What to Expect in the Fifth Grade

By Jess Corinne
August 15, 2022

By the fifth grade, learners feel experienced and powerful; but however confident your learner may seem, it’s important to take a good look at academic foundations. Fundamental skills will be fully applied in fifth grade, so any lacking building blocks in literacy, math, social-emotional skills, or executive functioning will only worsen their struggles. So what can you expect your child to learn in fifth grade? For exact answers, look for academic standards on the website for your state’s department of education, and also inquire with your school. All public schools should comply with state standards; private schools often do as well, but have more variation in specific topics. That said, these sites can be overwhelming and hard to process, so we have delineated the overarching expectations for fifth graders to lighten your load and help set the stage for what is to come this school year! 

We understand how overwhelming preparing a child for a new grade can be. To reduce some new-school-year anxiety, take a few moments to look over the skills that your fifth grader will need this year. If you are still unsure or feel worried about your child’s ability to find success in fifth grade, we strongly encourage you to schedule a SPARK Learning Assessment or reach out to one of our educational specialists to learn more about our offerings

5th Grade Social-Emotional Skills

Traditionally, fifth grade is when learners inch towards biological changes (buckle up, buttercup!) which inevitably

impacts their social-emotional control and awareness. Both academic expectations and social-emotional development are tilting more and more toward independence. 

Fifth-graders can: 

  • Show uncertainty about puberty and changes to their bodies
  • Be insecure or have mood swings and struggle with self-esteem 
  • Start to recognize that friendship has different levels and that at this age these levels are frequently in flux and start to form stronger and more complex friendships
  • Test limits and push boundaries and become increasingly independent from family, withdraw more from family activities, and need privacy
  • Face strong peer pressure and find it hard to resist 
  • Start to have a deeper understanding of how relationships with others can include more than just common interests
  • Have a first crush or pretend to have crushes to fit in with peers
  • Value friends’ opinions; share secrets and inside jokes 
  • Behave in kind, silly, and curious manners, but also can be self-involved, moody, and disrespectful
  • May experiment with new attitudes, clothing styles, and mannerisms while figuring out where/how to fit in

5th Grade Reading

After the big third and fourth grade frontier of reading to learn over learning to read, fifth graders will read more complex text in every area. In literature, expect full-length chapter books; but also expect new and challenging reading from social studies and science textbooks. These are important foundations for middle school: learners need to be able to consume information from texts that are not necessarily fun or engaging to read. Make sure to tell your teacher if your child seems to struggle, as this can indicate problems with reading comprehension which will only get worse if ignored. This is also a good time to enrich good reading habits by subscribing to a good newspaper and news magazine. Invite your child to join you in reading and in discussing the news. This helps them secure an understanding of different world-views and abstract concepts. 

By the end of the year, your fifth grader will be able to:

  • Begin to use direct quotes from texts to explain and prove ideas about the reading
  • Read a variety of genres including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama
  • Use details from the text to summarize it, identify the main idea or theme, compare characters or events, or compare different texts of the same genre
  • Interpret and understand metaphors and comparisons made in a text
  • Identify an author or narrator’s point of view and explains how this affects the content of a text
  • Compare multiple perspectives on the same event, idea, or theme
  • Use the context of a text to determine the meaning of unknown words
  • Use technology and digital media to further their understanding of a topic and to find answers to their questions
  • Gather information about a topic from multiple sources

5th Grade Expressive Language (Writing and Verbal Communication)

As in the previous grades, writing parallels reading. Expect book reports and story writing. More focus will be given to writing full paragraphs and short essays that use evidence to make a point, providing detailed compare-and-contrast analysis, or explaining research (in science and social studies). Teachers will put heavy emphasis on the writing process: outlines, rough drafts, editing checklists, and final versions. While you can help guide them at each stage, limit your input to observations and suggestions—any actual corrections should be made by your child only.

