Monday, October 1, 2007

Spellbound by 'Spellbound'

One of my favorite movies for high-intermediate or advanced level students is 'Spellbound,' an Academy Award-nominated film (for Best Documentary) which presents snapshots of the lives of eight American adolescents who compete in the 1999 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee competition in Washington, D.C.

I've shown this movie numerous times, and 'Spellbound' never fails to captivate and entertain. Of course, we have an in-class spelling bee so that students can identify a little with the kids in the movie. In addition, before the national competition is covered in the movie, we take a vote in class to pick the girl or boy who we think will win the Bee. Students are asked to support their choice with information and observations about the various candidates.

Furthermore, watching and discussing 'Spellbound' is an opportunity for students to think about what an 'American' is. Among the competitors are the daughter of 'illegal' immigrants from Mexico, a child from a privileged background who rides horses in her spare time, a bright young hyperactive boy, the son of an Indian immigrant, a low-income African-American student, and so on - a real cross-section of America.

I highly recommend this movie for teaching English through content. Supplementary reading material can be downloaded from various sites, but I often use this movie review. For the spelling bee, I use the list of words for different grade levels from this site. Finally, if you want to inspire students with follow-up readings, you can go to Angela Arenivar's blog to find out what she's doing now eight years later and also read a 2004 news article about Ashley White, the aspiring African American girl from Washington, D.C..

**STUDENT WRITING ASSIGNMENT**:
Based on your observations and what was said in the movie, 'Spellbound,' how would you describe an 'average' American? In your view, what qualities do all the children in the movie share? Why do you think the National Spelling Bee captures so much public attention in the United States?

Please post ('publish') your writing in the Comment section; use the 'Other' box, and use your first name so I can see that you've done the assignment.

19 comments:

Alain said...

I would describe an average American as a person who has a good education and knows what he wants to do.

In my case, those children are not average Americans, they are higher educated than a "normal" one. So, they are all on a more or less same level which is pretty high. They learnt tons of words, which I've actually never heard before, and know how to spell them.

I think the National Spelling Bee is so popular because of the tradition and the young kids who are so extremely fascinated of this competition.

Sandro Mathis said...

The children showen in the movie 'Spellbound' are very intelligent. They are above the average American, but just in spelling.

They share the quality to remember things they learned, especially how these things/words are spelled.

I don't understand why the Spelling Bee captures so much public attention. I think because it is a long history behind it.

In my opinion the most of these children are very poor humans because they often don't have many friends and they spend there freetime just for learning.

laure said...

I m very impressed to see young people knowing so much words...Also because words come from different origines like Latine or French.
I was stressing for them, at the same time, I think it s not easy to save our concentration in front of other people in the challenging atmosphere.
I think it s good for motivated young students to studie but I don t think that this idea could work in France...

annie said...

We can see on the movie that all that kids have put theirs self in a very hard studing to the speeling bee! They have quiet the same cariteristcs.

Is an challenger competition on your have to show all your skills to memorize, probably thats why the american get so atracted. Also is one of the few popular competitions in USA that is not about sport or psically.

annalisa said...

i think that this competition is very hard, for this reason it is attrative for american people. But i don't like the pressure of the parents because their kids are considered like machines.In this way they don`t use their brain for thinking but only for remember some words

Franziska, Yvonne said...

we think that parents are proud to have good educated children. At the spellingbee the kids can show how hard they worked for it.

Most of the children really like to spell words and it doesn't matter where they come from. Actually, they get a chance to change their life.

Regula said...

Most of this kids have got parents who are immigrated to America and theire nativ language is not English.
I think the spelling bee is more important to the parents then to the kid itself. They would be very proud of theire child if it would win.
The kid who wins also get a lot of money that may be used for his education.

Toby said...

They really impressed me how ambitious these childern could be. From my point of view, they are definitely not average but much better educated.

It seems that Americans love to challenge and compete each other, it's like the "American Dream" from zero to hero.

HoJung said...

Parents want their children to be strong and confident. SO parents or teacher require them to do this. After finishing competion like Spell Bee, they can get a confidence whether they are successful or not.

