Spelling out why spelling matters: our annual Spelling Bee and why we do it

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Last week, Yew Chung International School of Beijing held its sixth annual Spelling Bee between Years 5-9. Competition was particularly fierce, as teachers have been placing special emphasis on spelling skills in class all year. We asked Mr Bradley Locke, English Department Head, to tell us more about the day and explain why spelling still matters. 


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The Spelling Bee at YCIS Beijing follows the American competition format (spellingbee.com). A list of over three hundred study words were given to students a month ago and, after several qualifying spelling rounds, twenty-eight contestants across both Primary and Secondary were selected to participate.  


This year, our Spelling Bee lasted an unprecedented six rounds! Some difficult words such as avocations, millinery and calamine helped to whittle down the competition but the final stages were a veritable stalemate – with our tenacious YCIS Beijing spellers unfaltering in the face of pecuniary, oologist and uncoquettish. Long after the lunch bell had rung, three remaining contestants survived the lexical onslaught to reign victorious:  with 1st place going to Caroline He in year 8A, 2nd place to Elim Kim in year 5B, and 3rd place to Lykke Stommen in year 5A. Many congratulations to the winners!


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As technology is incorporated more and more into everyday life and the classroom, some might question the relevance of a spelling competition. However, the English Department here at YCIS Beijing is in agreement that placing emphasis on spelling skills is more important than ever.

In a digital age, students are becoming so reliant on technology that they are at risk of losing the ability to spell words from memory altogether. This is a problem – spelling ability helps to build upon existing reading skills by aiding the decoding of meaning, recognition of etymology and general reading comprehension. In addition, strong literary skills allow students to become more confident and effective communicators and encourage a love and appreciation of the language.

Recognising the continued relevance of spelling in education, six years ago our Primary and Secondary schools collaborated to introduce the Spelling Bee. The competition has really motivated our students to be more engaged with spelling and less dependent on their electronic devices.

Spelling aside, the format of the Spelling Bee teaches our students other valuable skills. It’s a real exercise in patience, memorisation and recall, public speaking and keeping calm and composed under pressure. These are all great life skills that are vital for exam performance and, of course, the world of work.

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