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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.


letter reversals pinterest image
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Ellen Rechtien

says:

Hello All,
I am Level 1 certified with Handwriting Without Tears. The Handwriting Without Tears program teaches children the upper case letters first and then the lower case letters. It is very important to teach lower case letters in a sequential order…. start with the “magic c” letters first… I always refer to them as “magic c” (a,c,d,g,o). The children remember the word “dog”, as the magic c dog, when I place the word “dog” on a picture of a dog. This helps them visualize the letter with a picture/word, as well as putting it in a sentence (Magic C dog likes to dig. or Where is the Magic C dog?)
Since I help children with dysgraphia, I use a technique called, the Writing 8. It was developed by Dr. Getman, an Optometrist, to help children to visualize and use a crossing the midline technique tracing a figure 8 that is on its side. They trace the drawn figure 8 three times with a crayon around the track (large figure 8 on its side drawn with a midline drawn down the middle, put a dot in the middle of the line “parking spot” where they start and end) and then place the letter on the figure 8. This two hemisphere activity really helps when combined with the developmental sequence of sound-symbol instruction. Start at “parking spot”, Trace three times around the track and stop at parking spot, say the word “dog”, say “d” sound “d”, print “d” on 8… Then have child put the word dog in a sentence. Go on to other “d” words and follow the same steps. Really helps!!!!!

Evelyne

says:

I had forgotten about the 8! It is a great technique and I will add it in to my sequence. Presently have a couple of clients with huge OT issues, including midline. My apraxic student does figuer eights and will benefit from adding in the letters. Thank you!

Great additional tips and helps, Ellen. Thank you so much for sharing.

Catherine

says:

I’m going to try the bat/ball & doorknob/door tip with my daughter next–I’ve tried many tips before to no avail. Thanks!

Catherine,
The tips work even better if you put a few of them together, while focusing on one letter at a time. Talking about both letters at the same time can just reinforce the confusion for some kids. You may wish to try working with only B first for a few days or a week, before working with D. Also, try the air writing tip especially. Adding in the movement really helps make a difference for some kids.

Jaime B

says:

My daughter is learning cursive first so they are very different when she writes, but for reading I have been telling her b is “back first, then belly”. When we are consistent with AAR this helps her immensely. I think I need to try the bed and doorknob analogy, as that may giver her better instant recognition.

Jaime,
I hope our analogies help your daughter. If she still struggles with instant recognition, you may consider trying the arm movement tip. It seems silly, but it really works well for some children.

Thank you for sharing. I hope you have a lovely week.

Jeren

says:

I will have to use these tips with my eldest. She is in the middle of level 2 and still confusing “b” and “d”.

Jeren,
The tips work even better if you put a few of them together, while focusing on one letter at a time. Try working with only B first for a few days or a week, before working with D. Also, try the air writing tip especially. Adding in the movement really helps make a difference for some kids.

I hope you help her finally master these troublemakers!

Colleen

says:

Great suggestions. I have tried several with my older kids, but am always glad to have new tricks up my sleeve for the littles.

Marie Rippel

says: Customer Service

When you’re a homeschooling mom, it’s always a good thing to have tips and tricks tucked up your sleeve. :)

Shelly Hunter

says:

This is SO helpful! My twin girls, now 8, have begun (both at the same time!) reversing the same numbers and letters on the last year when they had not previously done it consistently before. We use and LOVE AAR and AAS and they do a good job with this. It just shows up in their writing. Thank you for the tips!!! I will definitely be trying these!

We’re glad would could be helpful, Shelly!

Melissa Terhorst

says:

hoping to order for 4 kids at the HS convention coming up!

Melissa,
Unfortunately we won’t be at a homeschool convention this year. You might see if Rainbow Resource Center will be, as they carry our materials. They tell us that they sell out of it at most conventions, however, so you may want to plan to get by their booth early.

Another option, although I know it’s not the same as seeing things in person, is to check out our online samples. You can go to the product pages on our website to find links for samples of each product. Here are a couple to get you started:

Here are samples and scope and sequence links for All About Spelling Levels 1-7
http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/spelling-lesson-samples

Here are the All About Reading samples and scope and sequence links for the various levels of the All About Reading program. http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/reading-lesson-samples/

Also, we do have a 1-year, 100% satisfaction guarantee when you order from our website. If you decide to try one of our products and it just doesn’t work for you and your children, you are free to return the product (even used), for a refund of your purchase price.