Angela said...

All the children in the movie "Spellbound" have a very good education and are very intelligent.

All kids are nervous and give their best. The parents can be very proud of them.

I think that's a traditional thing in the United States that Spelling Bee is popular there.

Sandro Stuedli said...

i think that the most american children need these competitions - like spelling-bee or sportcompetitions.

it's a part of the american-way to grow up. it depends of the parents, because if they want their kids to measure and compare with other kids and the education of their parents.

in my opinion it's also a kind of competition between the parents of the kids.

justine said...

It was really interesting go watch that movie. It`s unbelievable how many words this kids need to know.
Most of them i have never heard. They don`t have to know just the American words they also have to lern some words of the Frenche or Spanish language - it`s just amazing. If you will win the spellingbound you need to be very determind. You have to lern alot in your freetime and there is not much space for other activitys. During this time you can`t live a normal life. They are just focusing on that competition.

Patrizia said...

I was impressed how serious these kids took this competition. Some of them learnt more hours for spelling per day than I have to work. I liked this children which studied alone without their parents pressure more than these who had to learn because their parents foreced them.

In my point of view, these children are not the 'average American' for me. For me an normal American is someone who goes to all the school years, goes to university in an other state, and than to work in one of these big companies. As soon as an typical American have a family they will buy a nice house in a community.
These children in the movie, they share a lot of qualities. I think they would all get well on together. They all have a great vocabular and not so many other interests. I hope for them, that they will change in the near future, because I believe it's difficult to find a lot of friend at school, if your like this.

Anita said...

hi guys

An avarge American is a person with a strong character and she or he knows exactly what she/he wants to do.

In this movie I can see many young students they're very determenind to win this competition.
This competition I think is very stupid, because when you do one mistake then you're out!

laura said...

Due to the observations from the movie 'spellbound' I think that all the spellingbees share some common qualities. For example being extremly ambitious and striving for a goal. In addition, the children learn how to handle with competition which is an crucial part of the professional life. Furthermore, the children learn how they can get up the ladder when they decide to work hard on something. From my point of view the spellingbees has not only influence regarding the future, but also for the actual life situation of the children. The reason is, they have the chance to get in touch with ohter mates who share the same interests and have commons leisure activities. From my view the spelling bee competition represents in a way the 'ancient' American Dream, which means if you work hard for your aims, you will get the opportunity to achieve them.

Cookiemonster said...

Hello homies!

According to the movie Spellbound I got the impression that the average American is more interested in sports than in sciences. For this i tend to believe that the children competing at the Spelling Bee are truely on an other level. This shouldn't be seen as just positive at all since the majority of them seemed to have neither a friend communtity nor a single friend. A great deal of them obviously had big issues with socialising or genuinely had a lack of interests effecting other areas.
Nonetheless, all of them clearly had common character attributes like ambition, commitment and the will to sacrify a great deal of their life/time.
The reason why the Spelling Bee polarises, may roots in the character of the competition. Not just do American love to compete but it gets even better if the candidates you can see on the stage are without a mistake since the whole tournament started.

Anonymous said...

I think that the average American really wouldn't be spending all their time studying for a spelling bee. I also agree that they are above average students at least in spelling.
Some qualities that they have together are that their parents are super proud of them because their kids even got that far. I think that those kids all were very nervous too and studied very hard. Plus, they all know what they want to do in life.
Lastly,the spelling bee catches so much attention because 1) it's pretty much a tradition. Two, a lot of people enter in but only one will win. There are also so many different words that they have to almost memorize. It is really tough to get in.

manyenglishes said...

Thanks very much for the recent comment from Anonymous. I'm working on another post about the latest spelling bee winner who hails from San Diego and is also of Indian descent.

I think it's great that this competition has received a lot of media attention because it puts some "nerdy" kids in the spotlight in a positive way. They win money and fame - the same as amateur athletes can/do - for having been extremely studious and dedicated to learning vocabulary and spelling. There is also some element of luck - as in all endeavors - to reach the #1 spot. Congratulations to Snigda Nandipati, 2012 Champion!

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