Category Archives: mixing up letters

Help! My daughter reads words backwards

My daughter was reading, “The cat saw catnip,” and she read, “The cat was catpin.”  She does this all the time, and she can’t tell the difference between “b” and “d” no matter how many times I teach her.  What’s going on?

Young child writing C-A-T.

There could be many causes.

Vision problems.  Some children have subtle vision problems not detected by distance charts.  You might have her vision tested by an eye doctor.

Directional confusion. This is a particular vision problem.  Can your child mimic your arm movements when she stands facing you?  Does she mix up down and up, and top and bottom?  Does she mirror write letters and numbers—writing a “b” for a “d”?Two fists with thumbs up and knuckles touching make letter "b" and "d" with a BeD visualized between the two thumbs.

Sequencing problems. Does she say “felt” when she reads “left” or “form” when she means “from”?  (I still do that when I am stressed.)

When a word ends with an “s,” does she say the word as if it begins with an “s,” such as saying “slow” when she reads “lows”?  Does she move words around in sentences, changing the word order?

Mixing up little words. Does she stick in articles (a, an, and the) where they don’t belong, or omit them entirely?  Does she substitute one small word for another, such as “and” for “a” or “for” for “from”?

Maturity.  How old is your daughter?  Every youngster I have taught reading to has had the problems you mention.  I gently correct the child when she makes a mistake, or I say “d” or “b” before she can read a word to help her.  Usually by the age of seven, these problems disappear.  If your child is four or five, these reversals are probably developmental.  However if your child is in first or second grade, you should ask to have your child tested for dyslexia.  Most public schools have reading experts who are trained to deal with these problems.

Can dyslexia be identified in a preschooler who can’t read yet?

Yes.  Check this list of indicators developed by Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey.  But keep in mind that a child exhibiting one or two of the indicators isn’t necessarily dyslexic.  For example, almost all children learning their letters mix up b and d.  But a child EPSON MFP imageshowing several of the indicators might foreshadow problems learning to read or spell.  That child should be tested.

Dyslexia is defined as a neurological learning disability.  Children having difficulty with word recognition, fluency, poor spelling or decoding might be dyslexic.  The sooner it can be identified in a child, and the earlier intervention can begin, the better the chances that the child will learn to read.

A key indicator is family history.  If a parent or a sibling has had trouble learning to read, there is a greater chance that another member of the family will have trouble.

According to Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey, Language indicators could include:

  • delayed speech
  • trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, and days of the week
  • difficulty rapidly naming people and objects
  • lack of interest in stories and books
  • mispronouncing words
  • difficulty using new vocabulary words correctly
  • trouble distinguishing words from other words that sound similar
  • struggling to identify or produce words that rhyme

Reading indicators could include:

  • difficulty naming and recognizing the letters of the alphabet
  • problems matching letters to their correct sounds
  • scoring below expected reading level for his/her age
  • trouble understanding the difference between sounds in words
  • difficulty blending letter sounds within words
  • trouble recognizing and remembering sight words
  • confusing letters and words that look similar
  • losing his/her place—and skipping over words—while reading
  • avoiding reading tasks

Writing indicators could include:

  • problems copying and writing at an age-appropriate level
  • confusing the order or direction of letters, numbers and symbols
  • spelling words incorrectly and inconsistently most of the time
  • a tendency to spell phonetically
  • poor ability to proofread and correct written work
  • handwriting which shows poor letter formation and placement

Social / emotional indicators could include:

  • Lack of motivation about school or learning
  • lack of confidence in learning
  • negative self-image compared to grade-level peers
  • expressing dislike for reading and other academic tasks
  • exhibiting anxiety or frustration

Other indicators could include:

  • poor sense of direction/spatial concepts, such as left and right
  • performing inconsistently on daily tasks
  • appearing distracted and unfocused

If your child shows some of these characteristics, don’t be discouraged.  Most children show some of them.  And if your child is dyslexic, there is so much you, as a parent, can do to prepare your preschooler to read fluently.  In the next blog we’ll identify some of those activities.

 

Why are upper case letters and lower case letters called upper case and lower case?

Upper case letters mean capital letters, sometimes called majuscules.  Upper case letters all have the same height.

