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. 


By the end of the school year, these are some of the skills that we expect CFS fifth-grade students will have developed:


    • Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding unfamiliar words
    • Read texts at Fountas and Pinnell Literacy™ level V with sufficient fluency, accuracy, and expression to support comprehension
    • Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem
    • Reflect upon multiple perspectives when analyzing a text, noting important similarities and differences among the points of view they represent
    • Read multiple genres including: poetry, short fiction, friendly letters, proposal, persuasive speech, encyclopedia entry, and essay
    • Edit for accurate sentence structure, including fragments and run-on sentences, subject-verb agreement, articles, and verb tense as well as for capitalization, end punctuation, commas, and dialogue punctuation
    • Demonstrate an understanding of how and where to use paragraph breaks, including dialogue; time, scene or topic change, or for dramatic effect
    • Write a multi-paragraph essay that introduces a big idea (thesis), supports it with evidence, and concludes with a final, extending thought
    • Use correct verb tense to convey various times, sequences, states, and conditions, depending on the overall meaning of the sentence
    • Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions; express own ideas clearly


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.


By the end of the school year, these are some of the skills that we expect CFS fifth-grade students will have developed:


  • Read and write numbers to the billions and decimals to the thousandths using base ten numbers, number names, and expanded notation
  • Add and subtract with multi-digit whole numbers and with decimals to the thousandths
  • Find whole-number quotients of whole numbers with up to four-digit dividends and two-digit divisors, using strategies based on place value, the properties of operations, and/or the relationship between multiplication and division; illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models
  • Find the volume of rectangular prisms, including the use of volume formulas
  • Use tables to record ordered pairs and construct coordinate graphs to represent the relationship between x- and y-coordinates
  • Multiply fractions, mixed numbers, and whole numbers
  • Divide a unit fraction by a whole number and a whole number by a unit fraction
  • Solve division problems with two whole numbers resulting in a fraction or a mixed number
  • Recognize and use place-value relationships to explain patterns when multiplying or dividing by powers of 10 including placement of the decimal point
  • Multiply and divide decimals to hundredths

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 (I.R.A.) 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.


By the end of the school year, these are some of the skills that we expect CFS fifth-grade students will have developed:


  • Knowledge about the impact of European Settlement on Cherokee and Seminole life and the affects of the Indian Removal Act on each
  • Understand the culture and resistance in the United State from 1800-1900
  • Understand the triumph of Africans, including the diversity, complexity, and strength of African cultures, as they survived and resisted enslavement
  • Know about Mexican-American History through a study of war, power, and money on the “rights” of cultures and individuals
  • Able to define Manifest Destiny and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago and their impact on the growth of American territory, westward expansion, and connection with the conflict between Cherokee and Seminole Nations and the U.S.
  • Can connect immigration to their own family history through the study of Irish and Chinese Immigration
  • Able to explain the impact history has on present immigration in the U.S.


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.


By the end of the school year, these are some of the skills that we expect CFS fifth-grade students will have developed:


  • Ask questions about the natural world and seek answers to some of them by active investigation
  • Identify questions that can be answered through investigation and plan effective experiment procedures
  • Make logical predictions when pursuing scientific investigations
  • Use tools appropriately and with some accuracy to enhance observations and to gather information or data
  • Use drawings, labels, and numbers to record observations and to aid in explaining processes or ideas
  • Include reasons or evidence to support scientific arguments or conclusions
  • Demonstrate understanding of concepts, facts, and vocabulary during class discussions, in written work, and in project/lab work
  • Apply previously learned knowledge and skills to solve problems


Some specific goals for each unit:


Sustainability and Materials Management

  • Collect and analyze basic data on trash and recycling at CFS and engage in ongoing service work as they collect recycling and give feedback about issues to classrooms
  • Review and analyze data about materials management in the U.S. to increase their understanding of the impact of humans on the environment and ways that the sustainable use of materials can lessen that impact
  • Take an active role in designing and implementing a service learning project related to sustainability



  • Demonstrate an understanding of the basic elements of the process of photosynthesis in a storyboard or graphic novel format
  • Track the growth of plants using illustrations, bar and line graphs
  • Working in a small group, design an effective investigation to test one variable affecting seed germination and/or plant development
  • Understand the relationships between flowers and their pollinators
  • Expand their knowledge of plant-based foods, including eating them and learning about where and how they grow


