Grade 5

Grade 5 Curriculum


Cambridge Friends School supports fifth-graders in their rapid development of all motor skills as they continue to need lots of physical play, as well as plenty of food and rest to accommodate their growing bodies. We encourage them to concentrate on reading and thinking for increasingly long periods of time and work with them on becoming more independent in the planning and pacing of their own work. CFS fifth-graders are hardworking and take pride in challenging school work. They are adept at memorization, but they are also increasingly able to think abstractly. They enjoy organizing and classifying, and learning about patterns, scientific principles, and governmental structures – they are intensely curious about how the natural and societal world works. Although fifth-graders are competitive, we help them cultivate their cooperative side and arrange for them to work in groups to make sense of new ideas and create products that demonstrate their learning.


Socially, fifth-graders are ready for, and interested in, broadening their horizons and widening their sphere of friendships. Their personal empowerment and growing confidence lead to a more self-centered way of thinking and acting. Fifth-graders have more of a tendency to push limits and to question what they perceive to be arbitrary rules. At the same time, they are more open to learning mediation, and demonstrate creativity at solving both academic and social problems. We engage them in group activities, such as performing plays and creating newsletters or literary publications. Fifth-graders are developing a more nuanced understanding of fairness and equity. They are motivated to work together to initiate social action, and to engage in community service.


Cambridge Friends School leverages a fifth-grader’s increasing capacity for independent work with in-depth learning that can only be accomplished over an extended period of time. For example, the fifth-graders engage in a multi-genre biography project that lasts for several months. Each fifth-grader selects and researches a historical person of interest. Rather than collecting an exhaustive record of information, the project is focused on turning points in that subject’s life. Each student uses this material to write about the person in many ways, including an encyclopedia entry, a poem, a letter or a journal entry, and a frame story to tie all these pieces together. The final step is to create a piece of visual art that represents or celebrates the biography subject.


As the fifth-graders learn about the history of the United States, Cambridge Friends School pays particular attention to the perspectives of groups who have traditionally been oppressed. For example, they learn about the history and culture of the Cherokee and Seminole Nations. Fifth-grade students learn about the events leading up to, and including, the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears, and about the difficult decisions facing native people in the early 1800’s. Students then create fictional, but historically accurate characters. They write monologues declaring and justifying their characters’ decisions about the Indian Removal Act. They create portraits of these characters, based on the cultural dress and hairstyles of the period. Finally, they present their monologues to one another at a Ceremonial Tribal Council.

English and Language Arts

Fifth-grade language arts at Cambridge Friends School focuses on refining the skills of reading, and deepening the concepts of good communication, both oral and written. Students’ writing moves from event-based narrative to analysis, persuasion, and descriptive fiction. They learn to organize and produce substantial pieces of writing, such as short fiction, essays, a memoir poem, and a multi-genre biography. Using the Writing Workshop model, and enriched with a wide range of mentor texts, students at CFS bring their work through the pre-draft, draft, revising, editing, and publishing stages. Students learn and practice grammatical concepts that support the writing process. Through read-aloud stories, classroom-wide shared novels and short stories, and smaller literature groups, students learn to identify symbolism and theme, and to discuss the motivations of characters and the intentions of authors. Teacher-selected and student-selected texts represent diverse cultures and points of view, which students explore on both literal and interpretive levels. 


The math curriculum used in fifth-grade is the third edition of the TERC Investigations curriculum supplemented with additional materials and projects designed by CFS faculty. Fifth-graders begin by solving puzzles using pentominoes and engage in discussions and discoveries focused on perimeter and area. They study four other number systems to strengthen their understanding of place value, landmark numbers, and the use of zero. They explore three-dimensional geometry in a volume investigation. Fifth-graders master several procedures for multiplying multi-digit numbers, and for long division. They work to master computational strategies and they explore the relationships between fractions and decimals. Fifth-graders examine patterns and growth using charts and graphs. In all topic areas, we combine exploration of concepts with practicing skills and applying those skills in projects, such as the design and cost analysis of a park. A problem of the week routine allows fifth-graders to explore additional mathematical topics and connections in a fun, challenging context.

Social Studies

In the Cambridge Friends School fifth-grade social studies curriculum, students learn about the Cherokee and Seminole Nations. They study the effects of the Indian Removal Act on these nations and how they responded. Students then create a fictional Seminole or Cherokee person, making decisions about how to respond to the I.R.A. They argue their choices, and learn about the real-life consequences. The next unit focuses on Abolition. Fifth-graders look at the many ways people resisted slavery, using the U.S. map to examine connections between slavery and the growth of the United States. They create an Abolition Timeline, and write a short essay comparing two types of resistance to slavery. Students examine the history of the U.S./Mexican border, with a focus on Manifest Destiny, the Mexican-American War, the postwar relationship of Mexicans in the United States to white citizens, and several types of political resistance from the 1800’s to the present. They connect this history to current immigration issues.