EPSON MFP image

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Lower case letters mean small letters, sometimes called minuscules (from which comes the word “minus”).  The height of lower case letters varies.  Some are half as high as upper case letters, such as a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x and z.  Some have ascenders (parts which stick up) such as b, d, f, h, k, l and t.  Some have descenders (parts which hang down) such as g, j, p, q and y.

Years ago, when type was set by hand instead of by machine, a typesetter would take individual metal letters from a drawer or letter case.  Capital letters were stored in one case and small letters were stored in another case along with punctuation  and spacing markers.  Capital letters were stored above small letters, leading capital letters to be called upper case letters and small letters to be called lower case letters.

Sometimes both capital and small letters were stored in a single case which could be set upright.  When the case was organized, the capital letters were placed at the back of the case so that when it was set upright, capitals would be on top—hence, upper case.

The metal letters typesetters would see in the cases were reflections of the letters printed on the page.  That means the metal letters faced the opposite direction from the printed letters.  In a case, a “b” would look like a “d.” Words and sentences would be set in a way which to us looks backwards, but the printed version would appear as we see type today.

Capital letters go farther back in history than smaller letters which were introduced in about the ninth century.  Smaller letters began as rounded, smaller versions of capitals.  They were easier for scribes to write at a time when all writing was done by hand.

Today most English writing is done in lower case letters with capitals reserved for the beginnings of sentences and for proper nouns.  Even so, capitals are often taught first to young children, perhaps because they are easier to distinguish.  Capital B and capital D are easier to figure out than “b” and “d.”

How to use spelling tests to reinforce CVC words

Years ago, I would cut  pictures of CVC words from various sources, paste them on index cards, sort them by vowel sound.  Then I would use them as spelling tests for beginning readers. (Now Mrs. A draws the pictures, including those below.)  This low-tech approach still works great with beginning readers and spellers.

Six drawings of short A CVC words

These drawings are samples of a packet of 12 pages of CVC drawings that can be downloaded for a small fee.  Click on the pictures for more information.  

Why use pictures for the spelling test instead of just dictating the words?

  • When the child is in charge of the pile of pictures, she can spell at her own pace, jotting down words she knows quickly and slowing down for words she is unsure of or for words she writes incorrectly and needs to repair.
  • Young children are people in motion, so the more parts of their bodies they can use to learn, the better. Taking off the rubber band, shuffling the cards, flipping them into a second pile as they are used and rubber-banding them again are fun.  Making learning fun is so important for children of any age, but especially for preschoolers.
  • Some children delight in erasing and will write a word incorrectly just so they can erase it. Spelling is a new experience for them, but it can take time, time when a tutor or mother might grow impatient. But since the child is working independently, the process can take as long as the child wants.
  • While the child is working independently, I can observe where she might need more help or prepare the next lesson, a better use of my time than dictating.
  • ESL students who might be shy about moving at a slow pace gain privacy by controlling the time it takes to complete the test.

One time I gave a preK student a short A test which he finished with pride—his first spelling test! When he found out I had more cards—more tests—he begged me to let him take the cards home and use them for the next week.  His mother later told me that  he took the spelling tests every day. What an eager learner!

First anniversary

A little over a year ago, Mrs. K and I sat at my dining room table and made plans for a blog and a series of books for early readers. A month ago, December, 17, marked the first year anniversary of our blog. During the past year:

  • We have received more than 10,000 views of our website.
  • Two topics have tied for the most read blogs:
    • how not to mix up b and d, and
    • the meaning of CVC.
  • The third most-read blog was about teaching vowel sounds.
  • Many other well-read blogs concern methods of teaching reading and information about our book apps and funny pages.
  • More than half the views come from U.S. readers.
  • Yet viewers from the U.K, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, India, New Zealand and South Korea also read our blog often.
  • Viewers come from every continent except Antarctica.
Countries of comicphonics.com blog viewers of the past year

Click on the chart to enlarge it.

This information is useful in planning blogs for 2014. We thank you, our readers, for reading our blog, for leaving comments and for making suggestions for future blogs. Our goal is to continue to provide useful information for teaching little children how to read.

