Tips and Tricks for Correcting b/d Reversals

alphabet tiles with b and d written in brush strokes

B/d letter reversals, while common in Grades K and 1, tend be a bit more of a concern as students move beyond first grade. It is ALWAYS preferred to remediate letter formation issues as early as possible before bad habits set in. Read on to discover some handy tips and tricks for correcting b/d reversals.

Why do so many students struggle with the letters b and d?

A picture with a table in different positions illustrating why reversals are common with emergent and struggling readers.

This visual illustrates better than I could ever explain why b-d-p-q are so difficult for some people to remember. This is why correcting b/d reversals is so difficult, but so necessary.

Tip #1: Start Early and Practice Often

Letter formation practice is not a ‘one and done’ deal. Young learners benefit from REPEATED practice. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, “Letter formation must become part of the student’s muscle memory so there is one less thing to think about when writing.”

Tip #2: Begin with Gross Motor or Large Muscle Practice

Gross motor skills form the basis for fine motor skills like writing. With plenty of repeated practice of letter formation using large muscle groups, proper letter formation is stored in long-term memory.

Here’s a quick article from Understood.org about the importance of developing gross motor skills.

Tip #3: Incorporate a Multisensory Approach to Letter Formation

One way to do this is to create a verbal pathway of letter formation. That simply means as you model the writing of a letter, you say HOW you are writing the letter. For instance, when writing the letter “d,” talk about (and show) how it starts at the Plane Line just like a “c”. We explicitly teach the verbal pathways from Fundations. The verbal pathway for the letter “d” is as follows:

“‘d’ is a plane line round letter. It starts on the plane line just like the letter ‘c’. Point to the plane line. Go back down and around to the grass line. All the way up to the skyline. Trace back down to the grass line.”

Sometimes as some of our little friends are writing, we hear them say c….d as they form the “d” which is a total win in our book.

The Fundations verbal pathway for the letter ‘b’ is as follows:

“‘b’ is a skyline letter. It starts on the skyline. Point to the skyline, go down to the grassline. Trace up to the plane line. Around to the grass line.”

When working with verbal pathways, continue to incorporate gross motor modality with the Sky Writing technique. Sky Writing is also a technique from Fundations. Display a large writing grid on the wall or white board. Students stand and hold out the arm that they use to write with and point their pointer finger. Students support the elbow of the extended arm with their other hand. No floppy arms! Students form the letter in the air while stating the verbal pathway of that specific letter.

Tip #4: Involve the Sense of Feel

Using materials such as sand, shaving cream, mesh screens, sandpaper can provide another layer to the multisensory approach to proper letter formation. A word of caution however, this is not an independent activity. Leaving children on their own to write letters (no matter how fun or goopy the activity) is never a good idea for those who struggle with proper letter formation. Letter formation must be monitored and corrective, immediate feedback must be provided. Otherwise, you run the risk of students practicing incorrect letter formation.

Tip # 5: Raise Awareness of the Feel of the Letter Sound in the Mouth

This particular trick was a game changer for a second grade student with whom I (Wendy) work. She just couldn’t remember b/d no matter how much practice she had. So, I had her begin to say the sound for for the letter ‘b’ and notice the position for her mouth while looking in a mirror. Her lips were closed in a straight line. I showed her that the letter b starts with a straight line. Then we did the same for the letter ‘d’. As she said the sound for ‘d’, she looked in the mirror and noticed that her mouth was in an open position and was slightly rounded. I showed her that the letter ‘d’ starts with a rounded line.

In her work area, I posted a picture of mouth position and the matching letter next to it. As she read and wrote words with the letters ‘b’ and ‘d’ I encouraged her to notice her mouth and/or refer to the poster. I’m happy to report that b/d reversals have all but disappeared!

Tip #6: Use a Less Obtrusive Method for Older Students

Older students may be embarrassed that they still have trouble with b/d reversals. They need multisensory methods that are less obvious. This next trick can be used by students by holding their hands under the desk or work space. Believe it or not, I was taught this trick by a college student who had dyslexia. She continues to use it to this day.

picture of double thumbs up. The left hand forms the "b" and the right hand forms the "d".

The “bed” trick (give yourself two thumbs up and think “bed”-Your left hand forms the “b” and your right hand forms the “d”. As the student says the word “bed”, they wiggle their left thumb for /b/. Then they wiggle their right thumb as they say the /d/ sound in bed. Adding the multisensory component of wiggling the thumb can be helpful in cementing their understanding and committing it to memory.

Eventually, simply wiggling the thumb may be enough to help the student remember the appropriate letter.

Tip #7: Use What Works for the Individual and Stick with It!

Variety isn’t always the spice of life when it comes to encouraging students’ use of strategies. When your student finds a b/d strategy that works, encourage that student to stick with it and use it. Whether it is whispering the verbal pathway, feeling the letter formation in their mouth, or making a bed with their hands, what works for one student may not work for another.

Tip #8: Never Blame the Student

We know you know this, but it bears repeating. Correcting b/d reversals may be a lifelong journey for some students (as noted by the college student with dyslexia). We often share her story with our students in an effort to help them feel less discouraged. We also like to tell this story because it can help alleviate embarrassment regarding the need to use strategies. Some students, particularly older students, can feel reluctant to incorporate strategies because they may feel that it’s too babyish. When we talk about the college student who still needs to wiggle her thumbs to remember whether the letter is a ‘b’ or ‘d’, these students respond positively.

We hope that you’ve found some useful ideas in this blog post. Feel free to drop us a comment about a trick or tip you use for correcting b/d reversals with your students.


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