Mastering the b and d Confusion

Mastering the b and d Confusion

Confusing the letters b and d is a common issue for many learners.  

Whether it is mixing up b’s and d’s in reading or writing, or both, as parents and educators, it is important to address this early.

Recognising the letters (and their individual sounds) is vital to reading and being able to correctly form (handwrite) the letters is essential when writing.  Being able to automatically and correctly recognise and write the letters b and d has a direct impact on a child’s literacy.

We detail what strategies we use to help learners master their b’s and d’s in our tutoring centre.

The Why:

Learning how to recognise and write the letters b and d correctly (and automatically) is important because:

  • It helps free up the working memory so it can concentrate on other matters (such as blending for reading, spelling and concentrating on the content of what is being read or written)
  • It ensures what we are writing is legible, and that we can communicate effectively
  • It reduces the physical stress if we write letters correctly and efficiently, and supports the ease of writing (so we can write without tiring too easily)
  • It reduces frustration and increases confidence and enjoyment of reading and writing

The How:

Many of the learners in our specialist tutoring centre have significant learning difficulties.  And we know that they require more explicit instruction and practice to achieve mastery. 

When it comes to teaching, or correcting, recognising & writing the letters b and d, these are the strategies we have found to be the most helpful:

  • Teach and focus on one letter at a time to mastery.  We always focus our attention on the letter b first.  In our pack of alphabet cards, we have extra letter b’s for extra practice.
    Ants in the Apple Alphabet Cards on a tables

  • Connect the making (production) of the sound for the letter b with the writing of the letter b.
    a child sounding out a b in starfish tutoring

    • Use a mirror to help children see what their mouth is doing when they make the sound of a letter b.  This strategy can help learners when reading or writing a b.   When reading a letter b, because the letter starts with the line that is the hint to put your lips into a line, which is the prompt to make the /b/ sound. When needing to write a b, we can feel our lips in the straight line (when we are forming the sound say in big), and that is the hint to start the letter with a line.

    • Two other helpful prompts we often use are:
      Bat before the ball  “bat before the ball is a b”. hand gesture for the letter b  Hand gestures.

    • Find the letter b’s activities. With this worksheet, you can ask your child to put a circle around all the letter b’s OR for a more challenging activity ask them to say the letter sounds out loud.
      Find the letter b’s activities worksheet   

    • Connect letters with similar movement patterns together.  For the letter d, the lead letter is a “c”.

    • Give plenty of practice opportunities by incorporating variety and using different sensory approaches such as magnetic tracing letters, sand trays, sandpaper/textured letters and playdough.
      Magnatab a to z - Lower Case imageviga magnetic trace lower casekid art dough - lower case letterssmart kids sandpaper letters - lower case

    • Use effective teaching strategies, that we know are critical for those with significant learning difficulties:
    1. Teach & model
    2. Give plenty of practice
    3. Provide immediate feedback (in the moment)
    4. Always follow up and revisit with more practice in later sessions

        What to do now?

        For many learners, b and d confusion can be challenging.  But it is possible with effective teaching, to overcome this obstacle, and develop strong reading and writing skills.

        School Fonts is an excellent website that has all the fonts used by each state/territory.

        You can also find excellent resources online through each of the state or territory’s respective Department of Education website (search Handwriting syllabus).  The  NSW Department of Education have a handy resource that includes a copy of NSW Foundation Style guide and tips for handwriting.

        We would love to hear your experiences with students or with your own children.

        What have you found helpful?

        What problems do you encounter?

        Remember to save this post for future reference, and share with your teacher and parent friends. By sharing you truly help us grow. So, thank you.

        Kirstie and the Starfish team.



        Kirstie Wishart M.Ed (Special Education).
        Owner and founder of The Starfish Store. Kirstie’s professional life has included: teaching (in both public and private schools in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand), lecturer and subject coordinator at the University of Wollongong, Educational consultant (working with children and young people with a trauma background), OoHC Case Work Manager, and Specialist Tutor (working with children and young people with significant learning difficulties and/or disabilities).

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