Grade 5

A highlight of fifth grade is the autumn overnight trip to an outdoor education center on the Skungamaug River, which establishes core curricular themes: ecology and community. Fifth graders practice stewardship by managing the campus-wide recycling program. Science classes focus on environmental responsibility; the year culminates with students designing and building solar-powered ovens. Social studies classes delve into the early communities of Egypt and Greece. Students identify cultural values through myths, write and perform plays, and prepare artistic projects based on ancient themes and characters. In addition to decimals, fractions and other numeric forms, math connects with social studies through lessons about early number systems and the ways that early civilizations used math.

Social Studies

A group of students around a project displayed on a tableThe significance of place—as a habitat, cultural foundation and basis for stewardship—grounds fifth grade social studies. The year begins with an overnight environmental study. The trip serves as a cornerstone for both the academic and the social curriculum. In the classroom, they consider the factors that contribute to cultures and societies. Units about ancient Egypt and Greece lead to conversations about rights, power, authority and government. Students investigate artifacts and analyze myths to identify cultural values. They write and perform plays based on mythological themes and characters. They consider laws and social practices that continue to influence civilizations today.


Students collecting samples in water during a science class

Fifth graders meet three periods per six-day cycle with a science teacher in the Lower School lab. Many activities revolve around ecology and ecosystems; trips to a salt marsh and an environmental study center on the Skungamaug River illustrate the interactions between organisms and their environment. A long-term study of the trees on campus includes a tree census, ring analysis and microscopic observations of tree cores. Students explore leaf and cell structure, organelles and choroplasts. They practice chromatography after extracting chlorophyll and other pigments from leaves. They examine the carbon cycle, deforestation and climate change. Studies of energy, light, heat and electromagnetism include activities such as generating electricity from friction, generators and photovoltaic cells. The year culminates with students designing and building solar-powered ovens.

Language Arts

A student reading a book during a Language Arts class

Reading and writing are integrated throughout the fifth grade curriculum. A great deal of time is devoted to helping children experience written and spoken language with a sense of adventure, excitement, appreciation and comfort. Two books are always in motion: one is read aloud and leads to extensive discussions of detail, style and theme; the other is undertaken as a class book. Comprehension activities encourage purpose, interpretation and clarity. Students write every day with a focus on refinement of individual style. Emphasis is placed on rewriting entire stories to improve fluidity, dialogue, setting and character development, as well as the overall plot. Students experiment with literary genres including poetry, drama, fiction and persuasive writing. During the ancient cultures unit, they write myths that incorporate elements of that classic style into their work.


A teacher helping a student during a math class

In fifth grade, students solidify their understanding of operations with whole numbers. Estimation and critical thinking are employed to determine whether solutions make sense. In their work with values beyond whole numbers, students manipulate decimals and fractions and solve problems with positive and negative integers and bases other than 10. Computational problems often involve multiple types of arithmetic and careful order of operations. In connection with their studies of ancient cultures, fifth graders learn about early number systems and historical uses of math. Geometric explorations include measuring and calculating aspects of two- and three-dimensional figures. Students analyze and graph data to show relationships among numbers. Real-world situations illustrate the relevance of the skills they are learning.


A student creating a ceramic artwork in an art class



In conjunction with the study of environmental issues in the classroom, a central theme in fifth grade art is the appreciation and perception of forms of beauty in nature and in man-made creations. Students closely observe the color and texture of food by creating a realistic colored-pencil drawing of fruits and vegetables. Their favorite meals are constructed in clay and served on a highly decorated clay dinner plate. Various Egyptian and Greek art projects are integrated into the classroom curriculum. An extensive study of Japanese Sumi-e painting and Ikebana (flower arranging) culminates the year.



An instructor leading a choir of students in a gymnasium

The fifth grade students continue using the Kodaly Concept, a comprehensive program to train basic musical skill and teach the reading and writing of music to develop a joy of singing, dancing and playing together. Students add syncopation to their rhythmic repertoire and solidify the melodic concepts learned in previous years. Repertoires are expanded through of part-singing with longer and more difficult rounds as well as part songs. The students also continue playing the soprano recorder, using the absolute note naming system, and playing duets and ensemble pieces. Listening skills are enhanced by analyzing symphonic, choral and world musics. The students continue square dancing and moving expressively to music, solidifying social skills by working cooperatively in dance groups and small ensembles.


