Grade 5

Social Studies

Essential Questions:

 What are the physical and human characteristics of place?

  • How do people change the environment, and how does the environment influence human activity?
  • What is community life? What are community ideals?
  • How do cultures change over time?
  • What are the rights and responsibilities of people in a group and of those in authority?
  • What values of past societies should we seek to learn from today?

The significance of place—as a habitat, as a cultural foundation, and as a basis for stewardship—grounds the fifth grade curriculum. Fifth grade students take responsibility for the classroom recycling program across the campus as they consider the ways that individuals can impact their community. The year begins with ecological studies, highlighted by an overnight environmental study. The trip serves as a cornerstone for science and social studies, while also forging deeper connections among the students and their teachers.

With these experiences as a foundation, the class spends the rest of the year considering the factors that contribute to cultures and societies. In-depth units about ancient Egypt and Greece provide the framework for thoughtful conversations about rights, the common good, power, authority, and government. Students investigate artifacts and analyze myths to decipher cultural values. They write and perform plays based on the mythological themes and characters. They consider laws and social practices that continue to influence civilizations today, gaining a historical perspective on contemporary issues.


Fifth graders meet three periods per six-day cycle with a science teacher in the Lower School discovery room. During the fall, student activities revolve around ecology; the interactions among living organisms and between organisms and their physical environment. The curriculum supports and expands science and social studies topics led by the fifth grade teachers in the classroom, as well as those that take place on field trips to a salt marsh and at the three-day trip to Deer Lake.

Using a hands-on inquiry approach, students explore basic concepts and methods in environmental field and lab science. The role of light in photosynthesis and the energy flow of ecosystems serve as key concepts that connect units of study during the first term. Most investigations begin with the observation and manipulation of materials and the generation of testable questions. Some examples of student activities include making observations of interactions between living and non-living things, and of the interactions of plants and animals. Fifth graders gain first-hand knowledge about identification, ecology, and life cycles of trees through a close study of the trees on the Foote campus. Field and lab work includes a tree census, tree ring analysis, viewing extracted tree core with a microscope, and estimating heights. Indoors and outside, students explore leaf and cell structure, organelles and choroplasts. They experiment with chromatography after extracting chlorophyll and other pigments from leaves. We also discuss and examine the critical role of plants in the carbon cycle and the impact of deforestation and climate change.

During the second term, major topics include energy changes, light, heat, and electromagnetism. The transmission, reflection, and refraction of light are explored through inquiry and a series of hands-on investigations. Students generate questions, isolate and manipulate variables, and then analyze and compare their data. Activities include generating electricity by friction, generators, and photovoltaic cells. The year culminates with students designing and building solar ovens. This project incorporates many STEM skills and allows students to be both imaginative and systematic as they engineer environmentally friendly ways of heating and cooking food, keeping detailed written records of their work. 


In fifth grade, students solidify their understanding of operational procedures and whole number values. A focal point of the curriculum centers on ensuring that answers are reasonable; students engage in estimation and critical thinking to determine whether their solutions make sense. Problems are frequently based on real-world situations, in order to give students a greater sense of the connection between the skills they are learning and their daily lives. Much of the year is spent working with values beyond whole numbers, as students gain facility in manipulating decimals and fractions. They also solve problems with positive and negative integers and bases other than 10. Computational problems often involve multiple types of arithmetic, challenging students to remember the order of operations and to keep their work organized. In connection with their studies of ancient cultures, our fifth graders learn about Greek, Roman, and Egyptian number systems and the ways that early civilizations used math. Geometric explorations include two- and three-dimensional figures, measurements, and formulas for calculating lengths, areas, and sizes. Students analyze and depict data and learn how to show relationships among numbers in multiple graphic forms.

English/Language Arts

Reading and writing represent the core of the entire fifth grade program and integrate with all areas of study. Formal and individualized instruction in mechanics includes use of capitals, complete sentences, and paragraphing. Spelling, vocabulary, and grammar programs complement the English curriculum. A great deal of time is devoted to helping children experience both the written and spoken word 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. A variety of comprehension activities encourage reading with a purpose, interpretation, and clarity of detail in student responses. Students are involved with writing on a daily basis. While some of the process writing of earlier grades is continued, more time is devoted to the refinement of individual style through a variety of approaches that differ in scope, duration, and length. Emphasis is placed on rewriting entire stories to improve fluidity, dialogue, setting and character development, as well as the overall plot. Students experiment with a number of literary genres including poetry, drama and fiction. During the ancient cultures unit, students write their own myths, incorporating elements of that classic style into their work. Students learn how to express their opinions using persuasive writing. Most writing is shared in class and discussed.


