Fifth Grade

Fifth Grade Curriculum


The hallmark for our fifth grade experience is independence. The children are developmentally ready to take charge of their own learning. They have been directly and indirectly taught the Traits for Success since kindergarten. Throughout our lower school years, the value of these Traits are reinforced and realized through practice. Organization, Attentiveness, Positive Attitude, and Responsibility are key for success. Fifth-graders have the responsibility of their school jobs transferred to them. Independent learners can work on their own, and just as important, they know when and where to get help. Our fifth-graders are in upper school where the program is far more departmentalized. It requires students to be reasonably self-sufficient, yet well-supported through small advisory groups, and a scaffolding teaching-learning process that challenges students in meaningful ways that ensures hard work translates to academic success.


The goals of the fifth-grade reading program are to foster a love for great books and to empower young students to become strategic learners who can efficiently acquire information from unfamiliar text in heavy content subjects such as social studies and science. Students engage in daily exercises analyzing question types, where one would find the correct answer, how one would prove such an answer, and how one would express that response most effectively on paper. Effective reading and thinking strategies for fiction are taught from authentic reading experiences using trade books. From their rich exposure to poetry and literature in a variety of genres, fifth graders develop an understanding of the elements that are necessary to create quality literature. It’s inspiring to watch fifth graders emerge as critics of good writing. As their reading experiences with skillful writing are processed, students choose reading for pleasure more often, and they are inclined to choose substantial books. Each trimester, fifth graders report on a book read independently. The classics and non-fiction are the primary genres for two of these reports.  Book reports are selected by the children from a menu of creative project choices while engage multiple intelligences and learning style differences.

Instructional books are selected for meaningful themes, excellent craft, and/or historical context. For example, Crash, a contemporary realistic novel,by Jerry Spinelli provides context to character development in our core value of respect for self and others. Children empathize with the victim of bullying, and celebrate the changes in character the protagonist experiences throughout the book. This novel is also a strong model of literary elements, devices, and figurative language.

All novels are well integrated across the curricula and with St. John’s mission. For example, Kokopelli’s Flute, by Will Hobbs provides historical insight into the ancient Native Americans, the mystery of the Anasazis, and the wonders of their pottery, petroglyphs, crop production in a harsh environment, and cliff dwellings. Students are made aware of the plight of Native Americans as a result of Westward Expansion and they gain insight into life today on reservations in the southwest.  Students also learn about the careers of archaeologists, seed farmers, and scientists from this book. Native American mythology reveals the religious life of Anasazis and their Pueblo descendants. Related activities in the language arts include declamation of poetry about these ancient people, their struggles and values, Kokopelli, the magical flute player, and original creation myths. St. John’s offers a service outreach with Native American students in New Mexico. This seven-day visit provides an enriching personal experience for all the children who participate. Such novels provide learning experiences far greater than the written pages.

Other novels used for instructional and enrichment purposes contribute to the education of fifth graders in language arts, character development, history, and social studies. Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare is a prime example of superb writing. It develops themes about responsibility and celebrating differences, and its integration with American history and social studies makes this book a valuable contribution to our program. Journey to Jo’burg, by Beverly Naidoois heavily integrated with our global vision, our International festival, immersion week, and the historical context of apartheid. Students become aware of basic human rights and they are able to compare and contrast South Africa’s conflict over civil rights with America’s struggles with legal discrimination and the destructiveness of prejudice. Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder is developmentally appropriate for late in the spring when students are able to understand differences in perspectives.  Students analyze the benefits and liabilities that come with black and white belief systems versus myriad points of view, and countless ways of understanding events. This book integrates well with our study of America’s Civil War. Summer’s book report is The Shakespeare Stealer, by Gary Blackwood. This novel prepares incoming sixth graders for our Shakespeare and Hamlet unit.


