• Private Schools and Learning Centers
  • Phonics Blog

Teaching the Difference Between “b” and “d”

My son is just finishing 5th grade, and I’ve noticed that he is still getting lowercase b’s and d’s mixed up. He recently wrote a paper and every b was a d, including the one in his last name. I’m concerned that he may have dyslexia. Is there a “test” I can give him, or should I just “let him grow out of it” as the school suggests? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Many children mix up b’s and d’s—in fact, it’s so common that teachers hardly mention it to parents up until about 3rd grade. But after that, it might be an indication that there are other things going on, and since you mentioned that he has just finished 5th grade and misspelled his own last name, that would be a yellow flag indicator in my book. If he hasn’t “outgrown” it by this age, I would be concerned.

I would start with a lengthy interview with his teacher—asking questions like, “Are there other things that he is consistently doing backwards or getting mixed up on,” “How does he do with numbers—does he mix up 2 and 5,” “Was there a time that he could correctly identify b’s and d’s and now he has somehow regressed” and “Are there any other indicators in a school setting that should be of concern?”

Questions like this will help you establish his comfort level with school, his teacher, his associates, etc. and may lead to some answers for you. I would also be visiting with a pediatrician to have his ears and eyes checked out. Express your concerns with him/her and the things that you learned from his teacher. Your pediatrician might be able to help you identify some resources for further investigation.

Confusing b’s & d’s is not in and of itself an indication of anything serious, and it could be just that–confusion with those two letters, but because of his age and his confusion with something as familiar as his own last name, it could be and is certainly worth checking out. Last month I wrote an article about b’s and d’s and if his confusion is just between those two letters, this article may be of help to you. Good luck.

Teaching the Difference Between b & d

I’m often asked what is the best way to teach the difference between the letters b & d. Obviously, uppercase B & D aren’t much of an identification problem, but lowercase b & d can be a bit tricky for beginning readers to identify. It’s quite common for children under 8 to have letter and number reversals, so I see it quite bit.

When we learn to read and write in English, we learn that we start on the left side and progress to the right. We learn that our point of reference is left-to-right progression. If we were learning Chinese, our point of reference would be top to bottom, and many other languages have different starting places, or points of reference to begin with. In any language, it’s a matter of learning that point of reference and then we know where to begin.

Learning to distinguish between the letters b & d is a matter of teaching which letter has which point of reference. In my class, I teach that “b” has a tummy because it pokes out in front of the long line down (as we read left to right) and that “d” has a back because it’s riding behind the long line down–it’s simply a matter of getting them to recognize a set point of reference-b goes this way, always, and d goes that way, always. Every year in my class I have a few 4 & 5-year-olds who have difficulty with this concept. They can differentiate between them when they are separate, but often struggle when they are seen together–or sometimes just the opposite.

Once I teach the correct point of reference for each letter, then it’s a matter of showing examples, exposure, and using repetition to reinforce that letter’s point of reference. I play lots of recognition games and show them examples of the two letters together and the two separately. One of my favorite games is sticking b’s & d’s all over my classroom with post-it notes and then giving my student a sticker or some small reward every time he/she identifies one of the letters correctly.

Helping them associate the “b” with something like ball, and “d” with dinosaur is a good idea. Association is always a good way to help us remember. The “b” carries his ball in front, and the “d” carries his dinosaur on his back–association games like this are very helpful.

Another great b & d game is to get several pictures of b words; bear, bug, ball, etc. and several pictures of d words; dog, duck, dinosaur. Place each picture on the end of a Popsicle stick. Take two paper cups and write a “b” on one and a “d” on the other. The object of the game is to place the correct picture in the correct cup. To make it a “self-check” game, write the correct letter on the back of the picture/Popsicle stick so that after they have taken their best guess, they can double check and see if they got it right.

You can make a poster or card to that says “b sees d” (I like to put little smiley faces with eyes in each of the letters’ circles so that b is looking at the d. Again, just a way of reinforcing each letters’ point of reference. Learning and remembering which way b and d face can be a bit challenging for beginning readers, but with a little creativity, practice, and patience-students can master the point of reference for each letter and have fun while they’re learning.

Be Sociable, Share!
Find a Learning Center in Your Area
Visit our Blog