Account
Contact
Search 
1,208

How to Solve Letter Reversals

letter b and d reversals

Struggling with Letter Reversals?

It is easy to see how letter reversals happen: flip the b and it becomes a d. The beginning reader or dyslexic child may not realize that the direction of the letter matters, or he may not be able to remember which letter is which.

Letters that are mirror images of each other are more likely to be confused, including letters b and d, p and d, p and q, and n and u.

Fortunately, most of the letters of the alphabet have unique shapes, so no matter which way you turn them, they can’t be confused with any others. For example, the letter m looks quite different from the letter x, and f is not likely to be confused with the letter z.

What Is Considered Normal?

If your child is between the ages of three and seven, is just starting to read, and makes occasional letter reversals when reading or writing, it’s perfectly normal. It doesn’t mean that your child has dyslexia or a reading disability. Make a gentle correction and move on.

But if your child is eight years or older, has had prior reading instruction, and makes frequent reversal errors, it is important to take action to solve the letter confusion.

As reading instructors, we have two jobs to do regarding letter reversals:

  1. Try to prevent confusion.
  2. Where confusion exists, resolve it.

How to Prevent Letter Confusion Before It Begins

The All About Reading program is carefully structured to minimize the likelihood of letter reversals. We teach the sounds of potentially confusing letters like b and d in separate lessons. The child’s task is simplified because he only has to make one new visual discrimination at a time.

When your child is learning to print, be sure to teach correct letter formation. Doing so is critical to prevent confusion.

When forming the letter b, start with the stick first, followed by the circle. The star indicates the starting position.

How to form the letter "b" to prevent letter confusion

To write the letter d, start with the circle first, followed by the stick. Again, the star indicates the starting position.

How to form the letter "d" to prevent letter confusion

Have your child use lined paper so it is clear where the circle is in relation to the stick. Also be sure your student does not lift the pencil from the paper when writing any of the confusable letters.

If Your Child Already Reverses Letters

If you are working with older learners, it may be too late to prevent confusion. They may have had a few false starts in reading, and may have already confused these troublemakers. They may encounter the letter b and misinterpret it as the letter d. They may read the word bad as dab, or fad as fab. You might give a gentle correction, pull out the corresponding Phonogram Cards, and re-teach the letters separately, but your student still mixes them up. If that is the case, read on to discover four effective methods to solve the problem.

Four Methods to Solve Tough Reversal Problems

The demonstrations below are for correcting b and d reversals (the most common letter reversals), but the same concepts can be applied to any letter or number. You may only need to use one of these methods, but for really resistant cases, you will need to use all four methods.

Please note that it’s important to concentrate on just one letter per session. Wait until that letter is completely mastered before teaching another letter.

  1. Method 1: Teach the letters b and d using tactile surfaces.

    Have a variety of tactile surfaces for your child to choose from. Possibilities include flannel fabric, corrugated cardboard, very fine sandpaper, fluffy fur fabric, or a carpet square. Ask him which surface reminds him of the letter b, and then cut a large lowercase b out of the chosen tactile surface.

    Solve letter reversals with tactile surfaces

    Using the pointer finger of his dominant hand, have your child trace the letter b on the textured surface. Be sure that he starts and ends in the correct place. Practice until he can easily write the letter b.

    When your child is ready to go on to a new letter, choose a different textured surface. If fine sandpaper was used for the letter b, perhaps furry fabric can be used for the letter d.


  2. Method 2: Use “air writing” to reinforce proper letter formation.

    air writing to prevent letter reversals

    Another powerful method for correcting letter reversals is “air writing.” Air writing is simple: using the dominant hand, the child uses his entire arm to write letters in the air as he says the sound of the letter. The whole arm should be involved, and the child should pretend that his pointer finger is a pen.

    Here, Jimmy demonstrates for us how to use air writing to form the letter b. Notice that his whole arm is involved in order to activate large muscles. He is pretending that his pointer finger is a pen. While he forms the letter b with his arm, he is saying the sound of the letter, /b/.

