English Spelling Bee
The 1st Annual Southwest English Spelling Bee was designed to encourage the study of English among 5eme students. PCVs and students from 14 schools in the region (defined as Hauts-Bassins and the Cascades) participated in the championship, held in Orodara.
Statement of Problem
There are very few opportunities for Burkinabé students to engage in healthy, academic competition. Currently, the only academic competition is a national decathlon that takes place at the end of the school year for students in premier only. As it is national, it is highly competitive and students in larger towns have an economic and educational advantage over those in smaller villages. The spelling bee was designed to encourage students to study English and also provide a fun and innovative way to promote literacy, academic competition and self-confidence. As participants came from schools with PCVs, this gave some students in smaller villages the opportunity to participate that they may not have had. In addition, the spelling bee shared a cornerstone of American cultural education with the Burkinabé.
PCVs worked with the Proviseur and Censeur at the Lycée Provincial in Orodara to plan and design the project. Given that each 5eme class has between 30 to 100 students, it was important to design a process that could be easily implemented across all participating schools. PCVs worked with their local English teachers to administer a spelling test to all 5eme students. The top 10 to 15 students then participated in a local spelling bee. The top three students from the spelling bee (one of which had to be a girl) travelled to Orodara for the final. All schools worked off of the same word lists and rules to standardize the competition.
- PCVs worked with local school administrators to design all academic materials related to the project, including rules and word lists.
- PCVs submitted an application for funding and secured donations for prizes.
- PCVs worked with the community to secure a venue, housing and deal with all logistics for the championship weekend.
- Three months before the championship, all materials were distributed to participating PCVs.
- Two months before the championship, PCVs ran the local spelling test and spelling bee with their 5eme classes.
- All finalists were given a month to study. PCVs were encouraged to work with their finalists.
- Finalists travelled to Orodara with their PCVs for the championship.
To run a local spelling bee, very few supplies are needed. All of the materials used in this project are attached below. Access to a printer, photocopier and paper are the bare essentials.
For the championship, the biggest challenge is securing a venue and a microphone.
Prizes were given and are up to the PCV’s discretion. All finalists received a participatory prize of a certificate and French-English dictionary. The winner and both runners-ups received school supplies. In addition, the winner received a bike and the first runner-up a school bag.
The project was funded by a Country Fund grant. The grant funded all transport, food and miscellaneous office supplies. The community contributed the venue (for the spelling bee and the closing celebration) and lodging for all finalists at the Maison de la Femme. Prizes were funded through private donations.
14 PCVs, 13 schools (17 5eme classes and their English teachers), 41 finalists that competed in the championship, the Manager at the Maison de la Femme, the Censeur and Proviseur at the Lycée Provincial.
This project was fairly easy to run. The biggest challenge was coordinating the logistics and making sure all PCVs were able to administer their local spelling bee with adequate time before the championship. Initially, it was difficult for the students to understand the concept of the spelling bee.
During the championship spelling bee, it was hard on the finalists when they were eliminated. Many of them felt ashamed and were worried about returning home having lost the competition. It was also difficult to motivate the students to ask the three questions allowed (to repeat the word, the definition of the word or to use the word in a sentence). Finally, students were unable to understand the two Burkinabe English teachers who were pronouncing the words. This could have been as the students had been studying with their PCVs prior to the championship and were used to their accents.
It helped that all finalists had gone through a local spelling bee before participating in the championship. To ensure that all of the students understand the format of the competition, PCVs ran a “dress rehearsal” the night before the championship.
PCVs were on standby during the championship to assist in comforting the finalists as they were eliminated. Most of the PCVs had also worked with their students beforehand and knew them well enough to coach them and make sure they were alright.
A closing celebration was held for all finalists and PCVs at the end of the championship. During this, all the finalists were given their participatory prizes (a certificate and French-English dictionary) to celebrate their achievements thus far. This was a great morale booster.
Success and Impact
The spelling bee helped with English literacy and motivated the students to continue studying the language. Many of the students expressed their interest in continuing to learn. It also instilled a sense of pride in many of them. While there were a few rocky patches right after being eliminated, most of the students were proud of their accomplishments by the end of the day and were able to return home with a sense of achievement. This was also a great third goal activity that allowed PCVs to share a part of American educational culture with the Burkinabe.
Plan ahead! Most of the legwork is finding the time to run and administer the local spelling bee. It was also helpful to work with the students weekly before the championship and encourage them to study.
A PCV also came out to run self-esteem exercises with the students which helped with their self-confidence.
It may also be helpful for a PCV to read the words during the competition if that is the accent that the students are used to hearing. It is also helpful to continually remind the students to ask the three questions allowed to ensure that they fully comprehend the word.
Any of the PCVs mentioned in "Subject Name."
Attached are the following:
- Document describing the spelling bee process, rules and regulations and a sample program of the weekend
- Sample letters and invitations to English teachers, Directors/Proviseurs and Officials
- Master word list that all students studied from
- Public speaking exercises to use with students
- Sample permission slip
- Sample certificates
- Championship word lists (eight rounds in total)
Althea Y., Sara B., Becca Q., Erika M., Anne G., Evan C., Brianna L., Jose A., Celenia C., Roxanne D., Emily I., Josh G., McKenna R. and Tana M.
Southwest Region Villages