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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.


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Mrs Gem

says:

You are a superstar Robin! Just read through the comments and I loved your responses and those comments which were also knowledgeable and detailed. Thanks for the opportunity to learn on your platform. Great job!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Awww, thank you, Mrs. Gem!

Mrs Gem

says:

This was absolutely helpful and insightful! Thanks a lot. Please share more free worksheets for this when you can. Thanks again

Vanessa Quiros

says:

Excelente tecnica❤️

Farah

says:

I am pleased that I finally found an effective method to solve the problem of the letters reversal in some of my learners. Thank you so much for your help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Farah! I’m glad this was helpful for you.

Hadia

says:

thanks for sharing it will be work definitely

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Hadia! I’m glad this will be helpful for you.

Jenny Govender

says:

Thank you. This was very informative

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jenny. Let me know if you have any questions or need further help.

B.L.

says:

We have a lot of letter reversals. I solved S by telling her to start at grandmas house. We go down through the woods and come back home. It helped her to remember to start farther away from her last letter and bring it back toward the last letter she wrote.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I love this little story for helping a student remember how to write S correctly! Thank you for sharing it, B.L.

Chetna Bhola

says:

want to teach my child

Julie A Roberts

says:

I’ve tried several of these techniques with my 7 year old; yet he still struggles with b vs d. Is it best to stop them immediately to make the correction or to let them try to see if it makes sense first?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Julie,
It can take a few minutes a day for a while to correct stubborn letter reversals. On a time separate from reading and spelling lessons, spend about 5 minutes a day going over these suggestions. Focus on just one letter for a while, maybe even a couple of weeks, until you start seeing improvement with it. Sometimes reviewing both letters together can increase confusion.

At first, correct your child quickly to help with the confused letters. However, after you see some improvement, try waiting a bit to see if he can catch the error himself.

I hope this helps, but please let me know how it goes over the next few weeks.

Tim

says:

I am almost 50… I was never diagnosed with dyslexia, though an ADD diagnosis did come much later. I often mix up C and S in typing and sometimes in writing. I often attribute this to my Russian classes in my 20’s, where C is S. But it seems to be getting worse… and I do not recall having the issue in my 30’s or prior. Anyway, I wouldn’t even know where to start. Probably just a learned habit??? Any thoughts?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is an interesting issue, Tim. I’m not knowledgeable about difficulties with English that increase after someone is already an adult. However, I would suspect that many of the ideas there will help, especially making tactile letters and doing the air writing.

However, if you are aware of the problem and can catch your errors, then I wouldn’t worry too much. Grammarly is a useful browser add-on to check your spelling online.

I hope this helps at least a bit.

Tim

says:

Thanks Robin. I think most of us just put it in the category of “getting older” without wondering. It has been noticeable enough to me to want to learn more. Looking back, I think it is heavily related to my Russian college courses. I am, as then, fascinated by non-Latin character sets. I spent a great deal of time focused on the alphabet itself—including lots of writing in print characters and script/cursive… but no typing. So, to see it impact typing specifically… just seems a little odd. I do, however, recall just now that my native English handwriting was impacted by an S/C swap. For me it sort of sheds light on what may be the inner workings of how my mind perceives characters. Just a layperson guess that I am seeing the SOUND. That the character does not represent a shape to be deciphered to a sound, but that it is the sound itself. And I am not a 100% touch-typist… so I’m interacting very closely with the mechanics of the sounds rather than the mechanics of typing. Anyway… I am very glad I dropped by… talking things out, even with just the perception of an audience helps one better form and define the mental object in question. Thanks again for your time. I hope that I’ve added something positive to this conversation.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting, Tim!

I do think that the S/C switch happening in your handwriting is the same process happening in typing. When someone types well, they don’t think letter by letter. They think sound by sound, in much the same way that our minds work when we write by hand after having mastered handwriting.

However, the fact that the issue is increasing over time does leave me wondering. If you are using Russian as much or more than you were in college, that would make sense. But you didn’t have issues in the first two decades after learning Russian and then it started to be a problem. I do wonder.

