Skip to main content
Learning ‘b’ and ‘d’ and Reading Short Vowel Words with Aiko, Second Grader

Learning ‘b’ and ‘d’ and Reading Short Vowel Words with Aiko, Second Grader

Reading expert Linda Farrell works with Aiko on a common letter reversal — confusing the letters ‘b’ and ‘d’. Ms. Farrell coaches Aiko to look at the letters during b/d practice and to look at the words while she works with Aiko to read short vowel words accurately.

See transcript ›

Related resources from Reading Rockets

In the classroom

Reading 101 self-paced course

Teachers take knowledge of reading and make it work in their class

About Linda Farrell

Linda Farrell is a founding partner at Readsters (opens in a new window), an Alexandria, VA-based firm that helps schools implement research-based reading instruction. She is committed to effective early reading instruction to help struggling readers become strong readers, and to ensure that strong readers achieve their full potential.

Linda works in schools throughout the U.S. training and coaching teachers and modeling effective reading instruction. She also has designed curricula in Niger and Senegal for children to learn to read in their local languages.

Linda is a former English teacher and she was a National LETRS trainer for seven years. She has co-authored assessments and curricula for teaching reading, as well as several other published works. Linda can be reached at:


Learning ‘b’ and ‘d’ and Reading Short Vowel Words with Aiko, Second Grader


Linda Farrell: Okay. We’re gonna have a lesson. And we are gonna have some fun …

Today reading expert Linda Farrell will be working with Aiko, a second grader here at Windy Hill Elementary in Calvert County, Maryland.

Ms. Farrell will help Aiko with telling the difference between the letters ‘b’ and ‘d,’ keeping her eyes on the text rather than looking up to think of words, and reading words with short vowels.

Linda Farrell: Do you ever get your ‘b’s and ‘d’s mixed up?

Aiko: Mm-hmm.

Linda Farrell: Sometimes? Well, let’s see if we can’t fix that.

Linda Farrell: Aiko confuses ‘b’s and ‘d’s. She’s in the second grade. And it’s going to get in the way of her reading. So we have to fix that problem. Lots of children confuse ‘b’s and ‘d’s. They look alike. It’s a ball and a stick. So we know we have to straighten that out, because that’s going to hurt your reading because there are lots of words with ‘b’s and ‘d’s.

Linda Farrell: We’re gonna work on fixing that. So we’re gonna learn about our ‘b’ hand. Have you ever used your ‘b’ hand?

Linda Farrell: They have a ‘b’ hand. Their ‘b’ hand, it looks like a ‘b.’ Here’s the circle. Here’s the line. And we teach them to not guess and to slow down and compare your hand to the letter.

Linda Farrell: This is your ‘b’ hand, okay? So I’m gonna put this little rubber band on you, so you can remember which one’s your ‘b’ hand. So which one’s your ‘b’ hand?

Aiko: This one.

Linda Farrell: Okay.

Linda Farrell: I don’t tell a kindergartener, a first grader, or a second grader, “It’s your left hand,” because they don’t know which one is their left hand. Sometimes I don’t even know which one’s my left hand. When we first teach it, we put something on their hand. We might put a sticker. I put a rubber band on Aiko’s hand so that when I say, “Where’s your ‘b’ hand?” she’s got something that reminds her. Three lessons she won’t need the rubber band anymore. She’ll know what it is. Some kids get it right away.

Linda Farrell: Would you put your ‘b’ hand up like this … and make a fist. And then put your finger out. Okay? That is your ‘b’ hand. And I’m gonna show you why it’s your ‘b’ hand. Go like this. We put this down here. And this letter is a ‘b.’ And your hand looks like this letter. Can you see that? We have the circle right here. Where’s the circle on the letter? Point to the circle on the letter. And where’s the circle on your hand? Yeah. Right there. Where’s the stick on the letter? Show me a stick on your finger. This is your ‘b’ hand because the stick is on the same side of the circle as your finger. So your finger and your, and the stick are on the same side of the circle.

Linda Farrell: Lots of kids get ‘b’s and ‘d’s mixed up — kindergarten, first and second grade. It does not mean that they have dyslexia. Students who have dyslexia have phonological processing issues. They do not differentiate sounds easily. Their problems are primarily related to phonological awareness. ‘B/d’ is about shapes. That is not about sounds.

