Help with confusion teaching the alphabet

teaching letters b and d
31 Jan SAV 2 Comments

 An Iranian teacher asked me for help teaching the alphabet. He said his preschool children had difficulty recognizing b and d, and other letters. This confusion is not reserved for Iranian students, all preschool children have to get to grips with these letters, even native speakers.


To solve the confusion pupils need lots of exposure to the letters in different ways. Using a combination of approaches appeals to different learning styles and you'll get to your goal faster than only using copy and trace worksheets. You need pictures, sounds, crafts, association, games, movement and above all, lots of repetition. Here are some ideas for the letters b and d.



Draw the letter b on the board and put your hand in front, making the "thumbs up" sign, in the shape of the letter. Draw several large letter bs and have students come up and make the thumbs up shape, in front of the letter too. Remember that a mirror image will be confusing. If you make the thumbs up with your left hand it will be a b to you, looking at the palm, and a d to the class, looking at the back of your hand. So be consistent throughout. Repeat this with the letter d, using thumbs up with the right hand.


This idea will work with some children and not with others. In addition, very young children do not know left and right. Therefore use a variety of approaches, and lots of repetition. For example:



Through crafts, turn the letters into real shapes that children can create, feel and look at.  Decide if you are doing upper or lower case, and if you are doing lower case then all crafts should be in that case.

Have each child cut out a big letter b and a big letter d from a packet of cornflakes or thin card. Colour or decorate the letters. Use association so your b letter could be black and yellow stripes for bee. The d letter could be decorated, d for door, (brown), d for dog (brown wool), d for duck (feathers). If you look online for crafts for letters you will find lots of ideas from simple to complex to fit in with your facilities.



Collect plastic bottle tops and write a letter on each one, in indelible marker pen. Make a chart with the letters written. Children match the bottle tops to the letters on your chart. Once you have these bottle tops use them for sorting games, hide and seek games, run and fetch, aim and throw the letter in a pan, stacking a tower, passing games, musical games, and so on. See my preschool games book for LOTS of fun ideas. All this play with the letters will lead to excellent recognition, and from there you can move to the writing phase. 

 (This picture is from She has some other cool ideas with bottle tops.)



Show the child how to write it - take the child's hand and draw a large b with him or her, so he/she feels how you create the letter. DOWN the post and ROUND the ball. Give children a sheet with trace round the letters, a column of bs and a column of ds.


With 'b' and 'd' it may be helpful to teach them as two separate pairs of sounds. One pair, 'b' and 'p' and another pair, 'd' and 't'. These minimal pairs lend themselves to a range of fun games. The first pair are 'labial' sounds, produced using the lips, 'b' being non-plosive and 'p' being plosive. The second pair are 'dental' sounds, produced using the tongue behind the upper row of teeth in a downward movement. An example listening activity that works well, in my experience, is a 'pronunciation journey', of minimal pairs, where students 'travel' from one point to another. I hope this is of some help!
Hello Laurence, Thanks for your comment. I agree and was thinking of that when writing this post. I think it's also useful to contrast and play with 'p' and 'b', since they are the same aside from the plosivity (made-up word no doubt!) I like the way one engages the belly to make plosive sounds but that may not be useful in class, since it's rather subtle. I guess I notice because I take singing lessons. Have you noticed that and do you think it could help children? All the best Shelley

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