5th Grade » Home


The fifth grade curriculum at Rio Grande School is based on learning through authentic experiences. Problem-solving, creativity, and higher-level thinking skills are emphasized, as are research and working cooperatively with others. Some of the abilities we work to develop are questioning, risk-taking, and suspending certainty. We want students to develop as a whole being, understand their learning styles, and find the internal motivation to excel academically. To ensure that these goals are met we recognize that the academic curriculum we offer must provide a balance of process and product, is research based, strives for an in-depth understanding, and provides students with opportunities for active exploration to construct knowledge. In culmination of the academic year students prepare a portfolio and reflection to share with their parents during spring student-led conferences.

Students begin their day in homeroom where Responsive Classroom techniques are infused to build community and encourage students social/emotional development. The remainder of the students’ day resembles a middle school model where core subjects are taught by different educators. The unique experience of looping with the students from 5th to 6th grade. Working closely with the same students for two years in a row, enables educators to have an excellent understanding of students’ needs. 

In addition, students serve as representatives of the school community. 

Parents are encouraged to participate in field trips. Fifth and sixth graders participate in recess together and share the same lunch space in either the math or language arts rooms. Students also meet with a faculty member once a week for a special Connection Lunch to build bonds between educators and students. 

The 5/6 educator team meets once a week to discuss students, curriculum and ways to move our program forward.   

Language Arts

The fifth- and sixth-grades’ English-Language Arts (ELA) curriculum is a two-year program that is rich in reading, writing, speaking, and integration of subjects. The main focus for these two years is to inspire students to have a life-long passion for books and reading and for them to be confident and competent writers. In class, students have the opportunity to read and write daily with uninterrupted blocks of time. The curricula and the educator are influenced and inspired by best practices from Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Project from Columbia University and Nanci Atwell, author of In the Middle and founder of the kindergarten through eighth-grade independent school, the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Writing: Students learn to write by writing. Guidance, individualized instruction, peer interaction, and educator modeling are essential for success. Reading the works of various authors helps students recognize powerful writing and to emulate these authors. During the first part of the year, the writing process is reviewed via brainstorming, first drafts, editing and revising, subsequent drafts, and then the final polished product, and then implemented the rest of the year. Students learn to focus on, use, and assess the six traits of writing--ideas and content, organization, sentence fluency, voice, word choice, and conventions. In much of the creative writing, students develop their own topics through conferencing with the educator. Students craft pieces in a variety of genres including letter writing, poetry, narrative, character sketches, expository, persuasive, journal writing, imaginative stories, and science fiction. Students write for a variety of audiences and purposes, including responding to literature, expressing personal stories, researching and writing about the topic of water, and writing letters to others.

Conventions and vocabulary are taught deliberately and through informational and literary texts. Weekly individual spelling lists are taken from a student’s writing. Rebecca Sitton’s Spelling and Word Skills program is alternated every other week with Vocabulary from Classical Roots. Mini-lessons about paragraphs, commas, homophones, and other conventions are taught in small groups or individually on an as-needed basis.

Reading: The environment in the classroom is rich in literature and fosters a love of books and reading. There are many opportunities to read books in a variety of genres and to discuss and write about reading. Reading is part of the daily schedule and includes read-aloud, book clubs, research, silent reading, and pair and small-group reading and discussions. Daily reading at home is an expectation. Students employ various reading strategies to construct meaning by making connections among text, self, and other works, by asking open-ended questions that deepen understanding, and by summarizing. They are also expected to identify specific vocabulary to enhance understanding, respond to questions, make predictions and inferences, and refer back to text to support opinions or answer questions. With fiction, students focus on literary elements as part of the author’s craft, such as conflicts, themes, turning points, character development and traits, plot, setting, figurative language, and dialogue. Students are exposed to a variety of nonfiction books that include biographies, diaries and journals, water related subjects as part of an integrated research project, and history.

Public Speaking: Presenting in front of an audience is on-going practice. Students are taught organization of a speech, strong ideas and content, language, and delivery, e.g., eye contact, hand gestures, voice projection and inflection, and fluency. Speeches are targeted to be about three minutes and include book reviews, water research topics, a puppet play and a dramatization of a book character, and skits/tableaux. 

The fifth- and sixth-grade math team builds upon and expands concepts students learned in fourth grade through the use of Everyday Mathematics as the core of the curriculum. Everyday Mathematics offers students an appropriate foundation in math concepts and skills and provides them with a direct link between what is learned in the classroom and real-life applications. The program is designed to challenge each student in a nurturing environment. Each grade’s academic goals are organized into six strands, Numbers and Numerations, Operations and Computation, Data and Chance, Measurement and Reference Frames, and Patterns, Functions, and Algebra.

Educators supplement the math program with other developmentally appropriate resources such as Mangahigh, Khan Academy, Math Olympiad, and iPad apps for math practice and manipulatives to enhance student learning. The math educators challenge each student, foster perseverance, build solid math self-esteem, offer differentiated learning opportunities, and challenge students to become confident learners, mathematical thinkers, and creative problem solvers. A variety of instructional settings are utilized by educators including whole class instruction, small flexible groupings, independent extension projects, and remediation. Each math lesson incorporates an exploration opportunity for learning partners to share and discuss strategies on how to solve the problem. Daily independent lesson practice offers opportunities for application of concepts and requires that students develop written responses to explain their mathematical thinking.

