Teaching the confusing letter ‘b’

Teaching the confusing letter b. This trick is great for teaching letter reversals...

Teaching the Confusing Letter b

Do you have a student that constantly confuses the lower case letter b with the lower case letter d?  I do!  She also confuses the lower case letter p and lower case q, and the lower case g.  Many times these letters are referred to as ‘letters with tails.’ – and, it can be difficult for students to tell the difference between these letters.

Confusing the letters b and d, or p and g and q, can be a symptom of dyslexia.   Many students (and adults) with dyslexia can confuse the ‘letters with tails’ their entire lives.  It is very common for all students, though, to confuse these letters through grade 3.   Fortunately, Mrs. Karle has a trick to help students who confuse these letters.

Mrs. Karle likes to always say that the ‘b’ is a bat, and then a ball.  A d is a dog’s head, and a tail.   As she says these letters, she always draws each letters on the board to help these students visualize their differences.  To help her students, she made up pictures, which she displays in her classroom to help the students visualize the letters.    She does the same with the p and the q and the g.  The lower case p is the pony’s mane and the pony’s head.  The lower case q is the queen’s head and the queen’s hair.  The lower case g is the girls head and the girl’s hair.  When she writes these letters in her phonics videos, she always uses these terms.

With struggling readers, and with students who confuse the letters b/d/p/q/g, it is so important to have patience, and give a lot of practice in reading and writing these letters.  It is also important to find something that visually makes these letters look differently.

I have put pictures of these letters up around my house to help my daughter remember and learn the differences of these letters.  The video above shows Mrs. Karle teaching the letter ‘b’ to her students.  You can get a copy of her confusing letter pictures here.

Below is a video of Mrs. Karle teaching the confusing letter b.

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Madreen Karle is a master first grade reading teacher with over 30 years of classroom experience. She taught reading in a special needs and English as a Second Language classroom. After retiring she wrote a reading program to help others learn how to teach reading. She is a trusted educator and author of 5 books to help teach children to read and write. In addition to her books, she is a mentor for 3 websites that give reading teacher tips (Mrs. Karle’s Sight and Sound ReadingMrs. Karle’s Reading Patch, and Mrs. Karle’s Handwriting Patch). Through her teaching she learned that confidence was the key to learning to read. A child who is not confident at reading does not like to read and struggles to read. Mrs. Karle created “sunshine moments” to help teach children how to grow their confidence and learn to read.
Meeghan Karle Mousaw (Madreen’s daughter) has her Master’s in Special Education. She has 8 years experience teaching children to read online. In addition, she developed a curriculum to teach children handwriting called The Handwriting Patch. With the Handwriting Patch learning is fun because children learn to draw and learn handwriting at the same time. In 2019 The Handwriting Patch curriculum became an amazon best seller the first year it was released, helping thousands of kids learn handwriting with a unique, fun method. She is mom to 6 kids, each with differently learning abilities and struggles.
The Reading Patch was established by the creators of Mrs. Karle’s Sight and Sound Reading. Together they have been featured on the NBC media outlets and Parents Magazine online. Over the last 8 years in their online platform, Madreen and Meeghan have worked tirelessly with teachers, homeschoolers and parents looking to help children learn to read to become a trusted authority in teaching children to read and advocating early literacy skills. They often partner with other educational experts to deliver the most current information to the Reading Patch community.


  1. Tammy @ theultimatelinky.com says:

    I always did the same with b–bat and ball. Some people also spell the word bed, and show how it looks like a bed (draw a bed over the word) and b comes before d in the alphabet. Great printables!

  2. This is such a cute idea to teach the tough letters. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mercedes {Beyond Beauty Lounge} says:

    This is wonderful for helping with the harder letters.

  4. This is a great idea! I don’t have any children of my own, but I do have young nieces and nephews that are learning their letters. I can see this helping out a lot! I’ll be sure to pass on the information!

  5. Great tips! I’ve taught English to students from kindergarten all the way to college, and I believe that these basics of language are crucial to doing well at the upper levels. I’ve taught college students who could barely spell, largely in part because they weren’t ever given the tools they needed when they were younger. Great post!

  6. I’m going to use these tips with my kindergartner. I notice she sometimes confuses the letters with tails like you mentioned. Very helpful!

    1. Great! Hope you enjoy! Please let us know if you have any questions or something we can help you with!

  7. My isn’t dyslexic, but he had the hardest time with the letter B for the longest time. I love your concept. I’ll definitely keep this in mind when my daughter becomes of school age.

  8. Not yet. But I was struggling with it when I was a kid:)

  9. What an interesting idea for a blog – love this!

  10. I taught many years students with dyslexia. One of my kids wrote everything upside down and backwards! But he’s doing well now. Be consistent and don’t quit – they all learn to deal with it and eventually learn what they need to learn.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! My little kindergartner is such a hard worker! I know she will succeed at anything she does.. I am just happy she is no longer frustrated with reading! 🙂

  11. Angie Young says:

    I wish your blog would have been around a few years ago when I was teaching my youngest these letters. It was so confusing for him for so long. This would have been a big help.