Engineering: Amusement Park Rides

  • Work independently to design a ride that fits the given project parameters
  • Understand the difference between cams and gears and choose the appropriate one for their specific design
  • Make accurate measurements (in cm) as they cut and assemble the components for their ride and as they document their finished work
  • Build and assemble components into a stable 3-D structure with smoothly moving parts 
  • Troubleshoot and solve problems, asking for help from and offering support to other students


Force, Motion, and Design

  • Use K’NEX®  pieces to build a variety of vehicles, from given plans and of their own design
  • Describe the effects of different forces on their vehicles as they test and observe them
  • Use a variety of methods to move their vehicles, including stored energy, and then determine which method(s) will be effective in meeting each design challenge
  • Work effectively in teams to carry out each step as they design, build, test, and modify their vehicles to meet a particular design challenge



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.


By the end of the school year, these are some of the skills that we expect CFS fifth-grade students will have developed:


  • Create 2D paper collage projects including collaborative paper quilts
  • Practice mixing tempera paint to create 3 secondary colors and 6 tertiary colors to gain precision when mixing colors
  • Design their own color wheel using precisely mixed color
  • Complete projects such as individual abstract line drawings to be combined in a collaborative installation, observational drawings of the school garden and of objects, blind contour drawing, and tessellation drawing
  • Learn to use tools safely to carve designs into soft “linoleum” blocks to create a printing plate
  • Practice creating structurally sound 3D forms using needle-felting tools and wool roving
  • Learn to use a sewing machine to perform simple, straight stitches, and review the use of hand-sewing stitches such as the running or backstitch
  • Learn how to utilize building techniques such as pinch, slab, coil, and slipping/scoring to build with clay


Puppetry (Rod Puppets or Shadow Puppets)

  • Learn to build a rod puppet sculpture up from an armature using foam, aluminum foil, paper, clay, and added sculptural materials
  • Practice facial sculpture, emphasizing and exaggerating features for expression
  • Paint in layers and add details with a focus on how puppets will be perceived when on stage
  • Learn to assemble puppets using fabric, sculptural, and faux fur elements


  • Make design decisions such as adding cut-out interior shapes and added textures to enhance the shadow puppet shapes
  • Learn to build overlapping puppet parts to create moving joints 
  • Participate in production crew roles to film puppet performances

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.


By the end of the school year, these are some of the skills that we expect CFS fifth-grade students will have developed:


  • Build upper-body and core strength, flexibility, and endurance capacity through fitness routines
  • Learn mindful breathing exercises to calm bodies down before transitioning back to homerooms
  • Develop and build a variety of skills involved in playing soccer, floor hockey, basketball, volleyball, and badminton games.
  • Understand basic game rules and terminology
  • Explore cross-curriculum work combining Spanish and physical education through dance and movement
  • Negotiate more challenging team building initiatives and concepts of leadership, trust, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and working together to achieve a common goal

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. 


By the end of the school year, these are some of the skills that we expect CFS fifth-grade students will have developed:


  • Able to discuss the Hindu pantheon, creation stories, and epics, and the rich storytelling heritage of India
  • Draw connections among these stories and other traditional literature that they have read before, including Greek mythology
  • Understand the variety of biographies available in the library in preparation for their classroom project
  • Identify turning points, mentors, challenges faced in the subjects’ lives from several short stories
  • Choose a subject for their independent biography project, and read several books about this person
  • Understand significant cultural observances, such as Hispanic Heritage Month, GLBT Book Month™, Banned Book Week, and National Poetry Month
  • Experience with many kinds of books, authors and illustrators


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.


By the end of the school year, these are some of the skills that we expect CFS fifth-grade students will have developed:


  • Use verbs  “to be” (in both permanent and temporary state) and “to have” in simple sentences i.e. “ser,” “estar,” “tener,” “gustar,” “encantar,” and “aburrir”
  • Make lists of the following categories: cognates, fruits, vegetables, animals, months, days of the week, months of the year, seasons, numbers, colors, occupations, and nouns in Spanish
  • Spell words using the Spanish alphabet and write lists, simple sentences, and simple commands
  • Memorize and repeat single words or short phrases
  • Initiate basic conversations i.e. greet others and introduce themselves, answer “yes” or “no” questions, and able to express likes and dislikes 
  • Count up to 1,000
  • Tell date and time
  • Dances of Spanish-speaking countries: salsa and tango
  • Able to report news and facts from online newspapers of Spanish-speaking countries