Mary M Finnan

says:

Love the way you show to use b to go with bat and ball💙 Also the door and knob to show the letter d… it’s very helpful to use in teaching my twin grandchildren

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Mary! 😊

Chandini Krishnan

says:

Amazing content! Absolutely loved going through all your resources :)
Keep up the great work. God bless

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Chandini! It’s great to hear that you are pleased with our resources. 😊

Becky

says:

This is SO helpful! Thank you! My daughter has been mixing up lowercase b and d a lot and still confuses 6 and 9. I will have to try these tips out!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful, Becky. I’d love to hear how it goes. Let me know if you have any questions or need more tips.

Shiksha

says:

Very helpful

Betsy

says:

I’ll try these tricks with my 5 year old. He frequently mistakes lowercase b and d

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’d love to hear how things go, Betsy.

maria aileen s. capulong

says:

this will serve a great help for those children who can not afford to ask help to improve thier ability because of financial problem. thank you…

Anita

says:

We have finally mastered b & d. Now he constantly mixes up P and the number 9. Any thoughts?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Anita,
I’m happy to hear your child has mastered b and d! They are definitely tricky for may kids.

First, work on only one of the confused pair at a time. If you work on both together, it might make the confusion worse and not better. I recommend starting with P.

Definitely do the tactile letter and air writing activities. They seem a bit odd but they are effective when done for a minute or two a day. Say the sound of /p/ while doing P. Later, when you do 9, have your child count as he traces the tactile number or air writes it. “9. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 9”.

P is written with the straight line first and then the rounded part. Discuss how the word point starts with a P and a P starts with a point. Show how the straight line (the “point”) is written first and then the rounded part is put on. After he has a lot of success with P, then show how 9 is just a tiny bit less than 10. Because it is less than 10, it starts with the little rounded part and then adds the line. “Little less than 10, little round part first.” Okay, my 9 story isn’t as great, but it gets the point across. Often with a confused pair, students will get the second one without much effort after spending a number of days (or weeks, as needed) on the first one.

Also consider drawing a P on a piece of paper, decorating it with pictures of things that start with P, and then displaying it where your child can look straight at it while writing. He can then check the P on display to see if his P is going in the same direction. Leave it up as long as needed. Students will naturally stop using such helps over time when they no longer need them.

Let me know how it goes or if you need any further ideas.

Nancy

says:

What about “s” and “z”?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Nancy,
S and Z are tricky! Is your student confusing S and Z with each other, writing them backward but not confusing them, or both?

For writing S correctly, show your student that the top of S is a letter C. You can talk about how C can say /s/ sometimes, so there is a C in S. The C comes first, then he or she finishes the rest of the letter. If your student doesn’t reverse C, then this should help a lot. If he or she has problems with C too, let me know.

For Z, tell your student that, Bees fly away, buzzzzzzz.” We write from the left side of the page to the right, and bees fly their buzzzzz from left to right.

If your student confuses these letters, well that is understandable. S says /z/ more often than Z does. Talk about how bees only have one sound, buzzzzzzz. But S has two directions. It starts with C and then goes the other way. It has two sounds, /s/ (stress the /s/ sound of the name of C, “see”) and /z/. It’s most common sound is /s/ and that is the one to try first because the C is on top, it comes first.

Also, the tactile letters and the airwriting will be effective for all sorts of reversals. They seem a bit silly, especially if your child is older, but they work and are helpful for learning the proper directionality of letters (and numbers).

I hope this helps. Let me know how it goes or if you have further questions.

Emma

says:

I LOVE the b & d analogies! My 7yo & 5yo are consistently getting them mixed up when writing but rarely when reading. This is going to be part of our spelling lesson tomorrow 🙂

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful for you, Emma!

Cari

says:

Here’s a reversal that has me somewhat flummoxed.

My son is 5.5 and extremely verbally oriented, always has been. He has been reading fluently for about 9 months now and reads for pleasure at what I’d guess is a 4th to 5th grade level. No issues with reversals in reading. His fine motor skills, on the other hand, are slightly behind for his age, but his development has always gone in all-or-nothing spurts and he’s made some big steps in the past year, so I’m not concerned about a more general problem.

However, he persistently mixes up lowercase B and D when writing (to the point where he’s lost his confidence and asks every time how to write both of them). This is despite using a program (Handwriting Without Tears) that emphasizes letter formation, groups B and D separately to prevent confusion, etc. Lowercase D is taught as a “Magic C letter.” Now here’s the weirdest part: He also frequently reverses C, and rarely 2 and 3. But he never reverses G, O, or Q (I know O is symmetrical, but he always writes it counterclockwise without prompting). I think he genuinely can’t remember which way C points.