By the end of the year, your 5th grader will be able to:

  • Write opinion pieces, including an introduction and conclusion, a logical and clear structure, and evidence that supports the author’s opinion
  • Write informational pieces that include an introduction and conclusion, and explain a topic using details such as definitions, quotations, and facts
  • Write narrative pieces that

 introduce and describe an event in a logical way, use details such as dialogue, thoughts, and emotions, and provide a conclusion

  • Plan, revise, and edit their writing
  • Think about the best way to approach their writing and try different ways to do so — such as writing in a different tense, or from a different perspective
  • Use technology (under adult supervision) to publish writing, research, and communicate with others
  • Type at least two pages of text in one sitting
  • Use multiple sources to write and create a research project
  • Take notes on information and cites the sources used
  • Write pieces that take long periods of time (a few weeks) and short periods of time (a single class sitting or a couple of days)

5th Grade Math

By the end of fifth grade, your child should reach automaticity (mastery) of all math facts—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—for numbers from 1-12. Equally important, your child should understand how those mathematical operations work, along with the role of place value, fractions, decimals, and beginning geometry. Make sure you check with your teacher if you notice gaps in your child’s understanding. Middle school teachers will expect that these foundations are securely in place, and your child may struggle to feel successful if they aren’t . 

In fifth grade, your learner will need to: 

  • Understand complex computation & deductive reasoning, including multi-digit multiplication and division problems, and solving multi-layered word (story) problems 
  • Recognize part-whole: understanding place value, comparing decimals, understanding exponents, finding the common denominator, and multiplying and dividing unit fractions 
  • Be comfortable with measurement and data, including converting units and fractions of units within the same system of measurement, solving multi-step word problems using conversions of different-sized standard measurement units, and solving problems using information (given as fraction units) presented in a line plot
  • Develop their knowledge of geometry by learning volume as the measurement of the space inside a three-dimensional or solid figure, using the formulas (like length x width x height or base x height) to measure the volume of a three-dimensional or solid object with rectangular sides (like a cube), and measuring volume to solve real-world problems

5th Grade Executive Functioning 

At 10-11 years old, children are quickly developing executive functions that relate to academic work. As they are

exposed to literature and school-based concepts, they use working memory to recall and integrate information into their current knowledge. They use planning and organization to keep track of their own things and manage their own time with school-based assignments. For long-term projects or group work, they develop initiation to begin a task and chunking it into manageable parts (even when the task isn’t intrinsically motivating).

Because this is such an impressionable time in their lives, healthy life habits are particularly important. Healthy eating and sleep habits must start to internalize at this age in order for their brains to fully digest and optimize the learning opportunities at hand. 

Your fifth grader will learn how to: 

  • Follow multi-step tasks such as cleaning their room, helping with yard work, or sorting toys/laundry into piles
  • Manage homework and projects with support from caregivers and can use a calendar or planner to break tasks down
  • Increase independence in self-care routines such as showering, bathing, and dressing
  • Gather materials for an event or project (e.g., sports game, poster board presentation) and make sure they have everything they will need
  • Inhibit inappropriate behaviors at school; learning to raise their hand, use the restroom during breaks, not talk during class
  • Be a bit more flexible and change plans as needed (within reason)

5th Grade Science, Social Studies, and Technology

In keeping with kids’ expanding minds, fifth grade science and social studies will go into greater depth. Although states vary somewhat, many of them will begin teaching American colonial history in the fifth grade, exploring complex documents like the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. In both science and social studies, they will continue learning independent research skills which they started in third and fourth grades. Do not be surprised, however, if you must provide a supportive role on bigger projects. Science instruction will likely focus on the Life, Earth, and Physical Sciences, teaching learners how to:

  • Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations
  • Design and conduct a scientific investigation
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models by using evidence
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations

Social studies curriculum in 5th grade includes history and geography. Fifth graders will usually concentrate most of the year on United States History:

  • Analyze the reasons behind events, make connections, and compare different parts of the United States (e.g., contrasting year-round climate of the various regions)
  • Learn the 50 states and their capitals
  • Learn how to analyze and create graphs and charts
  • Study topics relating to American history
  • Learn about historical events through the context of geography and how it affected different events
  • Research, organize, and present research on various topics, events, and figures
  • Discuss topics, focusing on using specific details, facts, and reasons to support their opinion
  • Deepen understanding of government and civic responsibility
  • Increase fluidity towards independent keyboarding 
  • Learn the ins and outs of internet safety 
  • Use technology to research both past and current events and topics 

Additional Resources: 

General Fifth Grade Resources: 

Social-Emotional Learning



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