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Are You Familiar With a Scene Like This?
As I prepare for our online tutoring session, I look for a decodable book from RAZ-Plus that will reinforce the CVC pattern my student is working on. I find one that seems appropriate, and click through it to double check. A couple of pages in, I notice words that begin with the letter “b,” and inwardly I groan.
This child’s reading progress is fragile and tentative. Teaching them to begin reading has been like coaxing a scared little animal to come out of hiding. I’m thrilled that I’ve succeeded in convincing them that when they are learning something new, it’s okay to feel confused at first and normal to need practice.
But being confused by “b” and “d” is not new. And they have practiced and practiced and practiced. When I mildly stop them at a “b/d” error and use it as a gentle teaching point, they wilt; they know full well that they’ve been working on this for what feels like half their life.
I’ve come upon the scenario described above more times than I can count, both in my private tutoring and in my public school resource room.
Up until now, I’ve never found a successful strategy or a lesson or a “trick” for teaching struggling readers to recognize the difference between “b” and “d.” I have tried a ton of different visual reminders and plenty of the auditory jingles, too.
A Multi-Sensory Solution to b/d Confusion
I finally hit upon a specific set of multi-sensory strategies to teach b and d that is visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile, plus an effective way to practice online. And it is working! Slowly but surely, my students are beginning to produce the correct sound when they encounter a “b” or a “d” in text. When they write these letters, they are successfully using the muscle memory built through tactile practice and the auditory mnemonic we have practiced simultaneously.
(Equally as important, knowing that they have a strategy to fall back on has built their confidence.)
I created both a color and a blackline version of each of these 8” by 11.5” posters. This allows parents to print out the versions that are most practical for them.
When I tutor, I keep the color versions open on tabs, so I can click over quickly when a child needs to refer to them. I send both versions to parents as a PDF, and I encourage them to help their child enjoy the following activities every day (once for “b” and once for “d”.) When my district returns to in-person instruction, I’ll post them in each of the teaching areas in my classroom.
Multi-Sensory Strategies to Teach “b”
Here is how I teach this strategy for the letter “b.”
Visual/Auditory: Look at the poster while saying “First pick up the bat, then hit the ball! ‘b’.”
Kinesthetic/Auditory: Act out the motions while chanting “First pick up the bat, then hit the ball! /b/” Have the child reach down to pretend to pick up a bat, then swing arms as if they were hitting a baseball. During online sessions, I actually have the child get up out of their seat and do this while we chant together.
Tactile/Auditory/Visual: Use either the color or blackline version and have the child trace the letter with their finger while saying “First pick up the bat, then hit the ball! /’b’.” Be sure the child follows the arrows for correct letter formation.
Multi-Sensory Strategies to Teach “d”
The activities for teaching the letter “d” are identical.
Visual/Auditory: Look at the poster while saying “First grab the doorknob, then open the door! ‘d’.”
Kinesthetic/Auditory: Act out the motions while chanting “First grab the doorknob, then open the door! /d/” Have the child reach out to pretend to grab a doorknob and then pull their arm back to pretend to open a door. During online sessions, I actually have the child get up out of their seat and do this while we chant together.
Tactile/Auditory/Visual: Use either the color or blackline version and have the child trace the letter with their finger while saying “First grab the doorknob, then open the door! ‘d’.” Be sure the child follows the arrows for correct letter formation.
Prompt Kids to Apply the Strategies
Here are some ways I use these strategies to support young readers.
I include the steps above as a warm-up or an activity break during the tutoring session.
Sometimes, when I see a “b” or a “d” coming up on a page, I point it out to the child ahead of time. I use the chant and the spotlight annotation feature on Zoom to draw their attention to the letter.
When a child comes to a “b” or a “d” and hesitates, I wait a second to see if they’ll figure it out on their own. If they don’t, I prompt them by saying “First pick up the bat…” or “First grab the doorknob…” or even just “bat, ‘b’” or “doorknob, ‘d’.”
When a child comes to a “b” or a “d” and says the wrong sound, I stop them and use one of the prompts above. I might say “wait here” while I point to the word with the spotlight. Then I’ll say “Bat, ‘b.’ Try this word again.”
Try it Out With Your Young Reader
Download the printables today, and introduce your young reader to this multi-sensory strategy for clearing up b/d confusion.
If you’d like high-quality worksheets to provide your child with extra writing practice to clear up a b/d confusion, check out this fabulous bundle by This Reading Mama.
Boom Learning Cards
One positive thing that has come out of Distance Learning is that I have discovered Boom Cards. These highly engaging, gamified digital task cards provide fun opportunities for kids to practice almost any skill imaginable. I love using them in my private tutoring and during Distance Learning with my students. I couldn’t resist creating a Boom Card deck providing practice differentiating between the letters “b” and “d!” Click here for a preview.
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