Spelling Bee Whizzes Hone Their Skills with the Visual Thesaurus

The 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee kicks off today, with all eyes focused on the 273 young spellers gathered in Washington D.C. Thanks to national television exposure, the event is sure to spark renewed interest in the fascinating complexities of English spelling. The competitors have been studying hard, and the Visual Thesaurus has been proud to equip them with the ultimate training tool. The Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee, a challenging online game, has shaped up to be one of the best resources available for premier spellers, while also providing addictive fun for the rest of us!

Since the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee was launched two years ago, a grand total of more than four million words have been spelled by tens of thousands of players. And as more people have played, the better the Bee has gotten: all of the data collected from the game feeds back into the sophisticated algorithms used to select words that are appropriate for each player's skill level. Whether you're a beginning speller or a Scripps-caliber champ, the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee will adapt to your abilities and challenge your brainpower.

There are two ways to play the Bee. In the Tournament Spelling Bee, we pick the words appropriate to your skill level. The more words you spell right, the higher your score climbs, on a scale from 200 to 800. You can even see how you stack up against other spellers and try to make it to the Top 10 list. We've also introduced Community Spelling Bees that are generated from subscribers' word lists, testing your knowledge of a limited group of words and scoring you on the percentage of words spelled correctly. (Check out the Frequently Asked Questions for more information.)

This past year we were pleased to learn that the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee has become an important element in the preparations of some of the nation's top young spellers. We talked to two of them: sixth-grader Nicholas Rushlow of Pickerington, Ohio, and seventh-grader Tony Incorvati of Canton, Ohio, both of whom participated in the last two National Spelling Bees. (Along with the interviews, Nicholas and Tony also shared lists of some of their favorite words.) This year, Nicholas is back at the Nationals, looking to improve on his 17th-place finish in 2009.

Nicholas told us all about how the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee has played a vital part in his training for competitions at the local and national levels. Here's an excerpt from our interview with Nicholas and his proud mother Michele Rushlow:

Mrs. R.: And I'll tell you, a year ago, I just Googled "spelling bee" and the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee showed up.

Nicholas: That has become a really valuable resource. It introduces me to tons of new words I've never heard of in my life.

Mrs. R.: You do the Bee, and as you're doing each word, when you get them right...

Nicholas: When I get them right, I'll write them down in my notebook and put a little star next to it. And if I don't get it, I put it on another little list of missed words.

VT: And now you use the Community Spelling Bee feature to make your own spelling bees with just the words that you missed?

Nicholas: That's right.

Mrs. R.: It's been great. And I'll tell you, today I made a bunch of lists for him, and I just make random lists out of all kinds of words.

Best of luck to Nicholas and the other sterling spellers at the Nationals! As in past years, Visual Thesaurus editor Ben Zimmer will be reporting on the action in his Word Routes column, so stay tuned!

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Comments from our users:

Saturday July 17th 2010, 7:57 PM
Comment by: Meredith S. (Oak Hill, VA)
To really make this awesome Spelling Bee go over the top and really help improve your spelling skills is to provide an option that would let you practice the word you misspelled. This is critical for learning - especially if one continues to misspell the same words over and over.

So the flow would go:
1. Word is spoken
2. You type in first guess
3. If you get it wrong, second guess and so on..
4. After you click Surrender and see the correct spelling then you would have the option to click a "Repeat" button or "Practice" button to practice spelling it correctly.
---here comes the new functionality---
5. click Repeat (or Practice) button.
6. Word is spoken
7. You type it in the same box (but it won't go towards your score of course).
8. If you get it right -- Great! You can click "Practice" again, or move onto the next word.
9. If you get it wrong you have to try again (just like steps 2-4).

What do you think???
Saturday July 17th 2010, 10:00 PM
Comment by: Ben Zimmer (New York, NY)Visual Thesaurus ContributorVisual Thesaurus Moderator
Meredith: The Spelling Bee does actually let you practice misspelled words! To quote the FAQ, "Try to learn the correct spelling of these words, though, because you can expect to see them pop up again later in the game." But thanks for your suggestion, which adds a new twist. We're always on the lookout for possible improvements.
Saturday September 11th 2010, 8:05 AM
Comment by: Alice M. (Neuss Germany)
As a Scot, I have problems understanding the pronunciation of some of the American voices, particularly the use of "uh" for unstressed "a", "o", "i" and "e", or the letter "t" being pronounced as a "d". I frequently have to work things out from first principles and a knowledge of Latin and other languages. Also, despite a fast broadband connection, words sometimes fail to load. All of which combines to make the Spelling Bee a pretty frustrating experience. This is a pity, because otherwise it would be fun.
Sunday October 24th 2010, 2:03 PM
Comment by: charles G.
how do I find the way to log into this spelling b
Friday October 29th 2010, 8:07 AM
Comment by: Dirk M. (Toronto Canada)
I would like to see Spelling Bee expanded to allow creation of a student record that will follow him/her throughout his/her school journey.
As a teacher, I find that too much of my time is taken with paperwork and marking, leaving little time to focus on helping students one on one.
A detailed record of student progress would allow me to easily check what is needed to help a student and focus on the documented problem areas. If the software could analyze the spelling error patterns and give suggestions that would be even more marvellous!
I would be willing to pay an additional fee for such a feature. Oh, and of course the data would have to be secure with a log-in and password feature.
Monday May 2nd 2011, 10:35 PM
Comment by: Fiona W. (Portland, OR)
I really enjoy the Spelling Bee! Fabulous practice! Thank you VT!

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