Thanks for your interest!

Deann

says:

This is very helpful!

Abigail W

says:

My oldest is still young (rising kindergartner), but I’d like to make the letter confusion as painless as possible. These are some great strategies, especially the tactile approach. I think he’ll really enjoy that one. Thank you so much!

Abigail,
Have you seen our instructions for making a fabric alphabet? If you chose fabrics for their tactile feel (instead of color or pattern) it would great for this. http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/make-your-own-fabric-alphabet/

Thank you for posting.

Melissa

says:

Love the visuals of the bat and doorknob! Will definitely be using those.

Jenni Earleywine

says:

Thank you. That is very helpful!

Rena

says:

Wow! Very helpful info!

Angela Vasquez

says:

Good strategies!

Nancy Barth

says:

I like these tips and how simple they are.

Rachel Hightshue

says:

These strategies really helped my son! Thanks! Love this program!

Nikki B

says:

I learned about the bat/ball, doorknob/door from your website about a month ago and I love it! I’ve been using it with my son. I’m also now going to teach him the say “b” straight line/say “d” open mouth one. Great ideas, thank you so much!

Marie Rippel

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Nikki! I’m thankful that these tips have been helpful for you.

Kim S.

says:

These are great strategies!! Thanks!

Amber Rex

says:

These are really great ideas. I’m def going to give them a shot with my kids! :)

Lindsey Rowland

says:

I love method #3! Theses are great ideas!

Amy

says:

Thank you for this! Letter reversal is a huge struggle for one of my kiddos.

Amy,
You are welcome. It is a rather common problem for children to have too.

Autumn Jones

says:

Using the “bed” analogy worked great for my kids!

Amelia Wright

says:

These are helpful tips. Thank you!

Natasha

says:

Some helpful tips, thank you! The best thing I have done with my children who are learning to read is teach them the American Sign Language alphabet. That has helped correct and prevent letter reversals and also is a great help when sounding out words.

Natasha,
Another benefit of learning the ASL alphabet is the ability to pass a message across a noisy room without having to shout, or to pass one in a silent room without drawing attention. It’s come in handy a few times for me :D.

Thank you for sharing this great idea.

rachel

says:

So grateful for all of your help; my little gal is just starting to get the hang of this and she really likes the “bed” trick with her fingers! Thanks!

Amanda

says:

My oldest struggled with this throughout kindergarten and we were finally able to correct it this past year! Good tips!

Abigail Carpenter

says:

I have been struggling in this area with my kids and I am so glad I read this post. Looking forward to trying these tips.

Abigail,
I’m glad you found this post timely!

jennifer mathesz

says:

thx for the tips. my son knew them right but then recently started reversing them.

Jennifer,
Sometimes when kids are transitioning from a more beginning level of reading to a more advanced one, little errors like this pop up that weren’t there before. They often correct themselves in a few weeks, as they learn to juggle all the parts of reading. Since he hasn’t had a problem with this before, I would try just gently correcting him for a while and see if the problem fixes itself.

Amy Combs

says:

So helpful! My youngest has struggled with the b/d issue, while my older two had no problems with it! This was very helpful for dealing with it!

Crystal

says:

this has been so helpful to my grade 2. Those b’s and d’s have given him such trouble and he could not wrap his head around the idea of them as a bed to help him remember (that was how I was taught). As soon as I introduced b as a bat and d as a dog (again he found the doorknob confusing) he is off and running. For d we say, first you pet the dog, then it wags its tail. When he reads them backwards all I have to ask, is do you pet the dog or grab the bat first? And he quickly self corrects. Such an improvement after struggling with them for over a year. Thank you!

Crystal,
This is GREAT! I love the “pet the dog” especially. Thank you for sharing.

Judith Martinez

says:

These are great! I am familiar with the bed tip and the lips tip but neither one has been helpful to my daughter. I will try the bat/ball doorknob ideas next.

Judith,
The tips work even better if you put a few of them together, while focusing on one letter at a time. Try working with only B first for a few days or a week, before working with D. Also, try the air writing tip especially. Adding in the movement really helps make a difference for some kids.

Thank you for commenting. I hope you have a lovely week.

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