The spelling queen bee making history

Champion! Zaila jumped up and twirled when she won the contest. © The New York Times

Does spelling really matter? Fourteen-year-old Zaila Avant-garde has just become the first African-American to win a famous spelling competition in the USA. But is the contest pointless?

What’s happening

The girl on stage stood thinking for a minute. She had just been asked to spell a word. Slowly she said:

M - U - R - R - A - Y - A

The judges nodded. Zaila was correct. She jumped up and twirled around. She had just won the Scripps Spelling Bee.

Find out more

Zaila Avant-garde is 14 and comes from Louisiana. At a young age, she found she liked spelling and started practising as a hobby. Last week, she won one of the biggest spelling competitions in America.

The Scripps Spelling Bee has been running for 96 years. On Thursday last week, Zaila became the first African-American to win it. The only other Black person ever to win was Jody-Anne Maxwell from Jamaica in 1998.

Zaila’s winning word was murraya, which is a kind of tropical tree. The one she found hardest was nepeta, a breed of mint.

Zaila is not only a spelling champion. She wants to be a professional basketball player and already holds three world records for her dribbling skills.

Does spelling really matter?

Some say…

No! It does not really matter if you misspell a word. The important thing is that somebody understands what you mean. Lots of people who were bad at spelling have been hugely successful in life. F Scott Fitzgerald is one of the most famous authors in the world. He was famously bad at spelling. So was Jane Austen! This is proof it is not so important.

Others think…

Yes! It might sound odd, but spelling rules are there to make things easier. Before there were fixed dictionaries, all words could be spelled how people thought they should sound. This was very confusing! One word could be written in endless ways. Now, we have set rules. They might be hard sometimes. But life would be even harder without them.

You Decide

  1. Are competitions the best way to test knowledge?

Activities

  1. Host your own spelling bee in class. One team should come up with a list of words using the dictionary. Another team should try to spell them. Switch over and see which team gets the most correct.

Some People Say...

“My spelling is wobbly. It’s good spelling but it wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.”

AA Milne (1882 - 1956), English author and creator of Winnie the Pooh

What do you think?

Word Watch

M - U - R - R - A - Y - A
In a spelling bee, contestants have to spell a large number of words out loud. The judges read them out loud first and explain what they mean. Murraya was the final word Zaila had to spell.
Scripps Spelling Bee
Also known as the National Spelling Bee, the final rounds of the competition are broadcast on television in the US.
Jamaica
An island country in the West Indies. The capital is Kingston.
Nepeta
Sometimes known as catmint, a kind of plant known for being attractive to cats.
Dribbling
In basketball, when a player throws or taps the ball to the floor to move it around. It is against the rules to run while holding the ball.
F Scott Fitzgerald
An Irish American writer who lived in the early 1900s. He is remembered mostly for his novel The Great Gatsby.
Jane Austen
An English novelist most famous for writing Pride and Prejudice.

Subjects

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