Linda Farrell: Will you put your ‘b’ hand by the ‘b’? Yep. And is your finger on the same side of the circle as the stick or on a different side of the circle?

Aiko: Same side.

Linda Farrell: The same side. Yeah. Let’s go down here. Is this a ‘b’ or a ‘d’?

Aiko: ‘b.’

Linda Farrell: Okay. And when you answer, I want you to look down here and compare it. Here’s what you did. You went [looking upward]. Well, you’re not gonna figure it out unless you look and you compare. Okay. So you have to look and say, “Ooh, I can tell.” So is that a ‘b’ or a ‘d’?

Ms. Farrell’s explicit lesson about recognizing the shape of the letter ‘b’ will take some time to sink in for Aiko. And there’s a common habit she’ll need to deal with. When Aiko is working on identifying a letter, she often looks up to think, looking away from the letter.

Linda Farrell: The answer to what is an incorrect letter or an incorrect word is in the print. And we have to teach Aiko to keep her eyes on the print, on the words, when she’s reading, or the letters. I’ve worked with many kids that have this same difficulty. And I’ll say, “Keep your eyes on the words,” and they can’t do it, because their habit is so strong that they can’t try to do what I’m asking them to do and remember to keep their eyes down. So we just practice keeping your eyes down.

Linda Farrell: We’re gonna practice looking down here, okay? So I’m gonna ask you a question, and you can’t look up until I go like this [pounds fist], okay? So you keep looking down. Don’t look up. Look down. Look down. Look down. Look down. [pounds fist] Now you can look up. Okay. Let’s try it again. Look down. Look down. Look down. [pounds fist]

Eventually, Aiko will need to have images of words stored in her brain. This is critical to the immediate word recognition necessary for fluent reading. When students say a word without looking at it, they miss opportunities to develop those images.

Linda Farrell: So hold your hand up here. So I’m gonna go ‘a,’ cause I don’t need my ‘b’ hand. But do I need my ‘b’ hand for that letter?

Aiko: Mm-mm.

Linda Farrell: Yes, I do, cause that’s a ‘b’ or a ‘d.’ So I have to put my ‘b’ hand and … let me see. Is that a ‘b’ or a ‘d’? Which one do you think? Ohp. Where are you gonna look?

Aiko: Down.

Linda Farrell: Yes. Okay. Is that a ‘b’ or a ‘d’?

Aiko: ‘b.’

Linda Farrell: Let’s try that. Put your ‘b’ hand next to that. Okay. Is your finger on the same or a different side?

Aiko: Different.

Linda Farrell: Different. So is that a ‘b’ or a ‘d’?

Aiko: ‘d.’

Linda Farrell: Yes. And we’re gonna keep looking down. Remember? You don’t get to look up until I stomp. Okay? So now, I want you … we’re gonna go just right to here. Okay? So watch me. ‘a, d, s, b.’ You do it. Okay. Put your hand up here for the ‘a.’ Okay. Do it.

Aiko: ‘a, d, s, b’?

Linda Farrell: Okay. Now. See how far away your hand is? You gotta go like this. And you know where you looked when you read? You looked at me. But where are you supposed to be looking?

Aiko: Here.

Linda Farrell: Yep. At the letter. So. Okay. So we did those four. You do these four.

Linda Farrell: And this is isolated practice. I see lots of teachers who use a ‘b’ and ‘d’ hand or a ‘b’ hand. But they only do it when the kid misses a word. So, “Oh, you read ‘bog’ as ‘dog.’ Use your ‘b’ hand.” You don’t have to use your ‘b’ hand. If it’s not “bog,” it’s “dog.” We’ve gotta have isolated practice to rewire the brain … to stop guessing and start looking. And that’s what we did with Aiko. Aiko has pretty significant ‘b/d’ issues. With this kind of practice, she could solve her ‘b/d’ issues, I believe, in three to four weeks if we did this every day.

Aiko: ‘b’

Linda Farrell: You got it. Do you think you can do 10 in a row?

Aiko: Mm-mm.

Linda Farrell: I think you can. Let’s try it. Okay.

Aiko: ‘x, b, d, a’

Linda Farrell: [whispering] Hand down. Is your finger on the same side or a different side?