The fifth-grade curriculum spends much of the year reinforcing and expanding on the concepts of number theory, computation—addition and subtraction, multiplication and division—with whole numbers, decimals, and fractions, which were introduced in earlier years. Additionally, students deepen their knowledge of decimals, percents, estimation, and geometry. New skills include ratios, negative numbers, exponents, and algebraic expressions. The Everyday Mathematics curriculum offers many opportunities to introduce mathematical concepts with literature connections and to reinforce and practice skills through games as outlined in the Everyday Math Correlations and Scope and Sequence.

Beginning in fifth grade students are given the opportunity to assume more personal responsibility and a greater academic challenge by participating in an accelerated math curriculum. Through assessments and observation students are identified for this math program. The accelerated program compacts the fifth-grade curriculum, offering a faster pace to learning on targeted benchmarks, then continues by introducing the sixth-grade benchmarks of the Everyday Math program. The pacing of this program is accelerated and positions students to begin pre-algebra in sixth grade.

Social Studies
The social studies curriculum continues to build upon what was taught in fourth grade at a developmentally appropriate level for students. Themes and essential questions have been chosen to provide continuity between years of study and the building of geographical understanding, historical knowledge, and study skills. The curriculum uses a variety of instructional methodologies including lecture-discussion, simulations, project-based learning, role playing, and collaborative learning.

Students learn the skills necessary to research, present arguments and evidence, evaluate primary or secondary sources, distinguish between credible sources, as well as select appropriate tools and digital resources to engage in learning. The students express an understanding of the geography and history of the United States while honoring the many diverse peoples and perspectives to help them understand their place in society and encourage their participation as citizens of the United States and the world.

The three essential questions in fifth grade are: (1) How does geography shape and reflect a culture? (2) What is our nation’s “story” and whose story is it? (3) What is our responsibility to our community?

Specifically, the students map the National Parks and nation’s geographical features; compare regions within the United States; simulate a road trip across the United States; and collaboratively write research reports on a state. In addition, students work on an integrated arts project in collaboration with science, English, art and technology where they develop an integrated project of their design. During the second trimester, students study the exploration of the world by European countries in the 16th and 17th centuries. Included in the curriculum is participating in a mock appearance at court before the 16th century queen of England, engaging in simulations of life aboard a caravel, reading biographies of explorers, comparing viewpoints, and writing comic strips with historical content. Students also learn about the formation of the 13 original colonies, colonial life, politics, Native Americans, and life within Europe. During the last trimester students are challenged with the task of creating a guiding question that addresses social responsibility within the lens of studying a time period, such as the Great Depression. Students locate resources to help them answer their questions and develop projects that take a position and examine their guiding questions.


The goal of the science department is to produce graduates who enjoy and are inspired by science. Students should leave RGS feeling that they like science, are interested in scientific concepts and discovery, and look forward to seeking opportunities to learn more. Students develop close observation and recording skills, and the ability to deeply analyze and manipulate variables, and to synthesize information. In the lab, students practice observation, patience, perseverance, communication, and collaboration. 

Science meets three times a week for one hour for a total of three hours per week. Students use investigations, activities, and experiments in order to explicitly test how variables affect the output of a system. They use the scientific method to design fair tests, follow procedures, conduct experiments, and record and analyze findings.

Fifth- and sixth-graders construct more knowledge on their own than they did in previous years. Some of their investigations are student-led and help to answer a question the student has about a topic. Students also conduct much of their own research and compile the information as a group or class to better understand a topic or concept. Upper elementary students also spend a lot of time focusing in rewriting labs as multiple drafts are necessary to communicate finds more clearly, provide additional detail, and generate more thoughtful conclusions.


At this developmental stage students should explore and challenge their understanding of the natural world; they have a rich and meaningful understanding of science concepts in the disciplines of physical, life, earth, and space sciences.


Fifth-grade educators work together closely to create culminating projects for students at the end of each unit. For example, the water calendar project is a collaboration among English/language arts, social studies, science, art, technology, performing arts, and library. Similarly, the Mars Mission project is where they meet with hundreds of students throughout New Mexico to share their interdisciplinary culminating projects and work in collaboration with other schools to create a working habitat for survival on Mars.

Essential Questions:

  • What are the properties of water?
  • Where do we get our water?  Who owns our water?
  • What is the water cycle?
  • What role does water play in the world and in our lives?
  • What are the human body systems?
  • How and why do humans develop?  
  • How do human change during adolescence physically, emotionally, and socially?
  • What do we need to survive on Mars?
  • What are the features of space?


Service Learning
For their Service Learning work, fifth graders do a variety of activities focused on the environmental stewardship of our community, including stewardship at Randall Davey Audubon Center, where they visit 3-4 times a year and help the Center clear invasive species, maintain the watershed and trails, make homes for solitary bees, and clean birdhouses so birds will nest in them. Students build a relationship with the space, hold classes on the grounds, and test the watershed. They continue their relationship with the Santa Fe River in 6th grade. Students develop a strong appreciation and respect for nature and enjoy helping to maintain a wildlife preserve.