How reading helped create a spelling champ

Posted at 11:46 AM, May 03, 2016

The secret to success at the Scripps National Spelling Bee presented by Kindle may not only involve a mind made for memorization.

Two previous champions say burying themselves in their favorite books, rather than just a dictionary, helped prepare them to rise to the top at the annual contest.

“The array of books that I had read throughout my childhood and during my Bee experience helped me in so many ways,” said 2015 co-champion Vanya Shivashankar. “Just reading, in general, improved my vocabulary and increased my love for knowledge and learning.”

Gokul Venkatachalam, the other 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee co-champion, agreed with Shivashankar’s assessment.

“Reading naturally just gives you a feel for the English language and exposes you to many words,” he said. “This directly correlates to good spelling skills.”

Fluency built on reading, spelling relationship

Educational research shows spelling and reading have a tightly-woven relationship. In 2015, cognitive psychologist Dan Willingham said, “Spelling is, in fact, the spark that ignites the reading circuity in our brains.”

Once students begin to learn how to read, they begin to move beyond individual letters to see full words.

However, spelling holds the key to open the door to fluent reading, which makes it easier for students to learn more complicated words.

“As your child gains reading experience, there is a larger and larger set of words that he can read using [the] spelling, and so his reading becomes faster, smoother, and more accurate. That’s called fluency,” Willingham said.



Find your reading passion

Both Shivashankar and Venkatachalam said they don’t feel a particular type of book is more helpful than others to boost a student’s spelling skills — reading anything of interest was enough to start making connections to new words and building expertise.

“Read a variety of sources in a topic you love,” Venkatachalam said. “If you read a book a week for a year on a topic that you love, you could be considered an expert on that subject. Reading is knowledge.”

Shivashankar believes her fast reading helped her to understand concepts faster and analyze them deeper, which then allowed her to learn more about the words she studied for the competition.

“Books, whether fictional or informative, were a way for me to explore different genres and find new words to learn for the spelling bee,” Shivashankar said. “I think that with spelling and reading [being] related, vocabulary learned through both activities can improve the other and the child can grow as a speller and avid reader. I was able to connect things from the books I read to the words I studied for spelling, which was really interesting.”

A Kindle e-reader is one such way to help young readers develop fluency and comprehension.  Words looked up on Kindle are automatically added to Vocabulary Builder and turned into flashcards for future review and learning. With Word Wise, short and simple definitions automatically appear above difficult words so kids can keep reading with fewer interruptions. Kindle FreeTime lets parents create personalized profiles for their kids, giving them access to select titles from their collection of books.

Champion-recommended books

Which books do the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee co-champions love? Both students provided a list of books they recommend to others.

Gokul Venkatachalam’s favorite books include:

·         The Life of Pi

·         The Art of War

·         The Percy Jackson series

·         The Michael Vey series

Why he recommends them: “I would recommend them because they encompass a wide variety of genres while addressing many key themes and motifs that left a profound impact on me as a person.”

Vanya Shivashankar’s favorite books include:

·         The Harry Potter series

·         The Hunger Games series

Why she recommends them: “Although they seem very cliché, I would recommend them just because they are interesting to read. The stories are written very well by the authors, and it seems as if each page gets more and more exciting and it keeps the reader wanting more.”