Aiko: Different, so it’s a ‘d.’

Linda Farrell: Yes. Okay.

Aiko: ‘o, b, c, d, j’

Linda Farrell: Ten out of 10! That’s …

After a little more practice with ‘b’ and ‘d,’ Ms. Farrell will help Aiko work on another skill … reading short vowel words without sounding them out aloud first. And Aiko will need to lean on her new skills … distinguishing between ‘b’ and ‘d’ using her ‘b’ hand, and concentrating on looking down at the words while she thinks.

Linda Farrell: Can you just read these words right here?

Aiko: Not, ran, tap, man, on.

Linda Farrell: Could you read these words right here please?

Aiko: Bib, ad

Linda Farrell: Could you check and see if that’s a ‘b’ or a ‘d’? Use your ‘b’ hand. Is that a ‘b’ or a ‘d’?

Aiko: ‘d’

Linda Farrell: It is a ‘d.’ So what’s …

Aiko: ‘d’ … did

Linda Farrell: Okay.

Aiko: ad, /p - al/

Linda Farrell: What’s the word?

Aiko: Pal.

Linda Farrell: Look down. Always keep your eyes on the words.

Aiko: Gum. /k/. Kit. Hump.

Linda Farrell: Okay. You got five words right. Can you touch and say that word?

Aiko: Hug.

Linda Farrell: It is hug. Read them all again.

Aiko: Did, ad, /p/, pal, gum, /k - it/, hug.

Linda Farrell: Okay. You got six out of six right. When you read this word, you went /k - i - t/. Did you hear yourself do that? Okay. It’s okay. I want you to do that in your head. So what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna close our mouth until we’re ready to read the word. It goes like this. [pause] Did. [pause] Ad. I have to think those sounds in my head. So can you do that? Let’s read these.

Aiko: Cut, dig, pup

Linda Farrell: [whispering] Mouth closed.

Aiko: … lip, kit, lot.

Linda Farrell: Okay. Now. Two things: you got five right. Can you? What’s that word?

Aiko: Kip.

Linda Farrell: It is kip. And the other thing is, you looked up. So we’re gonna practice looking down. Okay. You’re gonna look down, look down here until I stomp, okay? [pounds fist] You can look up. Okay? Do it again. [pounds fist] Now you’re gonna read, and you can’t look up until I stomp, okay? So remember, you’re not gonna look up until I stomp, so I’ll hold this, okay? So start reading.

Aiko: Cut, big, pup, lip, kip, lot.

Linda Farrell: [pounds fist] That was perfect. You kept your eyes down the whole time. Can you check and see if that’s a ‘b’ or a ‘d’? Use your hand. Use your ‘b’ hand.

Aiko: /d/

Linda Farrell: Yeah. So what’s the word?

Aiko: Dig.

Linda Farrell: It is. We’re gonna go over here … and again, don’t look up until I stomp. So read those.

Aiko: Hot.

Linda Farrell: You can use your ‘b’ hand, right there.


In one short lesson, Aiko has made a lot of progress. She’s learning to keep her head down as she reads, focusing on the letters. She’s using her ‘b’ hand to help her identify her ‘b’s and ‘d’s more accurately. And she’s reading words as a whole rather than sound by sound. As she practices and works toward mastery of these skills, her reading will get better and better. 

Linda Farrell: Mud. You kept your eyes down and you got ‘em all right! Six out of six! Yes!

We’d like to thank the wonderful students and families at Windy Hill Elementary School in Calvert County, Maryland. We hope that sharing these experiences will help other children who are learning to read.

Special thanks also to Kelly Cleland, Julie Donovan, Joanne Harbaugh, and their outstanding colleagues at Windy Hill Elementary … and to Leanne Meisinger at Calvert County Public Schools.

We are deeply grateful to Linda Farrell, Michael Hunter, and Nicole Lubar of Readsters for their invaluable contributions to this project.

Produced by Noel Gunther

Edited by Christian Lindstrom

Graphic Design: Tina Chovanec

Camera: Richard Chisolm

Audio: Dwayne Dell

For more information about teaching reading, please visit (opens in a new window)

Reading Rockets is a service of WETA, Washington, D.C.

© 2019, WETA, Washington, D.C.