contestant further develop their spelling skills. Tutoring materials to aid spelling skills are also becoming available on the web.
For the first several decades, the Scripps' annual study booklet was named "Words of the Champions", and it offered 3,000 words in a list separated into beginning, intermediate, and advanced groupings. In the early 80s //www.hexco.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=Hexco&Category_Code=Academic --> started offering Valerie's Spelling Bee Supplement to spellers to give them a phonetic pronunciation and definition for each word. This product grew out of Valerie's own experience in working with the Scripps' word list, looking up the words, and committing them to her then TRS/80 computer. She was the youngster that prompted the company to offer "her notes" for sale to other spellers. From there the small company developed computer software, products for conducting bees, and ultimately a line of advanced study products. Every National Spelling Bee Champion since 2000 has used Hexco Academic study materials in preparation for the higher rungs of competitions, particularly Nat's Notes and Spelling Rules Book.
As Hexco began offering the only study materials available for preparation for the National Spelling Bee other than the 2,600 page "Webster's Third New International," spellers became more competitive, and the National Bee started using more and more difficult words to conduct their bees. In the mid-90s the annual study list changed to be "Paideia" which ultimately contained 4,100+ words, then again changed in 2006 to be the shorter list, entitled "Spell It!" Hexco has continued to provide annual products for studying the annual Scripps study list, and they continue to add advanced products to prepare spellers for the esoteric words spelled at the National Spelling Bee.