what do you learn in fifth grade

Fifth grade is important. Depending on how your school district divides up the elementary and middle schools, this may be your child’s last year in elementary school. This often makes fifth-graders the oldest and most experienced kids at their school and puts them in a position to be leaders and good examples for the younger children around them. It may also be the first year your child has separate teachers for different classes, which prepares them for changing classes in middle school.

Because this year will be all about preparing them to enter middle school, their schoolwork gets tougher. There’s no need to worry, however. While the work is challenging, they will be ready for it. Instead of thinking of this year as an enormous leap up, just think of it as the steady progression of skills that naturally follows grades four, three, two and so on. Your child has studied and prepared for this. They’re ready.

How You Can Help Your Fifth-Grader Succeed

As a supportive parent, you can encourage and guide your child through the challenges of fifth grade by making yourself aware of the things they’ll study this year. In most cases, their material will still be things that you can easily handle, although you may need a brief refresher. By familiarizing yourself with the subjects and information they study, you make yourself available to help them with their homework and work through tricky problems with them.

To help you out in this goal, we’ve pulled together this guide to a typical fifth-grade curriculum, featuring the most common things your child will likely learn this year across math, science, language and social studies.

What a Fifth-Grader Should Know

Count on this being a year where your student draws on all the knowledge and skills they’ve been building for the past five or so years. The books they read will increase in complexity, and your student’s understanding of them will grow as well. Math problems will be challenging and involve multiple steps. Science and social studies will both be taken more seriously, and your child will be expected to take a more active, engaged role in all of these subjects.

As a parent, it’s important to be aware that this is a big year for your child in terms of their social lives, as well. Kids may have developed deep friendships over the course of their school career, and they may be dealing with new pressures and challenges as their adolescence draws closer and puberty begins. They may be excited about the challenging new topics and may feel stressed about succeeding during their last year in elementary school. As a parent, support and encouragement are some of the best gifts you can offer them this year.

To help you give them just those things, here are a few of the big topics they’ll be covering this year, divided by subject.

Language and Literacy in Fifth Grade

Reading and writing should both be second nature to most fifth-graders. Because of this, the focus will move from simple mechanics onto finer details and more advanced concepts. Students will be asked to look deeper than the surface level, both in their writing and reading as they analyze stories, produce their own written works and learn how different types of writing forms are created.

A few of the specifics they’ll focus on this year include:

  • Analyzing: Students will be asked to read and interpret a variety of different forms of the written word, such as novels, short stories and poetry. They’ll look at characters, plot and theme as they attempt to analyze what authors are trying to say through their writing. This analyzing may be done in the form of personal response essays, classroom discussion or small group projects.
  • Reading: Students will be continuously encouraged to read. They may still have independent reading time in class, or they may not. They will likely be sent home with books to read and will be asked to look beyond the bare bones of what happened in the story. They’ll be encouraged to ask why the author wrote it that way. Some students may still only feel comfortable reading at grade level, while some students who have come to truly love reading may begin reading much more complex books.
  • Writing: By fifth grade, your child will be doing plenty of writing in the form of essays, responses, journal entries and more. They will also likely be asked to write more creative pieces as well, such as stories, poems or even songs.

child writing essay

  • Editing: Fifth-graders will be asked to call upon the knowledge they’ve gained from reading to edit their own writing. Teachers will focus on guiding students in how to edit for grammar and style as well as to clarify their points and better organize their ideas.
  • Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling: Students will still be drilled and instructed in things like proper punctuation, capitalization and spelling. Instruction will continue as students learn more about the parts of speech such as nouns, verb, adjectives and more, as well as how these parts function in sentences.
  • Research: Your child will be expected to learn how to read a text, gather information from it, and then process this information to help them learn something new. They’ll put these skills to use writing research papers or even just in reading texts to answer questions in class.

Math in Fifth Grade

Math grows more complicated in fifth grade, as it does every year. It isn’t just more sophisticated problem solving. The numbers kids work with change as well. They’ll employ large numbers and irregular fractions and complete problems that end with uneven remainders.

Just a few of the things math class will focus on this year include:

  • Fractions: Fractions continue to be big news this year, as students learn to multiply and divide them. They’ll make the connection between fractions, decimals and percentages as well, and may be asked to convert numbers between these different formats.
  • Large Complex Numbers: Gone are the days when your student could get away with simply multiplying single-digit numbers. Now, they’ll work with large numbers with decimal points and fractions, performing a variety of more difficult functions.

child working with large and complex numbers

  • Money, Time and Measurements: Students will be asked to put their math skills to use on real-world applications. Problems will involve money, time and distance conversions as well as measurements with a focus on converting units.
  • Multi-Step Problems: Your fifth-grader is ready to step up and tackle problems with multiple steps. They may work problems that need students to perform addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to reach the final solution. Some of these may be word problems that require a student to figure out which functions are necessary to solve it. Order of operations will be introduced and become important.
  • Geometry: Geometry will continue to factor into math class as students are asked to calculate the various dimensions of shapes. They’ll learn about parallel and perpendicular lines and different formulas for calculating things like the volume and area of complex shapes.
  • Data: Kids will keep working with data, learning how to interpret different graphs and charts as well as how to make their own.