    Brain research shows that two ideas practiced at the same time can permanently bond the ideas together. In this case, the large movements of the arm combined with saying the sound of the letter helps link these two concepts together in your child’s brain.

    Additionally, this multisensory activity takes advantage of the fact that the muscles in the shoulder and in the jaw have muscle memory, and this makes it easier for your child to recall the shape and sound of the letter.

  3. Method #3: Teach the letters b and d using analogies.

    Explain that the letter b is made up of two shapes: a bat and a ball. Using the tactile surface, demonstrate how you write the bat part of the letter first, followed by the ball.

    As you write the letter b, say “bat-ball-/b/,” like this:

    Using bat and ball analogy to fix letter reversals

    To further clarify which side of the letter the straight line is on, tell your student, First you grab the bat, then you hit the ball. Have your student practice this motion and chant many times over a two-minute time period. Show your student that when you are reading from left to right, you encounter the bat part of the letter first. If he is ever unsure of the sound this letter makes when he sees it, he should think to himself, “bat-ball-/b/.” This will help him recall the sound of the letter b. Repeat the exercise several times a day.

    To teach the letter d, you can use the analogy of a doorknob and a door. The doorknob represents the circle part of the letter, and the door represents the straight line, like this:

    Using doorknob and door to fix letter reversals

    To clarify which side of the letter the straight line is on, tell your student, First you grab the doorknob, then you open the door. Again, practice the motion and chant many times over a two-minute period. Show your student that when you are reading from left to right, you encounter the doorknob part of the letter first. If he is ever unsure of the sound this letter makes when he sees it, he should think to himself, “doorknob-door-/d/.” He will now be able to recall the sound of the letter d. (Download our How to Solve Letter Reversals report for printable bat/ball and doorknob/door graphics.) Repeat the exercise several times a day.

    A common analogy to help with b and d confusion is a bed. Though this analogy may help some kids, for others it may require more thought, and for many kids it may not become automatic.

    bed analogy to solve letter reversals

  4. Method #4: Help your child notice the shape of our mouths while saying the letter sounds.

    When we say /b/, our lips come together in a straight line. Point out that the straight line comes first when you write the letter b.

    How to Solve Letter Reversal Problems - All About Reading

    When we say /d/, our lips are open. Coincidentally, the circle comes first when you write letter d.

    How to Solve Letter Reversal Problems - All About Reading

If Your Child Confuses b with d While Reading

If your child mistakes a b for a d while reading, refer back to the tactile surface activity and air writing that you did together. Point to the misread letter and say, If you wrote this letter, what would this letter say?

If your child can’t answer easily, ask him or her to draw the letter b using air writing. The sound of the letter (/b/- bat) should come more easily this way. Then have your child read the word again.

For More Help with Letter Reversals

This free e-book illustrates the four methods outlined here, plus it has two printable charts to help you correct b and d reversals.

How to Solve Letter Reversals

When students have persistent reversals, reading becomes a struggle and it can be difficult for them to express themselves in writing. You can put an end to that struggle with the information shared in this report!

Have you discovered a helpful strategy for dealing with letter reversal issues? Please share in the comments below.


Share This:

< Previous Post  Next Post >

Leave a Reply

Mahrukh

says:

Children find it difficult to differentiate the sounds of /t/ and /d/
How can we explain this to the child even after we show them how the sounds are made.
Thank you

Robin

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your children are having trouble with these sounds, Mahrukh. The confusion is understandable, because they are basically the same sound except /d/ is voiced and /t/ is not. “Voiced” means the vocal cords vibrate with the sound. You can feel /d/ if you place your hand on your throat, but not /t/.

It’s also probably not helpful that T can sometimes take on a /d/ sound, such as how words like little and metal are pronounced in many accents. And ED can say /t/ in some past tense words like passed and helped.

