812

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

Melanie

says:

THANK YOU!! My son has struggled with b and d for years! Mostly in writing, on rare occasions when reading. I will definitely be trying these with him. He’s a visual learner so I think the bat and ball vs door and knob technique might just do the trick.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melanie,
Please don’t overlook the air writing and tactile letters! While the visual clues may seem more helpful, with long-term stubborn reversals they tend to be less effective. The bat/ball and door/knob tips tend to help more with students that are new to reading or spelling. When reversals have been sticking around for years they are harder to fix.

First, be aware that stubborn long-term reversals will take time to correct. Expect to spend a few minutes (separate from reading and spelling time) each school day working on confused letters and it could take weeks or months before the confusion disappears completely.

Secondly, work on only one of the confused letters at a time. Often working on both b and d on the same day can make confusion worse, not better. It doesn’t really matter which you start with. Then work on that letter only each day until you start to see some improvement with it. It may well over a week, maybe even weeks.

When you work on the letter each day, go through all the tips here. The air writing and tactile letter tracing may seem silly or not relevant, but they are really helpful and worthwhile.

Here is another activity to do, sent to us from a teacher that works with struggling learners:

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 child in front of you, facing the b. Have him 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 his body. B always faces that side of him. 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. Tell him, “This is your b side. Do you have a b foot? Hop on it.” Bring up his b hand, arm, ear, side, leg, etc. throughout the day.

I hope this helps. I would be very interested in hearing how things go over the next month or so. Stubborn, long-term reversals can be a bear to overcome, but you can do it!

Reeza Rangoonwala

says:

All the above methods work really well.. however I aalso use the salt box technique with my students..it sends solid messages to the brain thru the index finger..

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yes, great suggestion, Reeze! We like writing in salt as well, and even have ideas for making it colorful and pleasant smelling, 10 Salt Trays for Fun Writing Practice.

Amanda Charters

says:

The link for the e-book is not allowing me to download.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry about that, Amanda! Try signing up for the How to Solve Reversals ebook from this page.

Esther

says:

Does it matter which of the confused pair to try first? One of my daughters is currently struggling with b and d, mostly in reading lessons. She is left-handed, so at first, I was thinking she might be having a bit more difficulty than my other children because of that. But it seems to be getting more confusing for her with time. Her name has a b in it. Most of the time, she can write her name correctly, either by memory or referencing something with it done correctly. Nowadays, she will give up on the whole word in reading lessons if she sees one of those two letters. I have been telling her, “It’s the one (not) in your name,” but since the problem seems to be increasing, I don’t want to continue that. However, do you recommend I start the above activities with the b since it’s in her name, or is it better to start with d? Or does it not matter? Thanks so much!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Esther,
No, it does not matter which of a confused pair you focus on first. However, when a child is having trouble with a pair of letters that has been ongoing or worsening, it is important to work with only ONE of the confused letters at a time. Practicing both letters the same day or even the same week can actually increase confusion instead of minimizing it.

So work on b for a while. Be sure to do the tactile letter and air writing activities as well, even if they seem a bit silly, as they can be the most effective for students that have been struggling with reversals for a while. Hang a b letter sheet in your school area so your daughter can refer to it as much as she needs to remember the direction of b.

Here is an additional activity you can do that was recommended to us by a tutor that works with struggling students. Prepare a transparent sheet of plastic such as a binder sheet protector or see-through placement and print a large b on it. Stand your daughter in front of you, facing the b. Have her 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 her body. B always faces that side of her. She 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 her hand, or whatever. Tell her, “This is your b side. Do you have a b foot? Hop on it.” Bring up her b hand, arm, ear, side, leg, etc. throughout the day.

Each day review her see-through b sheet and her 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 an improvement with her reversal issues with reading after just working on b, however.

claudia

says:

Awesome ideas!! Thanks for sharing

Puna

says:

This sounds helpful though my son is now 9 years and no one wants to give the diagnosis of dyslexia….please send more materials

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Puna,
You will find the articles, Dyslexia Symptoms Checklist, and free reports on our Dyslexia Resources page helpful.

Nirmay

says:

Need Help For cursive writing and solve letter reversal problems

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Nirmay,
You will find great tips and ideas for solving letter reversals in this blog post and in the downloadable How to Solve Letter Reversals ebook.

I’m sorry, but we don’t have any resources for teaching handwriting, print or cursive. We are focused on teaching reading and spelling.

Lascelles

says:

Useful and enlightening

Tembisa Jack

says:

This information is very helpful. Thank you so much.

Randi Timmons

says:

Would this also work with backwards 3’s or 6’s?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Randi,
Yes! The tips and techniques outlined here will work with any reversals.

