The Guide to 5th Grade

Review general curricula for 5th Grade, including what to expect for each subject. Plus, discover at-home activities to support learning in the classroom.



The Guide to 5th Grade

Often the last year of elementary school, 5th grade is an important time for students to cement the skills they have gained throughout the upper grades and develop them even further in preparation for middle school. Fifth grade is about helping students practice, refine, and grow their skills, taking all that they have learned to the next step. Fifth graders build on what they learn in 4th grade by thinking and analyzing in deeper ways about what they learn and read. They also write structured, clear, and detailed pieces. Additionally, fifth graders are encouraged and expected to be more independent in their learning, requiring less guidance and support from adults and teachers. For example, when a student is asked to research a topic, he should be able to know what to do and how to accomplish this goal. He certainly may need the assistance of a teacher throughout the research, but he also has the basic tools to do so by himself.

A 5th grade classroom is structured like most elementary school classrooms, with desks or tables for the students and usually an area for lessons, class meetings, and discussions. There are also often areas or centers dedicated to different subjects of learning. For instance, there may be an area with all of the math tools and supplies, as well as a class library dedicated to reading. Technology is used extensively for writing and research in 5th grade, and it's often an integral part of the curriculum across many subjects. 

5th Grade Reading 

Most of the 5th grade reading curriculum focuses on teaching students to understand the texts they read and to develop ideas about what they read and learn. More precisely, they are taught to support their ideas using specific details from the text. Students are expected to think carefully about (and ultimately use) details such as quotes, facts, and events from a text to develop and explain what they think and what they have learned. Students practice this as they read texts together as a class as well as through the reading they do independently. Fifth grade teachers teach students specific strategies they can use to do this. Fifth graders further deepen these skills as they write extensively about what they read.  

In order to build reading skills, your 5th grader:

  • Begins to use direct quotes from texts to explain and prove ideas about the text.
  • Reads a variety of genres of text including: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama.
  • Uses details from the text to: summarize the text, identity the main idea or theme of a text, compare characters or events in a text, or compare different texts of the same genre (for example, two fantasy texts).
  • Interprets and understands metaphors and comparisons made in a text.
  • Identifies an author or narrator’s point of view and explains how this affects the content of a text.
  • Compares multiple perspectives on the same event, idea, or theme.
  • Uses the context of a text to determine the meaning of unknown words.
  • Uses technology and digital media to further understanding of a topic and find the answers to questions.
  • Gathers information from multiple sources about one topic.

Reading Activities

  • Start a Book Club: Form a book club with family members, your child’s friends and their parents, or just the two of you.  Select a book together and establish small reading assignments (for example, one or two chapters at a time). Choose a specific “meeting” time and place, such as a weekly trip to a local café or park, or just chat over some snacks at home, discussing the book. Be sure to focus on talking about your ideas and some themes in the book, using concrete examples from the book and the other skills mentioned above. After you finish one book, pick another book by the same author, about a similar topic or in the same genre and compare them.
  • Compare Perspectives: Read about an event you and your child attended or write your own accounts of an event you shared. Read the two pieces and then compare the differences between them, like the perspectives from which they were written.
  • Read and Research: Help your child come up with a question about a topic of interest. Then work together to read a variety of sources to find the answer. Use technology (under your guidance) as well as magazines, newspapers, and, if relevant, poetry and fiction to find the answer.
  • Vary Your Reading: Read different genres of texts with your child. For example, pick a poem or play, read it together, and talk about the ideas, perspectives, and themes of it. Read two poems about one topic and compare them.

5th Grade Writing 

Fifth graders build on the skills they learned in 4th grade to become clearer and more developed writers as they write many different kinds of pieces — about a variety of topics — and use details and organization to write strong pieces. Students are taught to use their writing to share their own unique ideas and perspectives, not just those of others. They are taught to use connected and specific details in their writing, as well. Students are shown specific ways to do this and spend much of their writing time in class working on their own individual writing pieces.  

In order to build writing skills, your 5th grader:

  • Writes opinion pieces, including:
    • An introduction and conclusion
    • A logical and clear structure
    • Reasons, proofs and ideas that support the author’s opinion.
  • Writes informational pieces, which:
    • Explain a topic using specific details such as definitions, quotations and facts
    • Include an introduction and conclusion.
  • Writes narrative pieces, which:
    • Introduce and describe an event in a logically ordered way
    • Use details such as dialogue, thoughts and emotions
    • Include a conclusion.
  • Plans, revises, and edits his writing.
  • Thinks about the best way to approach her writing and tries different ways to do so. For example, writes in a different tense, or from a different perspective, such as 1st or 3rd person.
  • Uses technology (under adult guidance) to publish writing, research, and communicate with others.
  • Types at least two pages of text in one sitting.
  • Uses multiple sources to write and create a research project.
  • Takes notes on information and cites the sources used.
  • Writes over a range of times including long (over weeks) and short (one sitting or a couple of days) periods of time.

