The Guide to 5th Grade

Review general curricula for 5th grade, learn what to expect for each subject, and discover the books and activities you can use at home to support learning in the classroom.
By Shira Ackerman and Kelsey Kloss
Jul 03, 2019



The Guide to 5th Grade

Jul 03, 2019

Your child is about to enter what’s often considered the last year of elementary school — and will soon be exploring middle school curriculum! That’s why 5th grade is an extremely important time for students to cement the skills they have gained throughout the upper grades and lay a solid foundation for the years ahead.

In short, this year is all about helping students practice, refine, and grow their skills. Students build on what they learned in 4th grade by analyzing material in deeper ways, and write structured, clear, and detailed pieces about a variety of subjects. They are encouraged and expected to be more independent in their learning, and to require less guidance and support from teachers and other adults. For instance, when a student is asked to research a topic, he should know what to do to accomplish that (even if he needs a little help from a teacher along the way).

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 dedicated to different subjects of learning — say, a section of the room for math tools and supplies, and a class library area 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. 

Read on for what to expect this year, or jump straight to your 5th grade shopping list

5th Grade Reading

Most of the 5th grade reading curriculum focuses on teaching students to understand and develop ideas about the texts they read. Fifth graders learn to support their ideas using specific details from books, and are expected to think carefully about (and ultimately use) quotes, facts, and events to develop opinions about a text and explain it. Students practice this as they read texts together as a class and independently, and their teachers often show them specific strategies they can use to do this. Fifth graders also expand these skills as they write extensively about what they read in every subject.

To build reading skills, your fifth grader:

  • Begins to use direct quotes from texts to explain and prove ideas about the reading.
  • Reads a variety of genres including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama.
  • Uses details from the text to summarize it, identity the main idea or theme, compare characters or events, or compare different texts of the same genre (for example, two fantasy texts such as The Hobbit or There and Back Again and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).
  • 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 (for instance, Greg’s perspective in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series).
  • 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 her understanding of a topic and to find answers to her questions.
  • Gathers information about a topic from multiple sources.

Want even more book and reading ideas? Sign up for our Scholastic Parents newsletter.

Your 5th Grade Book Checklist for Reading

Scholastic Success with Reading Comprehension: Grade 5 — Prime your fifth grader for a year of successful reading with these 22 interesting stories paired with comprehension-building puzzles, facts, and activities. This book will help your child distinguish between fact and opinion, understand cause and effect, determine the main ideas and important details of a story, develop vocabulary, make inferences, and draw conclusions.

Scholastic Success With Reading Tests: Grade 5 This workbook gives fifth graders everything they need to succeed on standardized tests and reading comprehension. With 15 reading tests designed specifically for this age group, it will give your child the tools necessary to nail concepts such as reading for detail, making inferences, and understanding fact and opinion.

Hatchet By fifth grade, your child is ready to dive into texts that touch on more complex themes, like divorce and tragedy. (And it's important that they do, because these types of books help them to better understand the world around them.) In this popular read, a boy must survive in the Canadian wilderness after the single-engine plane he's flying in crashes. All he has with him is a hatchet his mother gave him as a present, and a secret that has been tearing him apart since his parent's divorce. But he now has no time for self-pity or despair — he must gather all of his courage and resourcefulness to survive. 

James and the Giant Peach — This is an important classic for your fifth grader to read before finishing the school year. As you likely remember from your own childhood, it is the timless story about James, a boy who's been struck by plenty of bad fortune. But one day, an old man gives him a bag of magic crystals, which he accidentally spills on a withered peach tree! Before he knows it, a single peach grows so large that he can roll away on it to a better future — while befriending a number of hilarious characters along the way. 

Bridge to Terabithia  As the friendship between young Jess and Leslie grows, they begin to meet in Terabithia — their secret hiding spot. One day, however, one of the friends must learn to cope with the unthinkable. Another significant classic for every fifth grader's bookshelf, this Newbery Medal-winning novel is set in contemporary rural America and explores friendship, imagination, and tragedy. 

Bonus Reading Activities

Start a Book Club: It can include family members, your child’s friends and their parents, or just the two of you. Select a book together and establish small reading assignments (perhaps one or two chapters per week). Choose a specific “meeting” time and place, such as a weekly trip to a local café or park, or chat over some snacks at home and discuss the book. Talk about its themes, using concrete examples you find in the text. After you finish one book, pick another by the same author about a similar topic (or in the same genre) and compare the two.

Gain Perspective: Read two different texts about an event you and your child attended (or you can each write your own personal account of it). Ask your child to compare the differences in the perspectives they are written from.

Read and Research: Help your child come up with a question about a topic of interest, and work together to explore a variety of sources for the answer. Use technology, books (such as the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary!), magazines, newspapers, and, if relevant, poetry and fiction.

