What is a Spelling Bee?

(And other frequently asked questions)

bee surrounded by letters SPELLING

What is a spelling bee? Who competes? How many words do you need? Read on to find the answers to these questions, and more!

What is a spelling bee? Are there different kinds?

Question: What's all the buzz about? Just what is a spelling bee , anyway?

Answer: A spelling bee is simply a contest to find out who can spell the most words correctly.

Question: Is there more than one kind of spelling bee? Must we always follow the same rules for a spelling bee?

Answer: Yes, there is more than one kind of bee. No, you don't always have to follow the same rules. But you do need to make the rules clear to all participants in advance. The Scripps National Spelling Bee uses the format is perhaps most familiar. There are also simpler, less rigid formats that you can use.

What is a spelling bee?  It's a spelling competition that motivates kids (and adults) to learn to spell a lot of words. And...it's FUN!

Question: Why are there different kinds of bees? How do you know which kind to use?

Answer: For fun spelling bee in a single classroom, try a Spelldown. For this contest, divide the students into two teams. Read the first word to a player on Team 1. If he spells it correctly, he goes to the end of the line for his team and awaits another turn. If he is incorrect, the same word must be spelled by the first player on Team 2. If that player cannot spell the word, both players remain in the game. The teacher provides the correct spelling.
Note: There are lots of variations that work well with this format.

Rules and Numbers

Question:  What are the general rules for a more formal bee? 

Answer: Usually all players compete against each other. If one player misspells a word, he is out of the bee and leaves the contest at the end of the round. When only two players remain, the rules change slightly. Read my general rules here.

Question: How many students should you have in a spelling bee?

Answer: The number is very flexible. You could have as few as 8-10 or as many as 200! But remember, when 1 student is spelling, the other 199 are getting very bored. So I would advise keeping the group size down to a maximum of 40 or so.  

For very large groups, it's best to divide the group for separate competitions. Then bring the winners of those together for a final spelling bee.

busy bee

For example, each middle school class could have a bee to determine its top speller. Then the school could hold an all-school bee where those classroom winners compete against each other in front of the entire group of students to find the best speller in the school.

Words, Words, Words

open dictionary page

Question: How do you know what words to use for a spelling bee? What is a spelling bee word list?

Answer: This is perhaps the most frequently asked question of all. Here at Spelling Words Well, I've compiled several free lists that you can find here. Each of these lists contains about 100 words that are appropriate for a certain grade. The lists begin with easy words and end with very difficult words.

Question: How many words will I need?

Answer: Plenty!!! The actual number depends on the skills of the spellers and the difficulty of your word list. For example, if you have very capable spellers and a slightly easy word list, you'll need LOTS of words. If you have average spellers with a very difficult word list, you won't need nearly as many because spellers will drop out of the bee quickly.

In a classroom bee with 25 spellers of varying abilities, you should have at least 100 words.

Words to avoid

Question: What words should be avoided? 

Answer: Don't use words with more than one acceptable spelling. I also think it's best avoid words with apostrophes, hyphens and capital letters. You won't be short on words if you eliminates these!

Note that in the materials here at Spelling Words Well, we use the American spellings. If you are accustomed to British spellings, you'll have to alter a few of the words.

Spelling Bee Resources

The Spelling Bee Toolboxes for Grades 3-5 and Grades 6-8

If you still want more details about "What is a Spelling Bee," or "How do I conduct a Bee?" you may be interested in my Spelling Bee Toolbox eBooks. I also have extra eBooks of just words and sentences.

Be sure to have some extra, super-tough words available in case you need them.  I've compiled a list of 100 Difficult Spelling Bee Words that is suitable for final rounds and/or adult spelling bees.

Do you still have questions?

Hopefully you're no long asking, "What is a spelling bee?" But you might have other questions. Please submit them. We'll try to answer them as quickly as possible!  See below for more Q/A...

Spelling Bee Questions

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How do I handle nervousness before a spelling bee?

A Canadian speller recently submitted this question. Here is my reply:

Dear D.,

Thanks for writing. You've asked a great question!

First, be sure that you study well in advance of the big event. Then, when the day arrives, you can help to calm those nerves by reminding yourself that you ARE prepared.

Secondly, remember that the other spellers are probably just as nervous as you are, even if they don't act that way.

Thirdly, remind yourself that this is only one big event out of many, many, many more you will experience throughout your life. If this goes really well, that's great! If it doesn't, don't worry about it. You will have many more opportunities in the coming months and years to do amazing things. That may help to take the pressure off.

Personally, when I am in challenging situations, I pray. If you are a person of faith, you can do that, too, and ask others who support you to do the same.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. Thanks again for writing!


Go to more Spelling Bee Resources

Go to Spelling Words Well home

Spelling Bee Toolboxes for Grades 3/5 and 6/8   All the resources you need for a successful bee! On Sale!

New! Monumental Spelling Bee Lists with definitions, sentences and language of origin

Colossal Spelling Bee ebooks

Colossal Spelling Bee Word Lists  Definitions, parts of speech & sentences included for 600 words, at two levels

100 Difficult Spelling Bee Words, Definitions & Sentences  Our toughest list, for upper grades and adults!

600 Spelling Bee Words & Sentences for Gr 3/5 & 6/8 Extra words & sentences at two levels

AnyWord Spelling Practice Series  Worksheets, games & prompts that work with almost ANY spelling words