Fifth grade writing is all about the sentence. Students imitate story sentences from great fiction writers for readers their age and grade. Building sentences develops a good understanding of subjects and predicates. Student learn to identify, imitate and create the three sentence tools (word, phrase, dependent clause) and position them in three places (startr, S-V Split, end) in relation to the main clause (independent clause). Students apply their knowledge of sentence structures to 6-Trait Writing (ideas and content, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, voice, conventions) and the five-paragraph essay structure. Descriptive writing is the hallmark of the 5-6 grade writing program. Students learn to “show” and not tell. Their knowledge of figurative language from literature studies helps to create imagery.


In fifth grade, students complete one unit each week in the Wordly Wise series. Wordly Wise provides a multitude of exercises where the student not only learns how to spell words, but understands the meaning and proper use in context. Weekly tests evaluate students’ mastery of the spelling patterns as well as comprehension of their meanings. Daily word study includes lessons in phonemic codes and orthographic tendencies, derivatives, structure, and the finer shades of meaning of vocabulary terms in different contexts.

Grammar is taught almost daily in isolation and in the context of reading and actual writing. Parts of speech, English conventions such as comma rules, and sentence structures are analyzed and applied. Sentence diagramming is taught for most basic sentence structures. Lines are provided to help provide students a graphic representation of the various sentence structures and the functions of direct and indirect objects, predicate nominatives and predicate adjectives, and prepositional phrases. Students apply the strategy to eliminate prepositional phrases to correctly identify the subject.


Although no longer taught formally, our fifth grade students are assessed daily for handwriting legibility and size in both manuscript and cursive. Word processing is encouraged for most writing projects of one or more paragraphs. Weekly responses to Wordly Wise comprehension questions require typing. Keyboard efficiency is developed from frequent use for assigned writing tasks.


Students of fifth grade mathematics are grouped into three sections for optimal learning according to levels of achievement in fourth grade and performances on standardized test scores. This grouping reduces class size and improves homogeneity.

Through the comprehensive and balanced curriculum of Mathematics Applications and Connections, Course 1, fifth grade students are able to demonstrate depth, flexibility and application of learning in each strand of mathematics taught at this level.  Students continue to work with basic computational skills with whole numbers, fractions and decimals, as well as a broad range of mathematical concepts including data, statistics and probability, geometry, measurement, number theory,  algebra and uses of variables. This series makes direct connections of mathematics to other subject areas and real life. This enriched program includes such features as problem solving about everyday situations, linking past experiences to new concepts, sharing ideas through discussion, and cooperative learning through partner and small group activities. Fifth graders are challenged to think about how they can apply concepts they have learned to everyday situations, and it emphasizes understanding and application. Students are asked to synthesize their learning and develop their own strategies for solving problems. The assessment system is varied and comprehensive. For example, pre-instruction; quizzes; chapter post-tests; and cumulative assessment of exit learning objectives targeted for mastery. Written tests, observations, and interviews and applications through projects provide a variety of ways students can demonstrate their knowledge of mathematics.


Houghton – Mifflin Science provides the core curriculum for the fifth grade science program. Process skills are taught to students in the context of Science units which are centered on life science, Earth science and physical science. Students incorporate observation, prediction, hypothesizing, comparison, classification, data collection and recording, analysis and drawing conclusions into their studies. Students conduct simple investigations and use logical reasoning to draw conclusions based on data collected. In fifth grade, students learn to identify and control variables in a well-designed experiment. Students apply what they have learned by making models and conducting investigations.

While studying life science there is an in-depth look at the cell and the functions of the organelles. In addition, we then move on to the study of heredity, where the students are involved in taking family surveys. We compile class and grade data as well. Extensive work is given to graphing in a variety of methods. A look at human uniqueness through fingerprinting we apply what we learned to forensics. Family Life education concludes our school year at a time when students are comfortable enough to ask sensitive questions.