Are your children not able to hear the difference between the sounds, or do you mean they are confusing which sound goes to which letter? If they can’t hear the sounds, then working on hearing them. Check out this video by Rachel’s English. It may be helpful for you in teaching the sounds, but it’s a bit too detailed for most children. Practice having them hear the sounds by having them listen and then repeat minimal pair words. These are words that have all the same sounds except for the sounds you are targeting. So, bed/bet, pat/pad, dime/time, dub/tub, to/do, sight/side. Two syllable minimal pairs are fine too, like tummy/dummy, ascent/ascend, rabid/rabbit.

On the other hand, to help your children with confusing which sounds go with which letter, it is best to work on only one of the letters at a time. Working on both each day, or even in the same week, can make confusion worse for some children. T is about twice as commonly used in English than D, so focus on T and the /t/ sound for a few minutes a day, separate from their reading and spelling lessons. The air writing and tactile letter activities are especially helpful, so don’t skip them even if your students are older.

For an analogy, talk about T having lots of tips (the end of each line in a lower case). “/t/-/t/-/t/ tip” After a week or two of working on T, spend some time working on D. D dips down with a donut (the round part). “/d/-/d/-/d/ donut”

I hope this helps, but I’d love to hear how it goes and let us know if your children need additional help.

Hanle Kapp

says:

Very well explained

Robin

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Hanle!

Jessica

says:

Please send me info on fixing reversals

Robin

says: Customer Service

Sure, Jessica! Check out our free How to Solve Letter Reversals ebook. And let me know if you have questions about specific letters or numbers too. I’m happy to help!

Josefina

says:

This is one of the best strategy in supporting students with bd reversal. And it helped me a lot during all this years supporting my leaners.

Robin

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Josefina! I’m glad this was so helpful for you for such a long time.

Mary O.

says:

I tell students who struggle with b and d confusion, “With ‘b’ the line is at the beginning and with ‘d’ the line is at the end.” That seems to help.

Robin

says: Customer Service

Great tip, Mary! Thank you.

Allison

says:

My oldest child would confuse b and d. I showed her the bat then ball and doorknob then door trick. That has helped tremendously! She will stop writing or reading and use her hand to make the letter if she needs to. She gets it right every time now! I’m guessing fluency will come as she gets older. We are finishing AAR level 1. We will start level 2 and AAS 1 soon. We have tried other programs with little success. AAR has been a game changer for us.

Robin

says: Customer Service

Allison,
Thank you for sharing! It’s great to hear that All About Reading has been helping your child.

Hairstyles

says:

I抳e recently started a blog, the info you provide on this website has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

Robin

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome. I’m glad this has been so helpful.

Sara

says:

We us the finger B and D technique, and my youngest has caught on and does it with us as well. I feel like I am constantly learning new ways to reteach myself with AAR.

Robin

says: Customer Service

Sara,
I love that your younger child is learning b and d right along!

Christine

says:

My son struggles with this and was negative for dyslexia. Great strategies! I’ll try it with him!

Robin

says: Customer Service

I hope these tips help your son, Christine! If you need additional help, however, let me know.

Tess

says:

My kids have all struggled with this! Sometimes the “b has a belly, d has a diaper” drawing has helped, but it just seems to be something that takes time.

Robin

says: Customer Service

Tess,
Yes. For many children, it just takes time to master the directionality of letters. Before learning letters, direction doesn’t matter children. A chair is a chair whether it is facing left, right, or is upside down! It’s no wonder that young learners need some time know, without a thought, that b is different than d and p!

Penny Wright

says:

This is the best curriculum I’ve ever used!

Eileen

says:

I second this!!!!!

Robin

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Eileen!

Robin

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Penny!

Kaitlyn

says:

The “bed” trick helped my oldest so much!

Kori Villegas

says:

I used #3 with my daughter and it helped her tremendously!

Robin

says: Customer Service

Kori,
The bat and ball analogy is help for many children! Glad to know it helped your daughter.