Mix Up Your Reading: Read different genres of texts with your child. For example, pick a poem or play, read it together, and then talk about the ideas, perspectives, and themes in it. Also read books that take place in a variety of locations: An increasing number of children look for books that allow them to explore places and worlds they’ve never been to, according to the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report.

5th Grade Writing

Fifth graders build on the skills they learned in 4th grade to become clearer and more developed writers. They pursue many different kinds of pieces covering a variety of topics, and use details and organization to strengthen their writing. As they work on pieces in class, students are taught to use writing to share their own unique ideas and perspectives — not just those of others.   

To build writing skills, your 5th grader:

  • Writes opinion pieces, which include:
    •  an introduction and conclusion
    • a logical and clear structure
    • evidence that supports the author’s opinion
  • Writes informational pieces that:
    • explain a topic using details such as definitions, quotations, and facts
    • include an introduction and conclusion
  • Writes narrative pieces that:
    • introduce and describe an event in a logical way
    • use details such as dialogue, thoughts, and emotions
    • provide a conclusion
  • Plans, revises, and edits his writing (using tools like the Scholastic Children’s Thesaurus to finesse his word choice skills).
  • Thinks about the best way to approach his writing and tries different ways to do so — such as writing in a different tense, or from a different perspective.
  • Uses technology (under adult supervision) 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 pieces that take long periods of time (a few weeks) and short periods of time (one sitting or a couple of days).

Your 5th Grade Book Checklist for Writing

Scholastic Study Smart Vocabulary Builder: Words with Multiple Meanings Level 5–6 — Knowing the perfect vocabulary word to use in any given sentence is a crucial part of being a great writer. With this workbook, fifth graders learn to understand the different meanings of more complex words and how to apply them in sentence construction. Topics include decoding words using contextual clues and discerning the meanings of words in a variety of sentences.

Scholastic Success With Writing: Grade 5 — Give your child the tools to become a great writer with this encouraging workbook. Filled with high-interest topics and engaging exercises, it will help your fifth grader develop skills that can be used in daily writing assignments such as journals, stories, and letters. 

Scholastic Success With Grammar: Grade 5 — This helpful resource will provide your child with invaluable reinforcement and practice in grammar topics such as parts of speech, common and proper nouns, and subject-verb agreement. The exercises in this book are based on several standardized tests for fifth grade students. 

Scholastic Study Smart: Grammar Builder Grade 5 — A perfect resource to pair with the above workbook, this practice book helps fifth graders review and apply essential grammar skills needed to read and write well. It features explanations for each grammar concept, plus a range of exercises that target your child's ability to identify and apply that concept.  

Scholastic Study Smart: Write Better Sentences and Paragraphs Grade 5 — This book helps fifth graders write creatively, elaborate, and express themselves fluently! Packed with models, explanations, organizers, and open-ended activities to encourage creativity, this smart workbook will improve your child's writing skills and help them excel in writing assignments at school. 

Bonus Writing Activities

Practice Typing: Experiment with the many different ways your child might do this — for instance, he can play typing games, type something he has written, or transcribe a conversation you have together.

Edit, Edit, Edit: You and your child can both write your own pieces, or your child can choose a short piece of writing from another source. Whatever he chooses, ask your child to “revise” or “edit” the text, aiming to improve it by adding more detail and descriptions.

Pick a New Perspective: Use a piece you or your child wrote or pick a text written by someone else, like a short story or article. Ask your child to rewrite the piece from a different perspective, like that of another character in the story or a person who witnessed the event. Talk to your child about the differences in those 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 scenes and take detailed notes on what he observes. Your child can then read his notes to everyone who was there. (Giving kids journals they love to write in will make this all the more fun — try Star Wars: Jedi Academy: Attack of the Journal or Klutz: Decorate This Journal). Go a step further 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 completed in a specific order — for example, solving equations in parentheses first. (Help her practice these math skills and many others with Scholastic Success With Math Tests: Grade 5).

Fifth 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 to ensure that they truly understand the underlying concepts.

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 four digits by numbers that have up to two 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 explain the connections between the two patterns.
  • Knows the qualities and different categories of two-dimensional shapes. 

Your 5th Grade Book Checklist for Math

Scholastic Success With Math: Grade 5 — Use this book with your fifth grader to reinforce valuable, grade-appropriate math skills, including number sense and concepts, reasoning and logic, basic operations and computations, story problems and equations, time and measurement, fractions and decimals, geometry and basic shapes, and much more! Each practice page emphasizes a skill outlined in common standardized tests.

Scholastic Success With Fractions & Decimals: Grade 5 — For many fifth graders, these math concepts can be tricky, but this workbook makes them fun and approachable! More than 40 practice pages give kids practice with fractions and decimals, with easy-to-follow directions that motivate students to work independently. 

Bonus Math Activities

Change Your Order: Ask your child to solve an equation that follows a specific order of steps 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. After your child has solved this equation, compare the answers and discuss the difference between the two.

