b d p and q confusion

Sharing is caring!

Do you know a child who confuses b, d, p, and q?

b and d reversals and confusion with p and q is a common occurrence in primary grades. During my teaching career, I discovered that systematic phonics programs like Jolly Phonics were the most effective tool for helping kids to connect the sound to the letter, or letters, that make the sound. See it. Say it. Print it. I also used various analogies, mnemonics, practice, and frequent reviews to help kids learn.  All children are different… and what works for one student may not be effective with another. Reading is complicated!

Why is this such a common occurrence?    

Reading in the Brain

Often by grade one, the kids usually ‘get it”.  Stanislaus Dehaene, the author of ‘Reading in the Brain,says that our brains weren’t built for reading.  The part of our brain that we use for reading was originally wired with object permanence.  We use that part of our brain to recognize and name faces, animals, and objects.  No matter which way a chair is flipped or turned… it is still a chair!  

A chair has object permanance.

b d p q Confusion

In preschool and kindergarten, children are introduced to symbols.  Not all symbols have object permanence!  Numbers like 9 and 6 and some Alphabetic Symbols (e.g., b, d, p, q) can be flipped and turned to take on different meanings or sounds! Some of the letters look almost the same! (e.g., m, w, h, r, n)  Children learn to attach a letter sound to an alphabetic symbol. The young child has to unlearn mirror images!

If your child is between the ages of 3 and 7… and is just starting to read, making occasional letter reversals is not uncommon. It does not mean that your child has a reading disability or dyslexia. It’s also important to note that according to Sally Shaywitz, MD (Overcoming Dyslexia), it is a misconception that all dyslexic children see letters and words backward or that reversals (writing letters and words backward) are a sign of dyslexia. Many dyslexic children who do not make reversals, or “see’ words backward are often undiagnosed.

reading in the brain and overcoming dyslexia ... great books!

As a teacher of systematic phonics, we practice letters and sounds together.  We work with manipulatives and printed letters as the sound is spoken out loud.  Daily practice is important. Review is necessary. Assessment is a must!  Some students may need some extra practice. The children learn to print using explicit printing directions to avoid stick and stone letters… or b’s that look like a 6.

Learning the difference between letters like b, d, p, and q helps with activities like Learning to Read Sight Words. or simple decoding of words that use the sounds that have been taught.

Helpful Tips


Teachers are creative! Over the years, many known tricks and visuals have been created to provide a memory trigger. Various charts and tricks are presented in the early years.   Children have different learning styles and, in turn, respond differently to each multi-sensory tool.  b and d confusion – Tips and Tricks and p and q Confusion – Tips and Tricks provide additional ideas.

b d p q confusion tips and tricks

One Letter at a Time

It’s best to introduce one letter at a time, for example, Jolly Phonics introduces p in the first group, then b, d, and q.  It is also important to note that the sound /qu/ is a digraph. Letter ‘q’ teams up with ‘u’ for most words.   Exceptions include words like q-tip.  In systematic phonics programs kids, “See it. Say it. Print it.”  They repeat the letter sound as they connect the sound to the letter, or letters, that make that sound.

Explicit Printing Directions

Follow explicit printing directions to avoid stick and stone letters. Start from the top of the letter, except for e and z. The pencil begins to write the letter and stays on the page until the letter is complete (except letters like f  t, i, j). Aim for correct letter/ number formation. Using analogies like:  “First a bat, and then a ball.”  for b, or “First the doorknob, then the door.” for d … can be helpful.  Trace the letters. Say the sound!

b, d, p, and q reversals can be a huge embarrassment for an older student who is still having trouble in grade 2… or a child in the junior grades. A friend, Victoria Carlton, (http://victoriacarlton.com.au/) shared an article on one of the best tactics for correcting b/d confusion, Reversals posted in Dyslexia Resources and Lesson Ideas. Trace the letter and say the sound 5 times. Print the letter and say the sound 5 times. “DO make this about a combination of writing, seeing, saying, and hearing all at the same time. Associate writing the letter correctly with saying the sound clearly.”

Air Writing Helps with b d p and q Confusion

The teacher says the letter and writes it in the air. (If you face the student, remember to print the letter backward so that the students follow the correct formation.)   The teacher might say /p/, /p/, /p/ as she writes a ‘p’ in the air.  

She might say, “Let’s make a /b/.  Start at the top.  /b/ … .” It is important to repeat the letter sound as the letter is formed to bond the letter sound and the letter formation.

Extensions: Add to this multi-sensory approach.  Ask the children to trace the letter on the back of a partner or the palm of their hand. Use a wet paintbrush and “paint” the disappearing letter on the driveway or chalkboard.  Remember to repeat the letter sound to connect it to the letter formation.  

A young boy air writing to learn about b and d..

b d p q letters

  • Print the letter b on a piece of paper. Optional: Cut it out.
  • Play with the letters. Talk about how you can flip and turn the letter b … and it becomes a new letter!  
  • Print two copies of each letter in black and white… match the letters. Hold up a letter and ask the kids to say the sound.
b d p q confusion - how a symbol can be flipped and turned.

Use A Tactile Surface

Try using a tactile letter.  Create letters like p, d, b, q, r, n, h using sandpaper, corrugated paper, fur, feathers, glitter, etc.  Use a different surface for each letter.  Follow explicit printing instructions and tract the letter. Say the letter name as you feel it!

Notice the shape of your mouth as you say each letter.

  • 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.
  • When we say /d/, our lips are open. Coincidentally, the circle comes first when you write the letter d.
  • When we say /p/, it’s a lip popper! Your mouth forms a straight line and then you pop it open. Point out that the straight line begins a /p/.
  • When we say /qu/, it’s a digraph! Our lips are open to begin the sound. The printed sound /qu/ begins with the creation of a circle.

Other letters that kids confuse might be m and w, i and l, n and u, or groups like h, n, and r.

Have you discovered a helpful strategy for dealing with letter reversal issues? Please share in the comments below.

b d p and q reversals

Have a great day!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *