Techniques for Reversing Reversals: Suggestions for Instructing Students who Reverse Letters in Written Work

by Carolyn Ito

Students with disabilities often reverse letters (e.g., write d for b, make s, e, N, h, or p backwards) and transpose words (e.g., saw for was or dog for god) in their writing. When working with a student with disabilities who makes reversals, the student's developmental age must be considered. It is common for normally developing students to make reversals in their writing through first and into second grade. Students with disabilities may reverse letters well past second grade or past age 7 to 8. The following techniques are offered for assisting students to write without reversals when reversals persist past the student's developmentally appropriate stage.

The common reversals are b for d, d for b, backward s, h, n, p, q and the diagonals on capital N, Z.

Some professionals in the field suggest teaching cursive writing to students with persistent reversal problems. Reversals are harder to make in cursive.

Persistent reversals probably stem from the student's poorly established laterally, that is the concept of left and right in the world about the student. In addition to paper/pencil tasks, the student needs instruction that will enable him/her to distinguish and label objects in the environment as being on the right, left, in front of, behind, next to, etc. the student. This instruction can be accomplished through games that involve directionality. The student may need additional instruction in body concept also.

The following techniques are suggested for "reversing reversals" through writing instruction

  1. Thumbs Up When a student makes a b/d reversal, ask the student to put up his/her thumbs. Balling the fingers together with the thumbs extending upward does this. The two hands are pushed together with the "balls" touching and the thumbs on each end. The visual of the bed made by putting the thumbs up helps to show the shape of the letters b and d. In addition, for students who have the auditory discrimination skills to hear the sounds, the b is first, the d last, corresponding to the initial and final consonant sounds of b and d in the word bed. Thumbs down can assist with distinguishing the p from the q (visual only, not auditory).

  2. Clay Tray Use children's clay to line a shallow rectangular shaped box. The size of the box depends on whether you are working on single letters, words, or sentences. The student uses a broken pencil or item of similar size and strength to drag the letters through the clay. The kinesthetic feedback coupled with auditory guidance from the teacher adds an additional modality. Encourage the student to verbalize the steps for forming the letter.

  3. Tactile Impressions Tactile impressions of troublesome letters can be made quickly and cheaply. Obtain medium grade sandpaper or screening. Tape the sandpaper/screening to heavy cardboard. Lay a piece of writing paper on the sandpaper/screen. Using a waxy crayon, draw the letter(s). The student then has a model to trace for tactile input. The rough side of masonite board also provides a good surface for making tactile letters. Whole troublesome words may also be traced (e.g., was, saw, dog, etc.).

  4. Chalkboard Exercises Writing on the chalkboard is helpful because it involves large arm movements and work can easily be erased. Be sure to include verbal prompts as letters are formed. For instance, in making the letter b, you might say, "First the bat, then the ball on the right." A small group of students can work under the direction of the teacher or assistant on this activity. Students also can work in pairs, with the one who does not reverse guiding the one who does.


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Grinnell, P. (1988). Teaching the learning disabled: A cognitive developmental approach. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc.

Lerner, J. (1993). Learning disabilities: Theories, diagnosis & teaching strategies, 6th Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Mercer, C. (1997). Students with learning disabilities, 5th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.