Fifth Grade

5th grade boy writing at his desk
  • What They Learn in Fifth Grade

    The Basics

    Fifth graders work hard on projects and tasks that require them to draw on the skills and strategies they have been learning in elementary school. School work gets more difficult, and responsibilities increase. Teachers challenge students with long-term projects that require planning and organization.

    The social life of fifth graders often overshadows what they learn — at least for them. Who their friends are and what they think is more important than ever as they grow into pre-teens. At the same time, fifth graders may experience excitement about what they are learning and able to do, as well as new anxiety. In many schools, fifth graders will soon be moving on to middle school, and children may feel both thrilled and overwhelmed by the transition. Parents, guardians, and teachers can play a critical role in listening, reassuring and supporting the new individual that is starting to emerge.

    Language & Literacy

    Fifth graders are asked to read a lot in a variety of subject areas. They’ll learn to analyze characters, plot, and settings, as well as to recognize an author’s purpose for writing and his organizational strategies. Through constant reading in their classrooms, in libraries, and at home, they’ll be able to find what they like to read. Reading for pleasure helps students build their vocabulary and fosters a lifelong love of literature. (Soon, their opportunities for independent reading will be swallowed up by the wealth of middle and high school reading assignments and peer activities.)

    Fifth graders have become skillful writers with their own individual styles. They produce and present research projects, and write more complex narratives, opinion pieces, nonfiction and creative fiction pieces of writing. They are asked to edit their writing, using what they have learned about the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. As in reading, they should be encouraged to explore writing for personal expression, putting their feelings onto paper through poetry, stories, and songwriting.


    Fifth graders learn to solve complex problems with complex numbers. They divide whole numbers, with and without remainders. They make connections between decimals, fractions, and percentages. They learn to multiply and divide fractions and to do the same operations using the powers of time. They apply these skills to the real world by solving problems about data, time, measurement, and money.


    Fifth graders are now accomplished scientists who can observe and experiment to gather data and draw conclusions. They have expanded their knowledge of the physical world and can apply the basic math and science skills they’ve acquired to their observations. They learn about the processes of living things, like photosynthesis and digestion. They look at the Earth and its resources, and how people use and affect those resources. Some might experiment with simple chemical reactions. Topics may include Earth’s atmosphere and weather, the solar system, and classifying matter.

    Social Studies

    Fifth graders learn about the people and events of early American history. They compare Native American and colonial experiences with present-day life, focusing on the differing cultures of each original colony. They learn why people moved to the United States and explore the routes and consequences of those movements.

    They also have to work, in and out of school, on the social issues that arise within their peer groups. The social arena dominates fifth grade life, and they need help figuring it all out, from coping with new social situations, to friendship struggles, to resolving conflicts appropriately, to making wise peer choices.

    How Kids Learn in Fifth Grade

    The Big Distractions

    Fifth graders are flip-floppers. They think of themselves as mature and independent but can revert to immature behavior when they want the comfort they are often afraid to ask for. They spend much of their day learning the complex and ever-changing social rules for interacting with their peers. This can make it tough for teachers, who have to steer them back to the academic tasks of the classroom. It can also make it tough for some fifth graders, who may need to switch their focus from classroom social dramas to good study skills and time management.

    Fortunately, by this stage, fifth graders have developed the ability to think logically about concrete problems. This means that when they look at a problem, they can pull out the necessary facts and strategies needed to solve it, and then move those thoughts around in different ways until they are able to figure it out.

    The Pressures of the Group

    Being part of a group, what their friends think of them, and what they think of their friends are very important issues for fifth graders. Fifth graders become more self-conscious and somewhat insecure about how they appear and whether they “fit in.” Struggles with schoolwork can often cause children to feel isolated from their peers, and embarrassed. Occasionally, students who excel in certain subjects try to downplay their intelligence in order fit in. “It’s important for parents to build upon children’s strengths to help them with their weaker areas. It’s also a good time to look at children’s passions to find extracurricular activities in areas in which they can excel. This can give them a sense of pride of accomplishment and can broaden their peer group to include friends who have common interests.

    Parents, Don’t Stress Over . . .
    The know-it-all attitude: Being the big kids on campus makes fifth-graders a tough audience. “Keeping students connected and engaged is hard,” says Wright. And thanks to blossoming BS detectors, “a teacher needs to keep it authentic, really knowing her purpose,” says Wright. Good advice for you, too. Try looking for a coming-of-age book like Where the Red Fern Grows or To Kill a Mockingbird. Relatable characters are what will keep reading going strong.
    Hormone havoc: The start of acne, moody temperaments, and a growing interest in what everyone is wearing, texting, and doing can make this grade a bit of a rough ride. Try letting your kids see you struggle and fail, so they see that it’s normal not to be perfect. Let them know mistakes are the best teachers.



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