He knows left/right directionality solidly and has understood it for a couple of years (I didn’t actually teach him; he spontaneously started telling me that we were turning left/right one day when we were out for a walk). He doesn’t reverse the letters based on a “C” stroke, except for C and D. He has no trouble keeping straight P/G and Q. He knows the correct formation steps for both lowercase B and D but uses those steps in mirror image (he will do the stick and then circle in the wrong direction, or he’ll start with the circle but do it backwards). We have tried the “bed” trick; I’ve tried reminding him “C then D” as a hint that D is a “magic C” letter; we say that B is a “bounce” letter because it touches the baseline and then goes back up. He doesn’t write any of the other similar letters backwards (lowercase N, M, R, H, P) – only B. We have tried talking about how B has the curve pointing towards the “working hand” and D has it pointing towards the “helping hand.” That doesn’t help either. Our handwriting program has a substantial tactile component (Play Dough letters, slate with chalk and damp sponge, wood pieces for “building” letters, etc.) and I also have some sandpaper-style letters. He dislikes all of these except the wood pieces (which aren’t meant to be used for lowercase), as well as the popular sensory options like writing in rice/salt/shaving cream, as well as most sensory play options in general.

I intend to try the bat/ball and doorknob/door mnemonic with him, but based on all the other efforts that have failed, I suspect that won’t click with him either. It seems like he’s got one particular blind spot with B-C-D directionality when writing, that doesn’t extend to his understanding of left/right in general. I think that if we could straighten out the reversal of C, he’d probably be quite content to reason his way through B and D each time and would gain confidence from practicing and getting it right.. But apparently it’s pretty unusual to reverse the letter C, and I can’t find any tips for how to get that one straightened out. Any thoughts or tips are greatly appreciated.

(And yes, I know he’s young and it’s entirely possible this would straighten itself out within a few years, without heroic efforts right now. It just seems so out of keeping with most of the rest of his development; everything else about him suggests that he should be able to understand this, and I’m concerned that I’m doing something wrong or explaining things in a way that is confusing to him.)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Cari,
It sounds you are doing every right!

One interesting thing with advanced children is that they are almost never advanced equally in all areas. In fact, it is most usual for an academically advanced child to be more average in all areas physical. It sounds that this is exactly what is happening with your son. It is quite normal for children to have some reversal problems when they are 5 years old. This is mostly related to the physical act of writing and to the fact that directionality doesn’t matter with anything a child has learned prior to learning letters and numbers. A chair is a chair is a chair no matter if it is pointed left, right, or upside down.

I do think your intuition that your son will straighten this out in the next year or so with only gentle correction is correct. Most children do, especially those that confuse letters only in writing and not in reading.

While it is hard to find information about reversals of certain letters, like C, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Children are all unique and what they get confused about it equally unique. One of my children had the hardest time with confusing L and N.

Give your child the letter C written in the correct direction for him to look at any time he needs. You could write it at the top of his page for him every day, but it may be easiest to make a small poster of it to place on the wall he faces when writing. Let him know he no longer has to remember, that he can look at the poster every time he writes a C so he can be sure to write it the correct way. And then praise him every time you see him look at the poster to write the C correctly.

Work only on the C until he has had lots of success with it. If he asks about B and D, tell him which way, but otherwise don’t worry about those reversals at all, don’t even mention them to him, until he masters C. Once he has C down well (but don’t remove the poster, keep it up for months after he seems to have mastered C), then start work on D. Work only on D alone. Working on it with B, even with cute tricks like the “bed” trick, can reinforce the confusion of the two rather than clear it up. So focus on just D alone. Make a poster for it next to the C. Add a few images to the poster, such as a doorknob and a dog, to make it clear that this is D, the letter that says /d/. Again, praise him for using the poster.

There is a chance that while working on D that he will see that B is “not D” and self-correct Bs in his writing as well. If you see that, it’s fine to let him know you noticed and are proud of how he worked that out and thought it through. But focus your praise on getting D correct. When he has had a lot of success with D, finally add a B poster.