Science in Fifth Grade

By fifth grade, students should be familiar with the scientific method. They should understand the process of inquiry, hypothesizing and experimentation. They know a good bit about the physical world around them and should be ready to begin applying some of their basic math skills to these concepts as they deepen their studies into nature and themselves.

This year, they may cover subjects such as:

  • Lifecycles and the Necessary Conditions for Life: Students will look at how life looks in a variety of different forms as they study animal and human life cycles as well as plant life. They’ll learn about photosynthesis and the importance of things like water and nutrients in supporting life.
  • The Earth: Kids will learn about the Earth as a planet and the variety of natural resources it has to offer. They’ll discover the ways we interact with the Earth, taking from it and giving back, and the way the Earth supports all life in different ways.

learning about the Earth

  • Weather: Some classrooms may study weather patterns and meteorology. Students will learn about the atmosphere and the gases that make up the different layers of our sky.
  • The Solar System: With a working knowledge of our own planet, your child will be well-equipped to launch explorations into other planets, learning about their atmospheres and compositions, and the way the entire solar system orbits around the sun.
  • Basic Chemistry: True chemistry is still a long way off for students, but they may begin learning about the various chemical properties of different types of matter and how they fit together. They may perform a few experiments with different classroom-safe chemicals and talk about the reactions that occur.
  • The Human Body: The digestive system, in particular, is explored this year as kids learn how their body takes in the nutrients needed to keep them alive and processes these nutrients in a complex and highly systematic way.

Social Studies in Fifth Grade

In fourth grade, social studies focuses on local government and your child’s home state. Now, in fifth grade, kids branch out and begin learning about their nation as a whole. They’ll place their town and their state in the context of the larger whole as they discover more about how our country operates and how it came to be.

Some of the major themes and topics touched on during social studies this year include:

  • Early American History: Kids will study the original 13 colonies as well as the people who settled them and how the cultures of these colonies varied. They’ll discover why European colonists sailed to America and what they hoped to find there. They’ll learn about Native American history too, particularly how it ties into colonial history.
  • Government: Students will learn about the different branches of government, including how they were founded, what their purposes are and how they are intended to work together. This will most likely include an exploration of how the country was founded and this government system was created.
  • Citizenship: Your child will spend time exploring what it means to be a good and responsible American citizen, and how this is important for a democracy to operate well.

learning about what is means to be an American citizen

  • Geography: To round out their investigation into the United States, students will explore the geography of the country, learning about the various states, capitals and major cities, as well as rivers, mountains and regions. They should be able to locate the 50 states on a map and know the major regions of the country such as the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes regions. Teachers may encourage students to memorize states and capitals.

School Supplies for Fifth Grade

Make sure your fifth-grader has everything they need as you send them back to school this year. Your district may provide a more specific list of things they require, but you can’t go wrong if you supply them with these basics to start off the year:

  • No. 2 Pencils: These are standard for test taking and completing classroom work. Don’t forget the sharpener and extra erasers, too.
  • Pens: Black and blue are standard colors and most acceptable for in-class assignments, but there’s no harm in throwing a few colored ones into the mix for fun.
  • Glue: Just to be sure your child has the supplies they need for every type of art project, provide both glue sticks and school glue.
  • Ruler: Helpful in math, science and art, this is a handy tool no student should be missing.
  • Pencil Case: A sturdy pencil case is the most efficient way to help your child keep their writing utensils and supplies organized and under control.
  • Pocket Folders: Homework and handouts will multiply rapidly this year, and these folders will give your students a place to keep them all.

colorful pocket folders

  • 3-Ring Binder: Slightly more heavy duty than the traditional pocket folder, this can be a great way to help your child stay organized this year.
  • Spiral Notebooks: Depending on your child’s handwriting and writing abilities, choose wide-ruled or college-ruled, and make sure to supply enough of these for every class.
  • Backpack: One of the most vital supplies of all, a sturdy backpack will give your child a place to keep all their supplies as they journey to school. They can also store lunchboxes and free reading books in their bags.
  • Student Planner: A student planner is perhaps the best way to encourage your fifth-grader to stay on top of their rapidly multiplying homework assignments and projects.

Encourage Your Child to Stay Organized to Enjoy the Best Year of School Yet

Fifth-grade students take on new responsibilities and need to stay focused to succeed. That's where a planner can make a big difference, alerting you and your child to what's expected of them each day.

To choose the perfect day planner for your student, browse our full selection and pick from the variety of colors, patterns and styles we offer. Our planners are equipped with monthly calendars, weekly schedules and plenty of room for notes to help students keep their days planned and organized. With one of these tucked into your student’s backpack, they’ll be sure to begin on the right foot. Remember, success doesn’t happen by accident. You plan for it!