Correcting b/d Reversals in Oral Reading – Strategies that Work

Of all the letter reversal problems, b/d is undoubtedly the most prevalent and frustrating – teachers and parents encounter it on a daily basis.  Our young children are typically strong visual/concrete learners – it’s no wonder these ever-so-similar looking abstract squiggles confuse them.   Follow these steps to eliminate this confusion in oral reading situations:

  1. Provide a visual/concrete connection that will help children recognize the unique differences between the two letters.  In Itchy’s Alphabet, we use picture cues in the shape of letters to form this connection.  As illustrated, for /d/  we link the letter to a picture of a dog with a tail and for /b/  we  link the letter to a bat and a ball.   (avoid using the picture cue of drum/drumstick – the /dr/ blend is difficult for children to enunciate – they typically say /jr/ and therefore will not get the correct sound to link to the letter)
  2. Train children to identify which part of the letter they see first.  If children look at the whole letter, it will flip-flop on them and they’ll mix them up.  As the eyes move from left to right, they see first the bat or first the dog’s body. 
  3. Practice this skill repeatedly.   Print the letters ‘b’ and  ‘d’ in random order on a paper.  Tracking with their finger, have children identify the part their eyes come to first on each letter – bat (the straight line) or dog (the circular line).  They need to be able to do this quickly, accurately and consistently.  (I’ve seen some teachers do this as a group activity, using an overhead projector or SMARTboard.)
  4. Transfer this skill to the letter sounds.  Once the children master step 3, they do this part in their head and then link the /b/ sound to bat and /d/ to dog.   Drill to mastery using printed lines of ‘b’ and  ‘d’  – tracking with their finger helps focus the eye on the first part of the letter.

Why do these strategies work? 

There are many ‘tricks’ around to help children with /b/ and /d/ – the bed; making a fist with thumbs up; forming a circle with the thumb and index finger, other fingers pointing up; visual cards on the wall or student desk, etc.  All of these require the children to lift their eyes from the page they are working on in order to identify the cue.   If they are reading a page of text and come across a /b/ or /d/, they must:

  • transfer that abstract visual image into their short term memory
  • lift their eyes from the page to look at the ‘trick’ they use
  • link to the image they have stored in  memory
  • identify the appropriate sound
  • return to the page they are reading and find where they were
  • attach the sound to the letter they were stuck on

Given the fact that most of these children have difficulty retaining information in their short term memory, they will often end up guessing by the time they complete this process and get back to the task of reading.

There is no guess work when using picture cues in the shape of the letters.  The trick is built right into the letter so children do not have to take their eyes off the page.  They  look at the letter, identify what they see first (bat or dog), identify the sound and keep on reading.  Very simple and hugely effective!

Homeschool Mom, Ruthanna, reports:

“I have been amazed how much your system has helped my six year old already.  He is doing much better with b and d.”

Download Blackline Master 6 – Itchy’s Alphabet d – b – p Reversal Package today and watch your students master this problem once and for all.