Included in the study of natural disasters we explore how they relate to weather and climate patterns. Climate change is introduced as a global issue. This is a great segway into our physical science study of electricity and energy, which includes a look at alternative fuels and how personally each one of us is responsible for our Earth. Students complete a wide variety of virtual labs on the computers specifically related to electricity.

Social Studies – Early U.S. History

Harcourt’s Social Studies, United States: Making a New Nation provides the core curriculum in fifth grade and is a continuation of the series used in third and fourth grades at St. John’s Episcopal School. Students study American history from Native American settlement and early European exploration through Reconstruction. The study of history helps students to see the links between the past and present. They can better understand how what happens today can affect the future. As young historians, fifth graders learn the chronology of the United States. They learn to identify sources to the past as secondary or primary. They understand the value of oral history. Through multicultural education, students develop an understanding of historical empathy and perspective of the people from the past. Many events in history are linked to other events. Students analyze causes and effects in order to draw conclusions about why events happen. Emphasis is placed on organization and reading comprehension strategies, in addition to nurturing a growth-mindset.

Our social studies curriculum is richly integrated with related studies and literature. Geography provides the settings for past events and cultures. From geography, students understand human-environment interactions. Civics and government studies are woven throughout the history of events and people who shaped our first governments, to foster an understanding of the laws, rights and responsibilities of citizens today. The study of economics throughout our history helps students learn how our free economy came to be what it is today. Through the integration of cultural studies, students learn how people of the past have shaped the present. Students explore who these people were, their customs and beliefs, and their ways of thinking and expressing ideas.

Global Education

Fifth grade students learn about South Africa as part of their global studies. They learn a folk dance from South Africa that is performed during January’s International Festival. During the multi-cultural immersion week of the International Festival, students are involved in a variety of activities as they explore the culture of South Africa.


In fifth grade, students build conversational Spanish skills. Students practice simple sentences in the present tense.  They explore vocabulary relating to colors and sizes, food, animals, clothing, household items, etc. Fifth grade grammar concepts include greetings and farewells, negation, forming plurals, subject-verb agreement, the present and the present progressive tenses, direct objects, prepositions, etc. In the classroom, a variety of instructional Powerpoints, handouts, and worksheets complement the curriculum. In addition, the culture, geography, and historical importance of Spain is studied. The fifth grade meets for three, forty-five minute class periods weekly.


In fifth grade, students are taught the Bible basics (structure and context), as well as Psalm structure, interpretation, and creation. They are asked to create and offer Prayers of the People for chapel service. Students are required to memorize Old Testament verses and to reflect regularly in their gratitude journals. In addition, students explore, in depth, the Biblical accounts of the stories of Creation, Eden and the Fall, Cain and Abel, Noah, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Exodus, The Great Commandment vs. the Ten Commandments, and the Passover in relation to communion at the Last Supper. Finally, students celebrate Pentecost.

The Arts

The students of St. John’s will experience and gain understanding of the role of the Arts throughout the world and in their own lives through the acquisition of artistic vocabulary and skills and the exposure to a diverse range of artistic mediums. Students will build character and faith through participation in and appreciation of artistic performances both in the school and the community including the Christmas Celebration, the Festival of the Arts, as well as informal performances.

Students in fifth grade participate in both band and in the all-school chorus.

Choral members employ and expand their acquired skills from Lower School. Students will demonstrate appropriate posture, breath management, and vocal production while singing independently and with a group. They will match pitch while singing in unison or multi-part pieces of music.  They will identify note names, rhythms, and other musical vocabulary while reading and performing both singing and instruments. They will model appropriate performer behavior in rehearsal and performance. The students will demonstrate an understanding of musical genres and periods including composers and cultures through performance and performance-based assessments.

To demonstrate these skills, each student will participate in at least three performances annually, including the Festival of the Arts. Students will also complete performance-based assessments on or above grade level expectations. Students will demonstrate connections between music and other subjects through successful completion of research projects, choreographing, goal setting, and leadership.

