Take Your Mark, Get Set, Spell!
Sovereignty, zeppelin and phenomenon. Not words that we use in everyday conversation or writing, but if we do find the need to use those words – or words like them – well, thank God for spell check, or even an old-fashioned dictionary. However, for a select few fifth through eighth graders at Riverside School, learning how to spell words like these is what they love to do and, to my amazement, have volunteered to do!
I am talking about the elite group of kids who have tested and made the 2006 Academic and Spell Bowl teams. This story all began in mid-September when there was an open call-out for anyone who would like to take a spelling test. The kids were given a 150-word list to study from, and they were then tested on 40 of those words. The top scorers were placed on the 5th/6th grade Spell Bowl team and the 7th/8th grade Academic Team.
Once teams are formed the real work begins. Under the direction of Mrs. Peg Dunn and Mr. Brain Behrman, 5th and 6th grade, and Mrs. Pam Cutcliff, 7th and 8th grade, spellers and academic team members meet twice a week after school. The first day of the week the team looks over a list of 150 words and plays spelling games to familiarize themselves with the words. They read through the list, look for compound words and highlight any words that need capitals or can be spelled more than one way. They also incorporate games into the learning by playing Sparkle or dice games to practice the spellings. Then they go home and study that list to be ready for a test of 40 of the 150 words later in the week. Scores are posted early the following week, and then it starts all over again.
By competition time, team members have learned over 750 challenging words. All of this hard work cumulates on Thursday, November 16, when the top eight spellers from the 5th and 6th grade team will compete against Fall Creek Intermediate and Sand Creek Intermediate. During competition each student is seated next to a proctor and given several words to correctly write down. This continues until all members of the team have had a turn. Scores are then added based on number correct and a new Spell Bowl Champion is named.
The Academic team competed in the Hamilton County Spell Bowl competition in October. However, their hard work is not over yet; they must push it a little further by completing three general knowledge quizzes that arrive through the mail on disks. According to Abby Drumm, Riverside 8th grader, “These quizzes have around 100 questions on them and cover general knowledge such as history, general events and literature. You get scored immediately, and Mrs. Cutcliff records these scores and then sends them in to compete with other junior high students throughout the state.”
The reward for all these hard-working junior high students is the bestowment of a school letter for first-year members who participate in three contests and have regular attendance or excused absences. A second-year member who meets the same requirements will earn a pin for his or her letter.
According to Junior High members Ryan Benshoof and Amber Kline, “We do this for fun, and in the long run it helps us learn.” “I like a challenge,” claims 7th grader Nick Gibson, “so to me this is fun. It doesn’t take up all my time; I also play tennis, basketball and football.”
Still struggling with why these kids “do what they do?” Here are some tips from the expert 5th and 6th grade spell bowlers from Riverside. According to ten-year-old Kelsey Buckley, “The best way to learn hard words is to have your dad quiz you, and then the words you miss, write five times each. Do this at least two times a week for an hour or two, and you will get those words.”
Another piece of advice from sixth grader Kylie Krummel is to look at the list and then just keep going over and over the ones you don’t know. “It will help you build your vocabulary, and the competition is really fun. I don’t get nervous, unless I make a mistake of course!”
But, of course, the best piece of advice comes from Cody Cheung, an 11-year-old sixth grader, “I don’t ever have to study. I just look at the word once, and I know it!” Oh to be so young and so wise!