Grade 5

Grades 4 and 5 have three homeroom sections at each grade level. Grade 4 students learn language arts and social studies in their academic homerooms. Beginning in the winter, Grade 4 students regroup, and many change classrooms, for math. In Grade 5, teachers specialize in an academic subject, so students move among Grade 5 classrooms to have different teachers for language arts, history and social studies, and math. Accelerated sections are available in Grades 4 and 5 math, and accelerated work in language arts is offered to students through a process of differentiation within their classes. Special classes continue in Spanish, science, religion, art, music, and physical education. Teachers integrate technology into student learning experiences throughout the Upper School.


Reading, writing, speaking, and listening form the backbone of the Grade 5 language arts experience, as students grow as active readers, confident writers, and critical thinkers. Literature selections reflect a wide variety of genres offering varying cultural and historical perspectives that provide students with opportunities to process text in many different ways. While writing is connected to reading through literature, students are encouraged to select topics about which they care and then to write within a given structure—narrative, informational, research-based persuasive essay, letters, memoirs, and more. Ongoing exposure and practice in vocabulary, grammar, and spelling serve to strengthen each student’s literacy skills.

Throughout the year, students read books for each of the genres—realistic fiction, biographies, nonfiction/ informational, short stories, poetry—independently, in small groups (book clubs), and as a whole class. Independent reading and associated projects afford students opportunities to experience literature in a self-directed manner. Works read in class help students create a shared framework for analysis, encouraging them to become critical readers. Small groupings of students meet, providing a more intimate setting in which students and their teacher work together to comprehend a text before, during, and after reading. As close readers, students examine the elements of literature—character, setting, conflict, theme, and style. They seek to meet the demands of whatever they decide to read by practicing important reading strategies such as making predictions, determining importance, making inferences, and summarizing information. Through engagement with guided discussions, varied text, and explicit reading instruction, students think more effectively and with greater depth and insight.

An integral part of the curriculum in language arts, writing is embedded in all the academic subject areas, particularly social studies. In language arts, students have extended time and space to write about things that matter to them. They start the year with an emphasis on maintaining a writer’s notebook to record insights, observations, and anecdotes. In addition to a writer’s notebook, students keep a folder for drafts and mentor texts related to the current unit of study. The writing folder may also contain checklists in which students self-assess their writing and create goal sheets. Using the process approach to writing, students learn the strategies they need to brainstorm ideas, draft, revise, edit, and publish. Explicit teaching of key characteristics of writing is a part of a writer’s workshop where ideas, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions are examined closely. Additional classwork focuses on the foundational skills, including handwriting, keyboarding, spelling, grammar, usage, and vocabulary. Creating a supportive classroom community of writers is a critical element in encouraging students to enjoy writing and expand their writing skills.


The Grade 5 social studies curriculum is built around two significant concepts: Geography provides us with the setting of our world’s story and the development of agriculture had an immense impact on human advancement. The year begins with a unit focusing on the five themes of geography: Location, place, human-environmental interaction, movement, and region. Throughout this unit, students gain the necessary skills and knowledge to understand how the physical features of an area affect the decisions people make and how those decisions, in turn, affect the land itself. Students then turn their attention to the lives of early hominids and focus on how prehistoric species used the land and adapted over time. The study of basic human needs leads to exploration of why people eventually abandoned nomadic life as hunters and gatherers, why they chose agricultural lives, and how advances in technology led to a surplus of crops—all pivotal elements in the birth of civilizations. Conversations throughout each unit focus on archaeological methods and specific excavation sites that have helped historians learn valuable information as they piece together the story of our past.

Throughout the year, students use atlases, maps, The World history text, National Geographic’s World Regions series, magazine articles, resources from our library, audiovisual materials, and field studies. Experiences include writing a descriptive essay about a personal connection to specific landforms, analyzing various maps, creating skits to represent tectonic plate movement, exploring the cave paintings of Lascaux, and writing a research-based persuasive essay on the societal shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

The highlight of the Grade 5 year is the Archeological Dig, a cooperative effort in which each homeroom develops a fictitious culture using the knowledge students have gained during the study of ancient civilizations. Students create all aspects of the culture, which are then represented by artifacts designed and constructed in class and later buried at the on-site Dig location. Students from another Grade 5 homeroom excavate the artifacts and analyze the created culture in an attempt to replicate the challenges and successes associated with a real archaeological excavation.


There are three overarching goals of the Grade 5 mathematics course: Gain computational fluency with whole numbers, make sense of rational numbers, and solve challenging problems. Continuing with Investigations and supplementing with other resources, students begin the year consolidating their understanding of computational strategies for multiplication and division of whole numbers and learn efficient methods for solving problems using those operations. The study of multiplication extends into student work with 3-D geometry and volume measurements. An important goal of the year’s work is to gain an understanding of the relationships between fractions and decimals. In their work, students learn strategies for computing with fractions and decimals. Students learn to analyze patterns in tables and graphs to reason about and represent change. In addition, students measure, classify, and describe two-dimensional geometric figures. The sequencing of topics in Grade 5 is intentionally designed to coordinate with appropriate science topics, so that students experience a complementary approach in mathematics and science, with overlapping concepts and skills reinforced between the two disciplines.


By Grade 5, students have become adept in their ability to frame questions about the world. These questions serve to initiate a process of discovery that culminates in a broader understanding of the earth, life, and physical sciences they encounter every day. Students enhance this understanding by developing and conducting original experiments and constructing and testing models. Students have the chance to explore the living and nonliving characteristics of oceans. By studying our world’s ocean systems, the organisms that inhabit them, and the environmental conditions that affect them, students develop a greater sense of responsibility for their world.

A large part of the year is devoted to exploring the physical properties that help shape our lives. The curriculum covers the fundamental principles behind motion as students study friction and Newton’s laws of motion, force, and speed. In this unit, students design their own experiments to learn about the relationship between mass, force, and acceleration. Throughout their study, students hone their skills in data collection and analysis. The work enables students to see how some of the world’s greatest inventions have resulted from understanding the basic principles of motion. Following the physics unit, students are introduced to the electromagnetic spectrum. They learn about the different types of electromagnetic radiation and ways we utilize it. Later studies focus on visible light, the light spectrum, mixing light, and understanding why we see different colors. This unit culminates in several investigations involving the reflection, refraction, and absorption of light. Grade 5 students end their scientific studies learning about the earth science concept of plate tectonics and by completing a design challenge.