Lima Bean (9) decided he wanted to be in the spelling bee this year. He has always loved letters and words, and he has always been a phenomenal speller without any formal training. One of his favorite movies is “Akeelah and the Bee.” (I LOVE this movie and can’t recommend it highly enough!)
I figured a spelling bee would be a great way to inspire him to learn some new vocabulary and stretch his spelling skills. Sounded like a win/win to me!
For several months we worked on the third and fourth grade lists until he had those 150 words down pat. But when it was time to move on to the fifth and sixth grade words (just in case!), he really got stuck. He couldn’t spell ANY of them. I couldn’t figure out why he was having so much more trouble.
Then it dawned on me. These words were advanced enough that they didn’t show up in the books he currently reads. He had never seen them. He had no experience with them. (Heck, some of the words, like “realty” and “fanzine,” weren’t even part of my experience!)
So I decided to give him some context. The goal . . . create a story that uses all fifty of these difficult fifth-grade challenge words from the National Spelling Bee’s 2012 list.
It’s no literary masterpiece. But we were laughing as we did it. And his ability to spelling the words increased significantly.
What do you think?
Here’s the words that we had to use.
eclipse, unreadable, defiantly, acrobat, clarinet, plague, tourism, waiver, imitate, larceny, altogether, toilsome, perturb, delved, cleave, mischief, interpret, exotic, laborious, defunct, audience, thermostat, pyramid, carnival, evidence, microphone, sequel, carpenter, virtue, antelope, blatant, confection, realty, ingredient, fanzine, widget, recruit, airborne, peruse, genius
Here’s the story we came up with (spelling words are boldface). If you get all the way through, you’ll notice the cliff hanger. Lima Bean and I are chomping at the bit to start working on the sixth grade challenge words!
Once upon a time there was an acrobat who worked at a carnival. His name was Bob A. Lou. He loved his job. He would stand at the top of the tower and before he would become airborne, he would sing “Hallelujah” into a microphone. The audience loved it! They thought he was a genius. Then he would leap into the air, and while playing the clarinet, he would do a triple flip. Then he would land on an antelope. He would gallop around the carnival’s main ring past a row of watermelons. Using the clarinet, he would cleave each watermelon in half.
As if this wasn’t enough, as a sequel to this amazing, daring feat, he would peruse the audience for people who seemed particularly strong. He would recruit them and call them down in front of the crowd. First he would have them sign a waiver so they couldn’t sue him if they were injured. Then they would build a pyramid altogether, with Bob the acrobat on the very top. This was sometimes laborious and difficult because the people were not used to being climbed upon.
One day, as Bob the acrobat entered his trailer after his act, he noticed that it was colder than usual.
“Odd,” he thought. “Usually, when I’m cooking confection for my adoring fans, it’s too hot. All of these ingredients must be melted in the crockpot, and the heat makes my trailer too hot.”
As he walked over to check the thermostat, he tripped over a widget—which was odd because he usually was so graceful.
“What is this widget doing here? And what the heck is a widget? I don’t even know why I’m calling this a widget! But I am. And I tripped over it. And now I am not happy. Someone is trying to do mischief to me.”
Looking up from the floor, Bob the acrobat saw a mysterious shadow glide past his window.
“This is evidence! I now see that this was a blatant attempt to injure me so that I can no longer do my act. It is obvious that someone does not like me. Whoever just passed by my window placed this widget here on the floor to harm me. But I will not allow this devious act to perturb me. I will examine all the evidence until I determine the culprit. Persistence is a virtue!”
With this, Bob the acrobat jumped up and ran outside. There, at the side of his trailer, was the carnival’s carpenter.
The carpenter was scowling.
Bob the acrobat didn’t know how to interpret this expression. Was he angry? Was he confused? Was he evil?
Bob the acrobat started to imitate the expression on the carpenter’s face. He hoped that copying this expression would help him understand what was going on in the carpenter’s mind.
If Bob the acrobat was to interpret his expression correctly, it would be another piece of evidence for the crime that had been committed against him.
Bob the acrobat chose to interpret the expression negatively.
Defiantly, Bob the acrobat stormed over to the carpenter.
“How dare you leave this widget in my trailer so that I would trip over it! I know you are guilty!”
The carpenter looked up, surprised.
“What the heck are you talking about?”
“Don’t act so surprised,” said Bob the acrobat. “What is your motive? Is it larceny? Do you want to steal my act and make it your own? Do you want to steal my trailer, so that it becomes your realty?”
“What is realty?” said the carpenter. “Why are you using such big words?”
“Realty is property that someone owns. And I’m using big words because it makes me look smart. And I’m hoping that it will perturb you.”
“I think you need to calm down,” said the carpenter.
“Do you, or do you not, admit that you placed this widget in my trailer?”
“I didn’t place anything in your trailer! I dropped that widget in your trailer. And . . . that widget is a pen. Don’t you know what a pen is?”
“A pen?” said Bob the acrobat. “I’ve never seen a pen that looked like that.”
“If you must know,” said the carpenter, “I will tell you what happened. Several months ago, I was reading the local acrobat fanzine. I must admit, that while the writers are devoted to acrobats, they do not know any grammar or how to spell, so the fanzine really was unreadable. I found reading any of the articles to be toilsome and laborious. But I continued regardless.
As I delved further and further into this mess of words, I began to see a nefarious plot begin to form. A group of acrobats from an exotic country wanted to shut down your carnival so that they could have all the money and fame. They plotted to release a contagious virus into your crowd, causing all the audience members to get the plague. Once every audience member was sick, no one would come to the act. Your show would be defunct. Your job would be over. Your life would be ruined.
Once you had decided that you were done being an acrobat forever, they would imitate your show. They would be the new greatest act in town. Their act would eclipse anything you had ever done. Everyone in the town would love them. People from all over the world would flock to their show. Tourism would grow so much that town officials everywhere would pay these exotic acrobats to do their show all over the world. They would become rich and famous.
But I discovered their plot. I went into your trailer to write you a note to tell you what I had discovered, but then I remembered that I needed to fix the scaffolding for your next act, so I quickly left. Unfortunately, I must have dropped my pen—the widget—while I was in your trailer. I had just realized I had lost it and was looking for it when you approached me so defiantly. I couldn’t figure out where my pen was. I had just had it.”
“I am sooooooo sorry,” said Bob the acrobat. “I was completely mistaken about your intentions. You were only trying to help me. It was those evil exotic acrobats who wanted to commit larceny against me, not you! Can you forgive me?”
“Sure,” said the carpenter, “but only if you’ll give me some of the confection that you’ve been cooking.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Bob the acrobat, “and you can also have a front row seat at my next show!”
With that, Bob the acrobat and the carpenter walked back into Bob’s trailer. They now knew of the plot against Bob the acrobat, but they still had to foil it. Their work had just begun.