World Language


In fifth-grade Chinese class, listening and speaking continue to 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 individual flashcards to reinforce sight word recognition. Many activities and games are designed for students to use the four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing). Vocabulary and units of study focus on communities. Students learn to talk about professions, place of residence, physical appearance, rooms and furniture. Students are expected to present for others in class, and learn from each other in group activities.

Students are expected to know the basics of writing Chinese characters. They also learn about the etymology of many Chinese characters to help with their sight word recognition. Quizlets and the SmartBoard are frequently used to facilitate instruction and provide student-centered in-class activities.

A STEM unit is typically incorporated into the fifth grade. It usually includes a survey, and students express their results in the form of a chart. The unit wraps up in a bar graph project, with the students graphing their findings.

Pinyin is now used more consistently to aid students’ learning or pronunciation and tones. Online resources are provided for those who would like to reinforce classroom learning at home.


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 aura/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.


The fifth grade Spanish course 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.

Fine Arts


Lower School drama allows children to make discoveries about themselves and others through games, focused exercises, and fun activities. Primary grades classes focus on facial expressions to show emotions, using body parts to represent objects or action, vocal control, methods for performing in the role of a human or non-human character, and ways of using props and sets. In third through fifth grade, students explore characters in more depth. They practice methods for making actions seem real, and they learn more about the process of making a play come to life on stage.

Visual Arts

Students in third through fifth grade continue to build foundational skills using a variety of media. Most of their projects are designed to complement the curriculum in science, literature, and social studies: inventor sculptures, arabesque pillows, clay candle houses (a highlight of the fourth grade!) environmental painting and representations of the natural world, Egyptian and Greek arts are a few of the beautiful works our students produce during these years.


Music in the Lower School is based on the Kodály Concept, a comprehensive, sequential, experience-based program used to develop basic musical skills and to teach the reading and writing of music. From lullabies, childhood chants, folk songs, singing games and dances, to the art music of master composers, students sing, move, listen, and respond to an ever-increasing repertoire of music, from which musical elements and concepts to be learned are derived. 

Physical Education

At Foote, we believe in nurturing our students’ physical health and growth as well as their academic progress. With that philosophy as a guiding force, our physical education program is designed to support students’ self-image, build sportsmanship, and provide a basis for a healthy lifelong attitude toward fitness. Our curriculum is carefully sequenced to match the stages of physical, social, and emotional development from year to year. In addition to athletic skills, our program encourages creative expression, builds social concepts such as sportsmanship, cooperation, and fair play, offers opportunities for leadership, encourages children to take risks, and fosters a sense of well-being in a non-competitive setting.

All children at Foote School are members of either the Maroon or Grey sports teams. Spirit is high on our annual Field Day, when students participate in a variety of fun and competitive events between the Maroon and the Grey. Kindergarteners take part only in the morning, competing in a fun run, a scoop relay, and a shuttle relay. All the other students participate in a full day of events, culminating in an all-school relay race around the entire field, featuring the day’s winners of the 60-yard dash from each grade. 

The Lower School physical education program provides opportunities for students to express themselves through movement. In the primary grades, classes focus on fine and gross motor skills, balance, spatial awareness, flexibility, endurance, strength and coordination. Activities are lively and fun, making use of a wide variety of equipment, ranging from bean bags to beach balls, whiffle bats, scoops, and foam paddles. 

Competition is kept to a minimum and cooperative games are included in most lessons. The 3rd-5th grade program encourages students to build endurance through a gradually increasing running challenge, which culminates in a one-mile run. Also in these later elementary grades, team sports are introduced, along with the concept of rules and sport-specific skills.

In Kindergarten through fifth grade, all three sections of the class participate in gym together, allowing the teachers to divide the group into different configurations. Third through fifth have gym four times in each cycle.