Become Math Consultants: Ask family members and friends for “math problems” they have needed to solve in everyday life, then challenge your child to solve them. Your fifth grader can even become the go-to math consultant: If a real-life situation that involves solving a math problem arises for a family member, ask them to consult your child for the solution.

Create a Group Graph: Make a life-size graph (with horizontal and vertical axes) by putting tape or strips of paper on the floor. Alternatively, use sticks to mark dirt or sand outside. Plot numbers on the graph using numbered cards or pieces of paper. Assign family members or friends one pair of coordinates each, then ask everyone to “plot” themselves at the correct place on the graph. Take turns calling out different coordinate pairs for each 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 in a certain amount of time (for example, 4 minutes). Repeat this, either immediately or later on, to see if she can break her previous record.

5th Grade Science

Similar to other subjects in 5th grade, science lessons emphasize the importance of analyzing topics so students can 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 come up with ideas, draw conclusions, and ask further questions for future experiments and investigations. They are also asked to support these ideas and questions with evidence.

As in other grades, the exact topics studied in 5th grade science vary according to state. However, common ones 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.

To build science skills, your 5th grader:

  • Conducts experiments using the scientific method:
    • questions, observes, and researches
    • develops a hypothesis (based on observations and research)
    • makes predictions
    • experiments
    • develops a conclusion
  • Asks additional questions to research and experiment, based on previous conclusions (science kits like the Hydropower: Renewable Energy Science Kit are ideal for practicing this).
  • Develops and explains ideas based on investigations and experiments; uses specific reasoning and evidence to explain his assertions.
  • Presents the findings and conclusion of an experiment, both orally and in writing.
  • Researches and takes notes on information about a variety of topics using both books 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 physical and chemical changes.
  • Works independently, with partners, 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 scientific concepts.

Your 5th Grade Book Checklist for Science

Scholastic Discover More: Technology — For kids used to surfing and swiping, this new-generation reference book teaches about the cool technology of our world, including funky gadgets and gizmos. With it, your fifth grader will uncover the smart tech behind cell phones, Wi-Fi, GPS, game consoles, cars, airplanes, and even spy gadgets!

Klutz: Maker Lab: Circuit Games — Spark your fifth grader’s interest in circuitry with this striking set of five circuit games to build from scratch. Students use actual electronic components to construct an operation game, assemble a quiz show board, and much more. This set includes a step-by-step book of instructions showing how to become a circuit game maker by adding wires, LEDs, and buzzers for super-charged fun.

Bonus Science Activities

Prove It!: When someone claims something about a scientific concept (for instance, “Adding sugar to water in a vase keeps flowers fresh for longer!”), see if you and your child can prove it. Conduct an experiment using the scientific method and see if the result of your experiment supports the stated claim.

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 him 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 craft 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 (try this Geckobot!) or the digestive system.

Look for Real-Life 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 he 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 learn about social studies, they are taught to analyze the reasons behind events, make connections, and compare those events. As in other grades, most social studies curricula are specific to a location, so 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.

To build social studies skills, your 5th grader:

  • Writes about what she learns in 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 certain event outcomes.
  • Researches, organizes, and presents her research on various topics, events, and figures.
  • Discusses topics, focusing on using specific details, facts, and reasons to support her opinion.
  • Uses technology to research both past and current events and topics. 
  • Deepens her understanding of government and civic responsibility (for instance, with books like A True Book: Civics: Serving on a Jury).

Your Book Checklist for Social Studies

Sounder — This classic novel shows students the courage and love that binds a family together despite racism in the 19th-century Deep South. Each night, David’s father takes their dog, Sounder, out to look for food — but eventually, his father is sent to prison for stealing. When Sounder runs away, David is left with a legacy of resilience and self-independence, and the hope that both will return one day.  

Number the Stars — When the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” the Jews of Denmark, 10-year-old Annemarie Johansens’s family take in her best friend — Ellen Rosen — and pretend she is part of the family. Told through Annemarie’s eyes, this essential social studies read shows how the Danish Resistance heroically smuggled nearly 7,000 people across the sea to Sweden during a time of terror and war.

Bonus Social Studies Activities

Learn Your Community’s Past and Present: Help your child research what your town was like during a time period she is studying (investigate online or stop by the library). Compare the differences between your community in the past and present by also reading about what’s happening in your town now: Nearly 75% of children say that reading about current events makes it easier to understand or talk about them, according to the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report

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 certain time periods your child is studying.

Interview Historical Figures: Since your fifth grader may study modern history, you might 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 she interviews. This can be particularly meaningful to your child if the person she interviews is a family member.

Map it Out: Find a place nearby that has historical significance, then visit with a map and trace out the event that occurred there. If you can’t travel to a site, use an online resource and map out where an important event happened.

Your 5th Grade Reading Checklist

Your 5th Grade Writing Checklist

Your 5th Grade Math Checklist

Your 5th Grade Science Checklist

Your 5th Grade Social Studies Checklist

Language Arts
Age 10
Age 11
Elementary School