  12. My children did not have this problem, but I am aware of many of my friends grandchildren who struggle with dyslexia and it is nice to know there is a place I can recommend to them.

  13. Mrs Karle sounds like a great teacher and a caring one too! I will Pin this to my Children board!

  14. Great tip – both my kids confused those letters in first grade, but luckily it finally seemed to click!

  15. Sarah Barker (@sarahsfare) says:

    Thanks for this! I’ve got a two and six-year-old, so I’ll definitely be using it. What a wonderful site too, I just love reading and I hope to instill it in my kids from an early age.

    Sarah’s Fare recently posted → Eggs in a Nest

  16. I really like your technique for teaching children to distinguish similar letters from each other. I actually didn’t know children can mix up those letters until 3rd grade! I learned the alphabet when I must have been in 1st grade, and I had it right from the start. But to be fair, my teacher was a very severe parent, who would administer harsh punishment when his patience worse off. So I always quick to get things to avoid the punishments!

    My little sister is dyslexic, and it’s amazing what a lifelong struggle reading can be for dyslexic individuals. I think this method would probably benefit those who are dyslexic, too. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Love the bat and then ball idea. Will mention it to friends with younger kids. Nice site!

  18. I am a new mother so I am totally open to teaching tips. Thanks

    1. Congratulations! You have a few years until your little one starts to read…but -hopefully you will keep us in mind – and, even start learning now some tricks to help your new one!

  19. Great tips! I will have to keep these in mind when my son gets older and goes to school. It’s amazing what you can learn on the internet!

  20. Katherine Petrunia says:

    I remember learning to read I used to do this! It took me some time to finally remember which letter was which, but the hard work paid off! I appreciate the patience and dedication teachers have in educating their students and helping them to grow and learn. I think this is a great way to help them differentiate the different letters.

  21. Marcia @ Blogitudes says:

    I love the bat and ball idea for the letter ‘b’ – very easy to remember if a little one is struggling with this problem. Thank you for sharing it! 😀

  22. My husband was misdiagnosed with dyslexia when he was a child because he kept getting the letters with a tail confused. These phonics ideas are great to help our little ones figure out these letters. Thank you so much for sharing!

  23. Jen Bradley says:

    This is a great site, especially for my friends with kids learning to read. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s nice to know of a resource. I think what you are doing is wonderful 🙂

  24. What an ingenious way to teach the b conundrum.

    This series looks lovely, and I will definitely pass this along to my friends.

  25. That is so common. i use to teach preschool and that happened often. Thanks for the resource!

  26. Love how you do the letter b with the ball and bat. Very neat idea. My daughter had issues with b and d when she was learning to read.

  27. Great tips and visuals! I bet that helps a lot.

  28. I love your tips. I havent had the chance to look around but I am going to see if you have anything for teaching cursive. My kids are 11 and 9 and the school hasn’t taught cursive, reading or writing, and with my DD starting at the highschool next year I am quite concerned. Thanks for the great visuals.

    1. Thanks! We do not currently have something that teaches cursive currently… right now we are focusing on reading, (sight words and phonics) and we have writing and spelling that go along with our phonics program. The writing is not cursive, though! Wish I could point you where to look! Thanks for stopping by!

  29. Very cool! As a child I had a problem with b’s and d’s. I used to get so frustrated with it. This would have helped me tremendously. Luckily my boys never had my issue.

  30. I think my son was a little confused with “b” and “p” when he first started reading and writing. But now he doesn’t have any trouble with it at all.

  31. Gosh I wish I could remember what I did for my daughter. She’s 8 going on 9. They grow so fast.

  32. Moms Are Frugal says:

    I am teaching my 5 year old to read and he has been getting the lower case b mixed up. I will be using your illustration to maybe help him identify!

  33. I don’t have kids yet, but I agree that this is a great idea for moms and elementary teachers alike! Thanks : )

  34. I love the idea of using visuals. I teach first grade and I’m going to use this tactic in my class. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Aww, great! Thank you for stopping by! I really find this trick very helpful with children!

  35. Hassan Tanvir says:

    Hey Nice work done ,

    I am doing my research on students who are dyslexic and have problem in writing the letters such as they were asked to write p but they wrote q. I am looking for data which consist that how many children got confused between p and q and other alphabets any amount of data will be appreciated .


    1. Thank you for your comment. It is not considered alarming that children reverse letters until third grade. By then, only 3-6% of children have dyslexia and these children are likely reading at least a grade and a half below grade level. (Unfortunatley, though many children by third grade read below grade level for other reasons). I found a few links that maybe would help?


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