Fifth-grade students are passionate about sustainability and materials management as they work to educate the community about ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Stewardship and service learning are key as students assume responsibility for the recycling in the Lower School, volunteer at Cradles to Crayons, and host drives for that organization. While learning about the structure and function of the various parts of plants, students grow Wisconsin Fast Plants from seed to seed. They create graphic novels to explain photosynthesis, work as teams to design seed investigations, become experts on flowers and pollinators, and explore the plants we eat.


In engineering, students design and build amusement park rides moved by gears or cams and constructed from scratch using woodworking tools. The planning, self-pacing, resilience, and perseverance required to complete this project often prove to be a transformative experience for students. Additional work with force and motion involves using K’Nex® pieces to complete a series of design and build challenges exploring propulsion, friction, and resistance.


The fifth-grade curriculum at Cambridge Friends School takes materials and processes that students have used previously in the art studio and asks students to answer deeper questions. Students build more advanced skills with familiar materials, and are introduced to more complex versions of processes they have experienced before. Fifth-graders hone their ability to attend to details in their artwork, and expand their understanding of art made throughout history and around the world. Projects continue to focus on problem-solving and developing students’ confidence in their own ideas.


CFS fifth-grade students use their advanced color mixing skills in drawing and painting projects, understand and use techniques like overlapping, texture, shading, positive and negative space, foreground and background, and symmetry in their compositions. They explore calligraphy, tessellation drawings, linoleum relief prints, and paper marbling. They use detailed 3D paper sculpture techniques, and build with wire. They refine their ceramic skills using hand-building techniques such as coils and slab work. They hone both hand and machine sewing skills.

Physical Education

Fifth grade builds upon previously learned skills. Fitness routines and dodging and fleeing games for warm-ups are the norm for this grade because they offer opportunities for students to be leaders. Lead-up games and activities that enable students to grasp specific throwing, kicking, and bouncing skills are a focus for grade five and ample time is spent on lead-up skills (technical skills), team strategy (tactics), and sportsmanship. Team building activities are integrated throughout the school year.

Arts Block

Arts Block is a weekly co-taught session in which the visual and performing arts are used to enhance the existing academic curriculum. For example, when learning about the history of the Cherokee culture, the fifth-graders learn and practice a Cherokee Welcome song. They are introduced to the Cherokee writing system and use it to transcribe their own names. Later in the unit, they create “portraits” of self-created characters who will deliver speeches on the Indian Removal Act. During the Resistance to Slavery unit, fifth-graders reproduce portraits, maps, and documents about Abolition, and place them along a time line. Arts Block time is used to prepare presentations for the Pride and MLK Assemblies, and for much of the spring, it is devoted to creating and rehearsing the annual fifth-grade puppet show. Arts Block also offers the fifth-graders a series of weeks devoted to music and ensemble work that is a continuation of what they experienced in previous music classes. Whether the time is spent on singing, dancing, stories, skits or portraiture, the fifth-graders look forward to using a different part of their brain in the classroom, and learning by doing.


In fifth-grade, students focus on stories from the Hindu, Persian, and Arab traditions, are supported in enriching their classroom biography project, and create/perform a puppet project. By listening to traditional stories from the Hindu, Persian, and Arab cultures, students are introduced to the universality, complexity and creativity of these stories, and appreciate how stories reflect specific traditional beliefs connected to each culture. The biography project helps students understand that there are many ways to represent a person’s life. Students learn that a book is written from an author’s perspective, and readers must always keep an open and inquiring mind. The puppet performance gives students the opportunity to collectively brainstorm and collaborate as a group to share their learning with the community. 


The Cambridge Friends School’s four-year drama curriculum begins in fifth grade with improvisation.  Through myriad theater exercises, games, and scene work, our students learn what it means to take a risk and think outside the box. Understanding the concept of being able to tell your story physically, without relying on your voice, is the foundation of this year-long curriculum.  Physicality, the use of voice (diction, enunciation, inflection) and movement are all looked at through a performance lens. Once the understanding of the power of storytelling is learned, students begin incorporating this into storylines through scene work and games, ultimately culminating in long-form improvisation.  A final performance for family and friends takes place in May.



In this class, students get acquainted with the Spanish language. They start to develop their listening comprehension and oral expression in the language. Students learn how to talk about themselves and others and how to communicate their likes and dislikes. Some of the areas covered include: verbs in the present tense, numbers, days of the week, expressions of weather, time, daily routines, adjectives, cognates, the alphabet, Hispanic speaking countries and their capitals, and developing simple questions. The students also learn about Hispanic traditions and culture. Students are engaged in listening, speaking and writing, and how to start to use Spanish to the best of their ability. The Massachusetts Curriculum Framework is also included in this course: comparisons, communications, connections, culture, and communities.