Writing Activities

  • Practice Typing: There are a variety of ways your child can practice his typing. He can play typing games, he can type something you or he has written, or he can type out a conversation you have together.
  • Revise Someone Else’s Work: Practice revising pieces of writing. You and your child can both write your own pieces, or your child can choose another short piece of writing from another source. Your child can then “revise” that piece, trying to improve it by adding more detail and descriptions.
  • Pick a New Perspective: Use either a piece you or your child wrote or pick a text written by someone else, such as a short story or article. Ask your child to re-write the piece from a different perspective, like that of another character or person in the story or a person who witnessed an event. Talk to your child about the difference in perspectives.
  • Become Investigators: Pick an event or moment such as a family meal, preparations in the morning, or a car ride. Ask your child to silently observe the scene and take detailed notes on what he observes, writing down things that were said and things people did. Your child can then read back his notes to everyone who was at the event. You can take this even further and by asking your child to develop ideas about the event that he observed (for example, “Getting ready in the morning is a very hectic time in our family. Maybe we should all wake up earlier or have assigned jobs.”) and use evidence to support these ideas.

5th Grade Math 

In 5th grade, students practice more complex computation with fractions, decimals, and larger numbers, using all four basic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They also often solve equations that require multiple steps and must be solved in a specific order (for example, equations in parentheses mush be solved first). 5th grade math also emphasizes real life situations to help students strengthen their skills and solve problems that occur in their own lives. To do this, it often uses real-life objects and math tools like money, rulers, and visuals to teach new concepts. As in previous grades, 5th graders are often asked to explain how they solve problems in order to ensure that they truly understand the concepts underlying the equations they solve.

In order to build math skills, your 5th grader:

  • Uses addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to solve word problems.
  • Adds, subtracts, multiplies, and divides multi-digit numbers.
  • Practices using parentheses and brackets in equations, knowing the proper order to use to solve the equations.
  • Writes, adds, subtracts, multiplies, compares, and rounds decimals.
  • Solves division equations that include remainders and divides numbers that have up to 4 digits by numbers that have up to 2 digits.
  • Adds, subtracts, multiplies, and divides fractions with different denominators.
  • Plots fractions in the correct order on a line graph.
  • Solves word problems that measure distance, time, size, money, area, perimeter, and volume; uses whole numbers, fractions and decimals.
  • Estimates and predicts answers to word problems and equations based on knowledgeable guesses.
  • Understands the relationship between different units of measurement and can convert one unit to another (for example, centimeters to inches).
  • Plots coordinates on graphs and compares their distance and positions.
  • Follows a pattern or set of guidelines to create a number. For example: start with 5. Add 3 five times and subtract 1. What number are you left with? Students then do the same with another set of guidelines and understand and explain the connections between the two patterns.
  • Knows the qualities and different categories of 2-dimensional shapes. 

Math Activities

  • Change Your Order: Ask your child to solve equations that includes a necessary order using parentheses (this is called the "Order of Operations," or "PEMDAS"). Then take the same set of numbers, written in the same order, but change the equation by asking your child to put the parentheses in different places and group sets of number in different ways. After your child has solved this equation, compare the answers and discuss the difference between the two. Your child can also give you equations like these to solve.
  • Become Math Consultants: Ask family members and friends for “math problems” they have needed to solve in everyday life. Ask your child to solve these problems for them. Your child can also become the math consultant for this person in the future. If they have a real-life situation in which they need to solve a math problem, they could consult your child.
  • Create a Group Graph: Make a life-size graph (with horizontal and vertical axes) by putting tape or strips of paper down on the floor. Alternatively, use sticks or mark dirt and sand outside. Plot the numbers on the graph using cards with numbers written on them or write them out on the tape or paper. Assign different family members or friends a pair of coordinates. Everyone should then “plot” themselves and move to the correct place on the graph. Take turns calling out different coordinate pairs for a person to move to.
  • Quick Check: Since your child should be able to solve equations with ease, give her a variety of multiplication and division equations that use multi-digit numbers and see how many she can solve within a certain amount of time (for example, 4 minutes). Repeat this, either immediately after or at another point, to see if she can break her previous record.

5th Grade Science 

Similar to other subjects in 5th grade, science lessons emphasize to students the importance of analyzing what they learn in order to deepen their thinking, expand their knowledge, and develop their own ideas and conclusions. For example, as fifth graders conduct experiments and investigate topics, they are encouraged to use these experiences to come up with ideas, draw conclusions, and ask further questions for future experiments and investigations. Furthermore, they are asked to support these ideas and questions with specific proofs and reasons.