An additional tip is just to write a 3 and a 6 at the top of the child’s page, so he or she can refer to it as much as needed to get the direction right. In time, the child can write it on top of the page themselves, and then they won’t need it anymore.

Deborah L.

says:

Thanks for sharing!

Rosanne

says:

Thanks much appreciated want to ask my child is left handed he gets confused he wants to write
From left to right even with maths he will say 29 but writes 92 or he will write p instead of 9
What can i do to help him and to correct this problem he is turning 8 in June

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Rosanne,
One thing is to put a sticker or write a star on the upper left corner of his page and then draw an arrow going toward the right. Tell him it is there to remind him that all letters and numbers need to begin on this side of the page and move toward the other side. In time, he could place the sticker or write the star and draw the arrow himself, and then transition to not needing it at all.

You could also have the alphabet and the numbers printed on a sheet that he can lay in front of him as he writes. I recommend the Comic Sans font, as it is most similar to how most children form letters and numbers. He can use the sheet to look at the direction of each letter and number before writing it. In time he will learn the directionality without looking, but he obviously needs help now.

You can also discuss that in English we always start at the left and move to the right. Which hand is his left? Yep, the hand he uses his pencils with (avoid saying the hand he writes with, as “write” may confuse him with “right”). All letters and numbers need to start from that hand and move toward the other hand. Tell him to remember that he starts a letter with his left hand but it needs to move toward the other hand. If he doesn’t move them toward the other hand, the words and numbers will get away from him! He needs to “catch” them between his hands!

Letters and numbers are the first thing in life that children are exposed to where directionality matters. A chair is a chair whether it is facing right, left, or even if it is upside down! Infants and young children experience the world needing to understand that moving an object does not change the object. And then we suddenly throw letters and numbers at them and suddenly directionality matters so much! If a b has the round part to the right, it is /b/, but if we move the round part to the left, it is /d/, a completely different letter. It really is a wonder that more children don’t have difficulties with reversals.

The tips outlined here apply to all reversals, not just b and d. Especially do the tactile letters (or numbers) and the airwriting. These may seem silly, but they are very effective. Work on reversals for 5 or so minutes daily, at a time separate from reading and math lessons.

Also, work on just one of a pair of confused letters or numbers at a time. Working on both 9 and p together can actually make the confusion worse. So work on only 9 for a few minutes a day for a week or more before practicing p. Have him say, “Nine. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Nine.” as he airwrites it and as he traces the tactile number. Daily have him verbalize the direction we write in English (from his pencil hand toward the other hand). Daily have him point out what side of his paper he should start a letter or number.

I hope this helps give you ideas on how to help your child with this. Work on it daily, but give it time. I’d love to hear how it goes!

Dawn

says:

Thank-You for this although I’ve read it several times and explained and taught the b and d to my 6yr old many times she still mixes these two letters up. So I’m going to try the air writing and graphics to see how that goes.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

One other tip, Dawn. Work on ONE of the letters at a time, focusing on it for a week or more until you see improvement in confusing that letter less often. Often when a student has been confusing a pair of letters for a while, reviewing them together, even with all the great tips and such from this blog post, can make the confusion worse. If a student has been confusing a pair of letters for a while, focusing on just one at time is needed to remove the confusion.

maria rivera

says:

Thanks

Reeza

says:

This is so good.. thank you for your amazing analysis

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Reeza.

Reeza Asghar

says:

Im trying to erase spelling mistakes through reversals in my studen. example “siut” instead of suit, instead of writing throwing , she writes ” thowring”.
her b and d issues are much improved.
please help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Reeza,
The examples you gave aren’t actually letter reversals. The term “letter reversal” means writing a letter backward or confusing one letter for another. For example, when a child writes bone when they mean done or writes qint when they mean pint.

Your examples show me your student is trying to spell from memory. She knows that the word suit has a U and an I in it, but she doesn’t remember the order. She knows that throwing has an R in it, but doesn’t remember where. Start working with her on this by teaching her to segment words into each sound. Our blog post Segmenting: A Critical Skill for Spelling details how to do this. When she breaks throwing down to its individual sounds (/th/-/r/-/ō/-/i/-/ng/), she will hear exactly where the R belongs.

Also, she needs to learn the phonograms in English, so that she knows that IU is not a phonogram and is never used, but UI is a phonogram that says the /ōō/ sound. Our How to Teach Phonograms blog post will show you the 72 basic phonograms, what sounds each makes, how to teach them, and games to play for practice.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have additional questions or need anything else.

Ligiya. M. A

says:

Very effective ?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you! Glad to hear this has been effective for you.

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.

Leave a Comment