More than anything, try to not worry about this problem. It is a very normal issue even with children that are quite advanced.

Please let me know if you have further questions or need more ideas. Also, let me know how things go over the next month or two.

Shubhangi Salvi

says:

very useful infirmation .thanks for shairing

Vida Paustian

says:

My daughter still confuses her b’s and d’s. When reading she will often try both and see which one sounds right. When writing she just puts one down or asks. She used to let it frustrate her but has come started to come to realize that getting her thoughts down is more important and she can always fix it later.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Your daughter’s view on writing is a great one, Vida! It can be frustrating to be unsure which letter to use or how to spell a word, but those are easy fixes. When you are in the middle of a thought, getting it down is the most important thing.

Juliana Dancer

says:

We made a poster with the b/d analogy and after just about a week of checking it, my kindergartener is already reading those letters with significantly more accuracy! Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

That’s great, Juliana! Making such improvement in such a short time likely means the confusion of these letters won’t be that hard to overcome.

Sarah

says:

Thank you for this post. I will be trying the pictures with them. We are already using Montessori sandpaper letters and sand tray so good know we are on the right track. Will add letters in the air.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sarah,
You are definitely on the right track! Also, consider working on just one letter of a confused pair at a time. Sometimes if you work on both b and d on the same day or during the same week, the confusion deepens instead of lessens. But if you focus on just one of them for a while, the child can master that letter, which of course makes knowing the other one easier too.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Perez

says:

I cant wait to implement this in my classroom. Amazing article

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found this helpful, Perez.

Aditi Raina

says:

Very nice and helpful

Maureen McKean

says:

I am working with a 4th grade student without a diagnosis but has significant letter and number reversals. We have tried practicing one letter over and over using multisensory strategies. I can immediately ask him to write a word with that letter we worked on, such as b … and he will reverse it. It seems like he has created motor memory at the word level because he isn’t even thinking about it, even though we just practiced it 100 times. Any suggestions? I will try implementing all four of your suggested strategies.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Maureen,
Keep at it. My coworker Merry had to work on reversals every day for almost all of her daughter’s 4th-grade year before she finally was successful with letter directionality more often than not. I understand it is frustrating, but when reversals become this embedded they take a long while to fix.

Are you working on just one letter at a time? Not just one letter a day, but one letter for a week or more, one letter until he shows improvement with that letter. If you work on b and d back to back, even on different days, it can reinforce the confusion. If he has very many letters he is reversing, you may want to work on two at a time but only do that if they are not a confused pair. Meaning, don’t work on b and d together, but b and f would probably be okay.

Lastly, take a look at this comment from Evelyne. She has a unique approach that really focuses on how the directionality of letters only relates to the student’s own body.

I hope this helps but do let me know how it goes after focusing on just one, maybe two, letters for a few weeks.

Hesha

says:

Thank you so much.. realy it helps me lot

Evangelia Velliou

says:

Very useful

Libby

says:

This might have been the best advice I’ve seen. My 6.5 year old still struggles with reversals and I was running out of ideas to help her. Love how simple and concrete the ideas are. Thanks.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Libby,
I’m pleased that these tips will help you. However, if you need more ideas or help, let me know. I’d also love to hear how things are going after a few weeks.

Terry

says:

My 6 1/2 yo grandlove has problems with the b & d p & q & number reversals. Your 4 suggestions are awesome for the letters, can’t wait to try them. Any suggestions for number reversals? Thank you!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Terry,
The same suggestions that work for letters will work for numbers. The tactile and airwriting tips will help. When doing them, have the child say the number, count to the number, then say the number again. That is, while airwriting a 6 the child would say, “6. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. 6”

You can make up analogies for confused letter pairs too, such as “6 sits, 9 stands up. This is because 9 is the bigger number. It stands to show it is bigger.” If your grandchild has other pairs that are problematic and you need help coming up with analogies, let me know.

You can even use the mouth shape tip a bit. 6 starts with /s/ and you start writing a 6 like the top of an S. 9 starts with the /n/ sound. Like the letter N, 9 has a straight down bottom (as most people handwrite it, but of course this font I’m typing in has a curved tail 9).

I hope this helps. Let me know if you need more ideas for specific numbers or any other ideas.

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