25 Things Every 5th Grader Needs to Know

How would your 5th graders do when it comes to knowing these common lessons in science, reading, writing, geography, history, art, music and math?

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Fifth grade is a major transition year for students. From beginning to grapple with pre-algebraic concepts to conducting research for essays, this is the year students enter the realm of deeper study in writing, reading, history, math, science and the arts. Compare our checklist of essential fifth grade curriculum items with your lesson plans to see if you’re hitting all the top concepts.


1. Write different kinds of essays.

Fifth graders should write often, and in different forms—reports, descriptions, research essays, essays that explain a process, essays that persuade, and more. Make sure they understand the basic structure, with an introduction, body and conclusion. To get students comfortable with the format, begin by choosing opinion topics that don’t require much research, such as this Best Restaurant essay prompt from a fifth grade teacher and blogger.

5th grade writing

2. Gather research from at least three sources.

Choosing a topic and then pulling in information from a variety of sources such as encyclopedias, magazines, online sources and atlases is a crucial fifth grade skill. Learning how to synthesize information and summarize it—not simply copying the sources—is essential. You can also provide students with an easy-to-follow anchor chart to help guide them through the research process.

5th grade research

3. Dig into a novel.

As independent readers, most fifth graders should be ready to read a meaty full-length novel, whether classics like The Secret Garden and Tom Sawyer or more contemporary fare—there are so many great choices! You can suggest titles from the many online lists like this one on Good Reads or this one on Great Schools of recommended novels for fifth graders. And students can go beyond the basic book report with these fun and creative activities.

4. Explore and use figurative language.

Some of the most delightful language arts lessons are those that help students understand imagery, idioms, onomatopoeia, metaphors and similes. Search YouTube for clever teachers’ pop-culture-filled compilations of metaphors and similes and share them with your class.

5. Enjoy the language of poetry.

Once they’ve learned about figurative language, fifth graders can start noticing how poets use devices such as simile, metaphor and alliteration. They can also have fun using figurative language in writing their own poems.

6. Grasp sentence structure.

By fifth grade, students should understand and be able to identify a complete sentence, and to distinguish a sentence from a fragment. They should understand the concepts of subject and predicate. This is a good time to begin diagramming short sentences as a class—using different-colored dry-erase markers on the board will help students identify different sentence elements.

7. Meet the Bard.

All the world’s a stage, and the play’s the thing! So wrote the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare. Fifth graders should learn about his significant impact on our language and society. The magical comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream provides a great introduction. The play is available in adaptations for young readers, and the Folger Shakespeare Library offers fun resources.

The title page from an antique book of the plays of Shakespeare

The title page from an antique book of the plays of Shakespeare.


8. Explore the world’s great lakes.

Fifth graders can probably name the world’s major oceans and some of the biggest rivers, but do they know about great lakes? Lakes serve as a habitat for many animals and provide water for drinking, irrigation, and hydroelectric power. Lakes are also valuable to people as travel routes and as sites for recreation. Check out this free curriculum on great lakes of the world.

9. Explore Mesoamerican history.

Fifth graders should learn about the great native cultures of Mesoamerica (Central and South America) before moving on to learn about European exploration of the Americas and the clash of cultures. Check out this free curriculum on Maya, Aztec and Inca civilizations.

10. Explore the European backgrounds to American history.

In the 1400s, Europeans set forth in a great wave of exploration and trade that eventually led to the Americas. Fifth graders can benefit from learning about the social and religious movements that pushed Europeans across the Atlantic, including the Renaissance, Reformation, and England’s Golden Age and Glorious Revolution. Core Knowledge Language Arts provides free teaching guide downloads for the Renaissance and the Reformation.

11. Delve into the Civil War.

Fifth grade classes should study the American Civil War and its causes, conflicts and consequences. Students should compare and contrast the cultures and economies of the North and South, and learn about slavery and abolition. The breadth of the Civil War lends itself to in-depth learning stations through which small groups can rotate in the classroom.