Visual Arts

The Fifth grade art curriculum provides opportunities for students to learn new, and to continue developing, skills in drawing, painting, composition and crafting which were introduced earlier. Students work with a variety of media and techniques which include pencils, markers, pastels, watercolor, tempera, acrylic, etc. Children will complete 2-D and 3-D projects. Special attention is paid to observation and perspective drawing, proportions, balance and design. Demonstration and step-by-step explanations of how to complete projects are used to ensure children understand the assignment and how to complete it.


In band, fifth grade students participate in large and small ensembles rehearsals. Individual instruction is offered during the academic day, after school, and on Saturdays. Fundamentals of proper tone production, technical proficiency, music comprehension, and musicianship are all emphasized. Formal concerts, school assemblies, chapel, and outreach recitals give our students a variety of settings for nurturing musical expression and developing self-confidence.

Physical Education

The goal of St. John’s Physical Education program is to facilitate the development of skills to enable students to safely and successfully participate in team, individual and life sports. Students will learn the traits for success while participating in a variety of cross curriculum-integrated activities. Students will also discover the fundamentals of a native dance and execute their dance at the international dance festival.

Conditioning and fitness testing are an important part of the Physical Education program. The Fitnessgram fitness test will be given at the beginning and end of each trimester. Students will use technology to assist in monitoring fitness progression. At all levels, physical fitness activities encourage the children to challenge themselves and set individual goals.

The Physical Education department organizes and supervises school events such as Community Building Week, International festival, Blue-Gold events and Field Day. An appreciation for teamwork and good sportsmanship is emphasized in class and team activities. Students are also introduced to the knowledge necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle.


During fifth grade, students will develop an age-appropriate understanding of technology concepts, systems and operations, building on their previous year’s experiences. By the end of fifth grade, we expect St. John’s technology students to be able to work independently in all software programs used throughout the year, including operating the related peripherals, tools and menus. Fifth graders are expected to be able to create simple Wikis, including relevant references and hyperlinks. Each fifth grader will also create a two-minute movie, utilizing digital images and video drawn from both created and existing resources. Virtual reality environments (VREs) will be used to simulate the Pioneer era life, and students will be expected to generalize those experiences to their understanding of that historical time. Students will complete several writing projects, including a storybook for children and frequent free-flowing compositions on the computer. If time allows, students may complete a hardware studies unit, in which most the computer parts are identified, removed and then replaced. Their experience is comprised of all of the NETS (National Educational Technology Standards for Students): critical thinking and decision making, digital citizenship, creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, and finally, basic research and information fluency.


Fifth graders continue to learn how to use the varied materials in the library and how to use the system employed for organizing those materials. The Dewey Decimal System is taught in greater detail as is the use of atlases, almanacs and encyclopedias. Choosing the most appropriate resource is stressed through preparation for playing of the game, Reference Race. On-line searches are conducted and CD-ROM materials are made available during class time. The success traits of Attentiveness and Persistence are key components of the curriculum.

Community Service

During fifth grade the students are introduced to the Community Outreach program in the Upper School. Each fifth grader must earn 6 hours. For many, this will be their first experience out in the community beyond the walls of St. John’s. Often the sites will require a parent to accompany his child due to some organizations having age minimums for volunteers. Hours are to be completed by May 15 of each year. Summer hours do not apply. Students needing hours for another organization may not use the same activity for both requirements.

Field Trips

Fifth grade students participate in two field trips each year. The first is to the National Cathedral on Episcopal School Day, usually in October. Depending on the year, St. John’s students have the added pleasure of singing in the choir or are scheduled to take a tour. Students learn about the stone carvers and the gargoyles prior to attending the service in the Cathedral. The second trip is a culminating experience that enriches students study of the Civil War. Students travel to the Gettysburg battlefield. A park ranger works with the fifth graders to help them better understand the causes of the Civil War, a soldier’s life, and the strategic genius and miscues at Gettysburg that became the turning point of the war.