Estefanie

says:

My 6 year old has a difficult time with b and d sometimes. I will try Method #4. Thanks!

Liya

says:

This was so helpful to my son.

Sarah

says:

The bed analogy has been really helpful for my daughter. Thank you!

Wendy Thelen

says:

Thanks for the tips and tricks with this.

Amanda

says:

I have a 7 almost 8 year old that still gets his b and d mixed up sometimes. I am going to try the air writing technique and see if that helps. Tha k you for the tips!

Robin

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Amanda. It may be helpful to work on just b for a while too. For some kids, working on both letters on the same day or even in the same week can make confusion worse, not better.

Deanna Wilczynski

says:

This has been a very helpful tip. Thank you for sharing!

Robin

says: Customer Service

Deanna,
I’m glad this is helpful. You’re welcome.

Laura

says:

This is very helpful Thank you!

Robin

says: Customer Service

Welcome!

Heidi Janneke

says:

We love AAR, especially for our struggling readers!

Robin

says: Customer Service

Heidi,
It’s so great to hear that All About Reading is working well for you!

Jennifer Palmer

says:

Great tips. Thank you!

Robin

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jennifer!

Erin

says:

I do so many of these with my dyslexic 7 year old, still waiting for them to stick though lol

Robin

says: Customer Service

Erin,
If your child has been having troubles with reversals for a while and nothing seems to be working, you may consider setting aside a couple of minutes a day, separate from reading and spelling lesson time, to work on directionality of letters. Choose just one of a confused pair to work on each week or so, and focus it on using the tips here. Focusing on just one of the letters for a couple of minutes a day can really help, as working on both at the same time can make confusion worse for some kids.

I hope this helps, but let me know if you need additional ideas or anything else.

Ashlea

says:

We always use bed when we notice a mistake to help remember the direction of the letters

Jane

says:

We’re so pleased with our experience so far!

Susan

says:

Thank you for all of these strategies and the free e-book! My son will be 11 soon and I still catch him reversing these two letters sometimes when he writes. We’re going to be working extra on this during the summer.

Robin

says: Customer Service

Susan,
I think your plan to work on reversals extra over the summer is a great one! Often older students that have had trouble with reversals for a while need some focused work to overcome.

I recommend spending a few minutes each day, separate from reading or spelling time, to work on them. Focus on just one of a confused pair at a time. Working on both letters in a confused pair at the same time can cause some students to become more confused, not less.

Here is an additional activity that can be really helpful for students that have really struggled with this:

Prepare a transparent sheet of plastic such as a binder sheet protector or see-through placement by printing a large b on it. Stand your student in front of you, facing the b. Have your student point the way the b faces. The right arm should be fully extended from the shoulder and straight out to the side. Ask, “What are you pointing at?” Perhaps it is the door. Keeping the arm extended, turn a quarter turn. “Now, what are you pointing at?” Continue around the circle.

Discuss that the only constant is your student’s body. B always faces that side of his. He is the important thing! All directional concepts with letters, numbers, and words must relate to the body. It is the only constant.

After lots of pointing around the room and in different places, present a ring, or a bracelet, or a stamp on his hand, or whatever. Say, “This is your b side. Do you have a b foot? Hop on it.” Bring up the b hand, arm, ear, side, leg, etc., throughout the day.

Each day review with the see-through b sheet and the student’s b side. Make a tactile letter b and do air writing of b while saying /b/. After the first day with the see-through sheet, reviewing b should only take 3 or so minutes (although it may take more time to make a tactile letter b).

After a week or so with b, you can work on d in the same way. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some improvement with reversal issues with writing after just working on b, however.

I hope this helps. I’d love to hear how it goes!

Katie

says:

This program is awesome

Tahna

says:

Such a great tip! My daughter really struggled with getting b and d confused

Amanda Carrow

says:

This is such a handy trick!!

Lauren Myers

says:

Thanks for the great tip!