A pair of cannons at sunset on the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland

A pair of cannons at sunset on the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland.


12. Revel in the Renaissance.

Studying the paintings and sculptures of Renaissance artists is a great way to integrate art and history in fifth grade. Look for Renaissance resources available here.

13. Get a perspective on artworks.

Renaissance artists introduced perspective—the illusion of depth in a flat painting or drawing. Fifth graders can learn how foreground, background and the horizon line work, and they can have fun making their own perspective drawings.

14. Understand basic music notation.

Remember learning EGBDF and FACE? Many lively videos are available to help students see and comprehend the written language of music, starting with notation on the treble clef.



15. Know fractions frontward and backward.

Building on their work with fractions in previous grades, fifth graders should continue to solve problems with fractions and relate fractions to decimals and percentages. Check out these online games to add some fun to fractions practice. 

Three color fraction dices, use in elementary classrooms for students to learn about math fractions

Three colored fraction die to use in elementary classrooms to teach math.

16. Master common factors and multiples.

Fifth graders should be able to identify the greatest common factor (GCF) and the least common multiple (LCM) of given numbers. To make the mastery enjoyable, have students work together in pairs to quickly collaborate on GCF and LCM problem sets.

17. Determine and express simple ratios and percentages.

Learning common equivalences between ratios, fractions, decimals and percentages is a key skill for fifth grade. This multi-week unit breaks down the relationships between these measurement groupings for students.

name geometry

18. Deepen their knowledge of geometry.

Calculate area. Use a compass to determine the diameter, radius and circumference of circles. Identify and measure angles. The fundamentals of geometry are essential, and the real-world applications of geometry are everywhere. Have students write their name in large capital letters and then identify and measure the angles the letters create.

19. Dip toes into pre-algebra.

Time to bring out the x’s! In this grade, students will be introduced to variables and solve basic equations using them. They will be able to find the value of an expression when they are given the replacement value for a variable (“What is 7–x if x is 3?”). Invite students to write their own world problems to help them synthesize the variable concepts (“Joe has 70 Pidgies in his Pokédex, transfers X to the Professor, and now has 50 Pidgies left. What does X equal?”) and then share with their classmates.

20. Learn the concepts of mean, median and mode.

Building on probability, fifth graders will learn to define and differentiate between means, medians and modes in a series of numbers. Using decks of Uno cards, have groups of students determine the mode, median and mean of the cards in their hands.

Uno cards

21. Understand probability.

Using simple models, students should be able to express the probability of a given event as a fraction, percent and decimal. Dice games are an easy and effective way to predict outcomes and grasp probability math.


22. Learn the structure of cells.

Understanding that all living things are made up of cells, students will learn the structure of cells, both plant and animal. Get out the microscopes and slides so your fifth graders can see firsthand the membrane, nucleus, cytoplasm and organelles of different organisms’ cells. And check out these printable worksheets.

23. Probe photosynthesis.

This important life process not only allows plants to make their own food, it produces oxygen for us all. The simple activity of placing one plant in a dark classroom cupboard or closet and another of the same plant in sunlight, and inviting students to record and sketch their observations daily in data notebooks, can effectively demonstrate the importance and concept of photosynthesis.

5th grade photosynthesis

24. Explore the Periodic Table.

Introduce fifth graders to the concept of elements and how they are organized in the Periodic Table. Challenge them to memorize the symbols of well-known elements (such as H, He, C, N, O, Fe, Cu, Ag, Au), and try an online quiz.

Periodic table of the elements

25. Learn how glands work.

At the target age of 10–11, many fifth graders’ bodies are changing, and many of those changes are triggered by the endocrine system. Explore how glands (pituitary, thyroid, adrenal and pancreas) secrete hormones that control different body processes. 

Looking for more info on what fifth graders need to know? Learn more about the book here or the starter kits here.

25 things 5th graders should know