As in other grades, the specific topics studied in science vary according to state. However, common topics studied in 5th grade include: earth and space; plants; the cycle of life; animals; the human body; electricity and magnetism; motion; and sound. Students also often learn about these topics in relation to their location and where they live. Consult your child’s teacher or research your state’s science standards for more details.

In order to build science skills, your 5th grader:

  • Conducts experiments using the scientific method (there are many different ways people present "the scientific method," but here's a basic example):
  1. Questions, observes, and researches
  2. Develops a hypothesis (based on observations and research)
  3. Makes predictions
  4. Experiments
  5. Develops a conclusion
  • Develops further questions to research and experiment with based on previously done experiments and previously realized conclusions.
  • Develops and explains ideas based on investigations and experiments; uses specific reasoning and evidence to explain her assertions.
  • Presents the findings and conclusion of an experiment, both in writing and orally.
  • Researches and takes notes on information about a variety of topics using both text and digital resources.
  • Collects and uses data to support experiments and what he learns.
  • Experiments with different types of materials and matter — such as solid, liquid, and gas — to observe different types of physical and chemical changes.
  • Works independently, in partnerships, in small groups, and as a class to conduct experiments and create projects.
  • Studies and creates models of systems and objects to further explore and show an understanding of the scientific concepts learned.

Science Activities: 5th Grade

  • Prove It!: When your child asks a question about a scientific concept or when someone says something about a scientific concept, see if you and your child can prove it. Conduct an experiment using the scientific method and see if the result of your experiment answers your question or supports the fact stated.
  • Make Matter Matter: When you encounter matter that changes in everyday life, point it out and talk to your child about it. For example, when you are cooking, ask your child why bubbling water boils and talk about the reason together. Try boiling other things to see what happens to them and compare the differences and similarities.
  • Make a Model: First, ask your child's teacher what topic your child is currently learning about. Then, make a model of a related object. For example, if your child is learning about human cells, use crafts objects, clay, or even different foods to make a model of a cell and its parts. You can also make a model of a system, such as machine or the digestive system.
  • Look for Real-Life Science: These days, so much progress is happening in science. Read articles with your child about scientific topics and progress made in the world, then talk about the articles — as well as the effects this progress may have. If possible, your child can do further research on a topic she finds particularly interesting. 

5th Grade Social Studies

In most schools, 5th grade curriculum focuses on United States history, beginning with the colonization of America and possibly continuing through the 20th century. As 5th graders study social studies, they are taught to analyze the reasons behind events, make connections, and compare. As in other grades, since most social studies curricula are specific to a location, consult your child’s teacher or your state’s social studies standards to find out which specific communities and aspects of the community will be covered.

In order to build social studies skills, your 5th grader:

  • Writes about what he learns through a traditional essay format.
  • Uses primary sources and different types of media (such as film and art) to learn about historical events.
  • Learns about historical events through the context of geography and how it affected different events.
  • Researches, organizes, and presents her research on various topics, events, and figures.
  • Discusses topics, focusing on using specific details, facts, and reasons to support his opinion.
  • Uses technology to research both past and current events and topics. 
  • Deepens his understanding of government and civic responsibility.

Social Studies Activities

  • Learn your Community’s History: Help your child research what the place you lived in was like during a time she is studying. Look online or visit the local library to find this information. You may even be able to find old pictures or other information about either your house or the land on which you live. Learn the history of where you live. Compare the differences between your community, past and present.
  • Find Historical Artifacts: Visit museums, libraries, or even relatives' or friends’ homes to find objects from the early 20th century that may have been used during the time your child studies.
  • Interview Historical Figures: Since your 5th grader may study modern history from the 20 century, you may know someone who experienced a historical event covered in school. Your child can interview this person and then create a project (such as a written piece or a TV show) about the person he interviews. This can be particularly meaningful for your child if the person he interviews is in your family and shares your family history with him.
  • Map it Out: Find a place nearby that has historical significance. Visit that place with a map and trace out the event. If you are unable to go somewhere, use an online resource and map out where an important historical event your child learned about occurred. Trace a journey or trip from history. 

Recommended Books for 5th Graders

Here are some book picks for your 5th grader:

  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis: This historical fiction novel is about a family who moves from Michigan to Alabama, experiencing a tragic event of racism.
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit: This book explores the friendship between two young adults.
  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes: This book explores the serious issue of poverty and alienating classmates.
  • The Kid's Guide to Money: Earning It, Saving It, Spending It, Growing It, Sharing It by Steven Otfinoski: This guide helps kids understand money, economic concepts and spending.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar: This hard-to-explain book tells the story of a group of young boys, woven with historical events, in a fantasy-like, engaging, and captivating manner. 
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