A student performing on stage during a drama class


Group work is a core aspect of fifth grade drama. Theater lessons challenge students to collaborate in a variety of ways: to solve a problem requiring physical dexterity and logic, to create characters through the use of body and voice, and to work as an ensemble. Self-monitoring skills such as concentrating and focusing, thinking quickly, using the creative imagination, and adapting to the needs of a situation are encouraged. Fifth graders work together to write and perform a mystery using costumes, props and creating a simple set.

Physical Education

Two students carrying another student as part of a physical education class


Our goal in physical education at this level is to provide strenuous exercise, develop athletic skills and promote team cooperation. The fifth grade can be broken up in various ways depending on the activities chosen for the class. Activities include field hockey, Frisbee, soccer and football in the fall; basketball, volleyball, juggling, floor hockey and gymnastics in the winter; baseball, softball, lacrosse and badminton in the spring. The mile run is also done in the fall and spring. Many other modified games and large group games are played throughout the year.


A teacher reading to a group of students sitting on the floor of a library

Library classes in fifth grade focus on expanding students’ research capabilities. Librarians lead discussions and model processes for generating questions aimed at drawing conclusions and making inferences. Students practice finding the information they need by creating suitable search strategies, using keywords effectively, then proceeding to use guide words and headings to more quickly find the specific information they need to answer their questions. Students also learn to evaluate the relevance and reliability of sources.

World Language


A teacher working with a student on a smart board in a classroom

In fifth-grade Chinese, listening and speaking continue to be emphasized, but reading and writing now play an equally important part in class meetings. Students are expected to keep a notebook on the content that is introduced in class. They also work with flashcards to reinforce sight-word recognition. Vocabulary and units of study focus on communities, as students learn to talk about professions, place of residence, physical appearance, rooms and furniture. Students present to classmates and learn from each other in group activities. They master the basics of writing Chinese characters and learn about their etymology of many Chinese characters to help with their sight word recognition. Pinyin is now used more consistently to aid students’ pronunciation and tones.



Two students working on a smart board in a classroom

Continuing the aural/oral training begun in fourth grade, students acquire more vocabulary and grammatical structures as a natural extension of their desire to communicate in French, whether through a game, solving a puzzle or participating in an activity with a friend. While the main emphasis in this program remains aural/oral, there is a written component as well. Activities are supplemented by nursery rhymes, videos, dialogues, puppets and songs. Topics include sports, professions, days of the week, animals, numbers, adjectives, the verbs "Avoir" and "être", and simple negation. Special projects include baguette making and celebrating Mardi Gras.


A teacher leading a session on a smart board in a classroomFifth grade Spanish makes use of the Descubre el Español series. Students learn Spanish through conversation, cultural activities and games. Workbook exercises parallel aural/oral activities as writing increases in importance. Topics can include greetings and introductions, descriptions, the verb ser, cognates, gender/number agreement, clothing, colors, sports and activities, shopping, places and activities in the community, the verb estar, school and classes, telling time, days of the week, months of the year, and question words. Students learn about the culture of several Spanish-speaking countries, including Bolivia, Spain and Mexico. Cultural activities can include making maps, writing postcards and making masks for the Day of the Dead.


A teacher helping a student on a laptop in a classroomEach fifth grader receives a Chromebook at the beginning of the year for in-class use. This one-to-one device program allows students and teachers to collaborate on documents, and enables students to gain significant independence and confidence in their use of technology. Students work with digital images, spreadsheets, animation tools, graphic design applications, blogs and calendars. They practice writing interactive fiction and even make their own digital comic books on iPads.

In early spring, Kindergartners tap Foote’s sugar maples to learn about making sap into syrup. The unit combines science, math, social studies and language arts, ending with a celebratory sap boil and pancake breakfast.

Meet Beth Mello

Beth Mello
Assistant Head of School

Beth Mello oversees the school's curriculum development; diversity, inclusion and social justice initiatives; and faculty professional development.

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