Now I Know My BPDs: 6 Strategies for Reversible Letters
by Elizabeth Olsson, M.S., CCC-SLP
Lexia Curriculum Specialist
If you’ve worked with students who are beginning to read and write, you’ve likely found yourself explaining the difference between b, d, and p. Why are these letters so often confused? Not only do b, d, and p have similar names and shapes, they also sound alike. Making the distinction is crucial, as students need to automatically recognize and retrieve these letters for accurate reading and writing. Here we suggest six activities for working with your students to differentiate between these letters and sounds.
As necessary, teach or review the letters b, d, and p one at a time. Say the sound of the letter clearly, without adding a vowel sound to the end (e.g. /b/ instead of /buh/). Have students say the name of the letter and air-write it as they say the sound. Personalize the activity by air-writing student names that contain these letters, then have students pair up and see if they can guess the letter that their partner is air-writing.
2. Letter Search
Create a “letter search” for students. Give students a sheet of paper with multiple b, d, and p letters arranged randomly in a grid. Instruct students to circle all of the b letters, highlight the d letters and trace the p letters with a marker. You can vary this activity by having students search for letters to match sounds presented (e.g. Circle the letter that says /b/). Students can then tally the letters they found.
Give each student paper bags labeled with b, d, and p, along with a stack of word cards starting with each letter (e.g. dip, bug, pen). Students should read each card and sort it into the correct paper bag based on the initial letter. For students who are still learning to read, have them walk around and find objects that start with b, d, and p (e.g. ball, desk, paper). Can they match these objects with the right letter?
4. Letter Tiles
Display a word with the first letter missing (e.g. _in) and give students letter tiles for b, d, and p. Say the target word (e.g. pin) aloud. Students should choose the tile to complete the word and then write the word. An added challenge is to include words in which adding two or three of the letters could make a real word (e.g. _ig: big, dig, pig). Consider using words with consonant blends as well (e.g. blob, plan, drip).
Play a game of Bingo using boards filled with the letters b, d, and p. Students can cover a square by matching the initial sound of a word to the correct letter (e.g. bed, cover b). A variation of this is for students to find the final sound (e.g. bed, cover d), or use words with beginning or ending blends (e.g. play, cover p).
6. Circling, Highlighting, and Tracing
Have students complete a letter search using a text related to the curriculum. Ask them to circle all of the b letters, highlight the d letters, and trace the p letters with a marker. The same can be done with a student’s own writing. As students work on building editing skills, this may be a great way for them to check their work.
Whether your students struggle with these particular letters or not, don’t hesitate to use these activities with the whole class! Even students who seem to have mastered their b’s, d’s, and p’s will benefit from the practice.
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