Phonemic discrimination is often a struggle for English learners at all stages and of all ages 😉 This is how I like to approach the topic with my 6-10-year-old students.
I divide the whiteboard in two and write out minimal pairs including the sound I want to focus on. Then, students have to react in a certain way depending on what they hear.
Here are some examples:
1. left side: thirteen, fourteen, fifteen…, right side: thirty, forty, fifty.
The students then have to jump to the right or to the left, depending on which word they’ve heard. If you don’t have enough space for running and jumping around in your classroom, you can modify it: clap for /i:/, stamp your feet for /ɪ/.
2. with 6-year-olds we approached the dreaded /θ/ sound, which has no equivalent in Polish. They had to decide if they’ve heard “three” or “tree” and, accordingly, show three fingers or sway like a tree in the breeze 😉
3. 7-year-olds also had to deal with the /θ/ and decide if the word they hear is “mouse” (squeak like a mouse) or “mouth” (point to your mouth).
I make sure to keep track of the words we’ve been using and the gestures they were assigned, so that we can bring them back as needed.
If you want more ideas like this, let me know in the comments 🙂