Are you running into problems teaching your child to read? Have you come across a new book that your child loves to read? Have you found web sites or apps that your child uses to learn to read? Let us know so we can pass along information to your fellow parents and teachers.

— Mrs. A

How can I teach my child vowel sounds?

I have followed a low tech system somewhat similar to teaching consonant sounds, but a system that is a little different too.  This phonetic approach works well with ESL students, young native English speakers getting ready to read and even adults because it makes learning fun.

Looking "over the shoulder" of a young girl sorting pictures of things that have a short A sound when spoken.

To enlarge, click on the picture.

  • I make a set of a dozen or more picture cards for ă:  apple, astronaut, alligator and ax (which begin with ă sound), and other CVC words using ă such as hat, man, dad and bag.
  • I also make one card with ă written on it.
  • At the same time, I make picture (flash) cards with pictures for the other short vowels, and I take some of those cards and temporarily add them to the ă deck.
  • Knowing that discerning vowel sounds is hard, I put the apple card next to the ă card and say the word apple many times, focusing on the vowel sound.  Slowly I help the child say the words in the deck of cards and place the cards near the ă card or in a discard area.
  • When the ă sound is learned (usually this takes several sessions), I take ĕ, ĭ, ŏ and ŭ words, and one short vowel at a time, go through the process with each sound.  Because ĕ and ĭ are hard to distinguish, I do them after ă, ŏ and ŭ, and spend more time on them.
  • Then I start mixing up two of the sounds, such as ă and ŏ.  I put both the ă and ŏ cards on the table, and take the picture cards for only those two sounds, shuffle them, and go through them with the child.  Once the child can distinguish those sounds, I gradually add ŭ to the mix and have the child sort ă, ŏ and ŭ.
  • I leave ĕ and ĭ to last and do those two letters together before I include them with the other short vowel sounds.  It takes many weeks of practice to distinguish ĕ and ĭ sounds.  When the child has mastered them, I add the other three vowels to the deck and the child sorts all five short vowel sounds.
  • When the child has mastered all five short vowel sounds, I go through the same process with ā, ē, ī, ō and ū.  The process for the long vowels goes quicker than for the short vowels.
  • As I move on teaching the child other sounds, I review the vowel sounds if I notice the child is forgetting some of the sounds or mixing up any of them.  This happens with every child I have taught.

Preschoolers and primary school children like this method of learning because they are learning through a game.  They like the control they have—holding the cards and placing them.  They like working one on one with an adult tutor who is paying special attention to them.  Sometimes I do one card and the child does one card to emphasize the fun of learning.  No worksheets, no writing—just fun.  Yet children learn their letter sounds.

Can dyslexia be identified in a preschooler?

By definition, dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by difficulty reading.  There are secondary characteristics—difficulty spelling, and illegible handwriting, for example—but until a child has attempted to read, it’s probably too early to identify dyslexia.

Even so, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has listed several warning signs for dyslexia, shown in the chart below, and some of them apply to preschoolers.

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting about five percent of American children.  Its cause is unknown, although scientists think it probably has more than one cause.  About a quarter of the children who have dyslexia also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, though most children with dyslexia don’t exhibit ADHD.  If an older child in the family or a parent has dyslexia, then the younger child has an increased chance of having it too.

Children diagnosed with dyslexia have normal intelligence and vision, yet they cannot figure out how to read by first grade.  Eventually they do, but they often require intervention from the school system, a tutor or a dedicated parent.

Dyslexia affects information processing in the part of the brain controlling language.  Usually children without dyslexia begin to realize that sounds combine to form words or parts of words, and that those sounds can be represented by letters.  Children with dyslexia have difficulty making these connections.

Children with dyslexia do learn to read, but it takes longer.  Teachers need to repeat the phonemes or basic sounds of English (about 44) and help children recognize these sounds in words and in syllables.  “Go” for example, has two phonemes, g and long o.  Then teachers need to connect these phonemes to letters, and the letters to tiny words which follow the rules of pronunciation.

If you are concerned about dyslexia, the National Center for Learning Disabilities website offers a 40-page toolkit about dyslexia, including several pages about characteristics of children pre-K to second grade and strategies to help them learn.  Your right to have your child tested by the public schools, the type of testing done and a video from an educator who has dyslexia are included in the toolkit.