Spelling Bee: dictogloss and games

Copyright © 2014 Emma Gore-Lloyd

Copyright © 2014 Emma Gore-Lloyd

Whilst marking my students’ exams, I was thinking about how often they lose points not for lack of knowledge or comprehension, but due to misspelling the answer. Then I thought about how often we have spelling tests in class: never! So I came up with this lesson about spelling bees involving a dictogloss and spelling games.

Start off with a suitable warmer that gets the students thinking about words, their forms and spelling. I used Pas Cap.

Show the students a picture of some letters or the alphabet and a bee. Ask them to speculate with their partner about what the connection is between the two things.

Get some ideas from them (mine all came up with some sensible and interesting things!) and then tell them that it refers to something called a Spelling Bee. Ask if any of them know what it is. Mine didn’t, but some might have seen films on the subject. (There are a couple, and a new one coming out soon, I think.) Then you can tell them you’re going to explain what a Spelling Bee is.

Ask everyone to get out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil.  Put the students in pairs and ask them to decide who will be A and who will be B. Now you can tell them that A is going to take notes on what you say and B is going to draw pictures, but first they are going to sit back and listen to you.

Read through the text (adapted from Wikipedia) once at normal speed.

spelling bee is a competition in which contestants are asked to spell a broad selection of words, usually with a varying degree of difficulty. The concept is thought to have originated in the United States,and spelling bee events, along with variants, are now also held in some other countries around the world which use imperfect writing systems. The first winner of an official spelling bee was Frank Neuhauser, who won the 1st National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in 1925 at the age of eleven. Historically the word bee has been used to describe a get-together where a specific action is being carried out, like a sewing bee, a quilting bee, or an apple bee. Its etymology is unclear but it is possibly derived from the Old English word meaning prayer.The earliest known evidence of the phrase spelling bee in print dates back to 1850, although an earlier name, spelling match, has been traced back to 1808.

Explain to the students that you’re going to read it again and pause after every sentence. The As can now take notes and the Bs can draw their pictures. Read the text again at normal pace with pauses. Repeat.  I finished by reading it through once again without pauses so the students could add any last details.

Now ask the students to work with their partner, using their notes and pictures, to recreate the text about Spelling Bees. Emphasise that what’s important is not that they reproduce your text exactly, but that they produce a text which is grammatically correct and which contains accurate information. Give them about 10 minutes to work on this.

When the time is up, ask them to swap their text with another pair.  They read through the text and with a different colour pen mark any grammatical errors. Monitor and help with any queries.

Next, show the students the text you read. They will be keen to read it to find out how the one they wrote compares.Ask them to compare it with the text they are marking and give the text two marks out of 10: one for grammar accuracy and one for content.

Now they can give the texts back and see what marks they got. At this point, I think it’s useful to look at the original text and point out/elicit some useful phrases; for example, collocations like  broad selection, hold an event, and carry out an action, and useful phrases like with a varying degree of difficulty, is thought to have + participle, at the age of, date back to, trace sth back to. These are all worth noting because they might come up in Parts 1 or 2 of the Use of English paper.

Chat time. Ask the students why spelling is important in English and why it’s important for them. You can also ask them which words they have trouble spelling. (Be mean and note them down!)

Now it’s time for some spelling games! I got these games from this spelling website.  You also need a list of words that are frequently misspelled, either by them personally or by students at their level generally.

We started with a not-too-scary team game. Divide the class into 2 teams. Give one person on each team a mini whiteboard and a pen. You tell them a word, they have to write it on the board. There is no talking or conferring with team mates, but they must pass the board and pen to the next person in the team. This person can change the spelling if they want to. Then they hold up the boards and the teams with the correct spellings win a point. Repeat!

Now it’s time to apply a bit more pressure. Line up the two teams (you can have more if you have room!) Each team lines up behind a starting line at the back of the classroom. The aim is to reach the board. Give the person at the front of the first team a word to spell. If they do it correctly, the whole team steps forward, and the person at the front goes to the back of the line. If it’s incorrect they go back a step (or stay where they are if  they’re at the start). Repeat with the second team, etc, until you have a winner. (There’s a fuller explanation and a diagram here.)

We didn’t have time for any more, but you could include a proper spelling bee type competition here.

My classes seemed to enjoy these activities. I hope yours do, too!


  1. Hi Emma,
    i really like the idea of starting with a dictogloss to get the students to really think about why spelling might be important.
    This is my favourite spelling game, and it works just as well with all levels: https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/spelling-game/ I also encourage students to use the learn and spelling functions on Quizlet a lot, as the repetition really makes you remember!

  2. Some great ideas which can be used at various levels and ages. Thank you!

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