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5th grade English Language Arts skills: Find out what you need to know

In fifth grade, students read closely from a mix of literature and informational texts as they work towards becoming strong readers.
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Want to help your fifth-grader master reading and writing? Here are some of the skills your fifth-grader will be learning in the classroom.

Reading & writing

Rich and challenging texts

Read rich and challenging fifth grade-level texts closely, proficiently and independently.

Example stories: "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll; "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett; "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" by Grace Lin.

Example poetry: “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost; “Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf” by Roald Dahl; “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus.

Example informational texts: "Hurricanes: Earth’s Mightiest Storms" by Particia Lauber; "A History of Us" by Joy Hakim; "Horses" by Seymour Simon.

Explaining the text

Explain what a story, play, poem, or informational text says and make inferences (“read between the lines”) using details and quotes from the text.

Identifying themes

Summarize a text and identify the theme or main ideas of a story, play, poem or informational text based on details in the text.

Tip: Discuss reading.

Talk to your child about what she is reading. Ask her to tell you what a book is about and who the main characters are. Ask her what she’s enjoying about the book. Having her talk about what she’s reading prompts her to analyze the text as she’s learning to do in school and to ask the kinds of questions that are being discussed in class.

New vocabulary

Read and understand new vocabulary, including general academic vocabulary and vocabulary in specific subject areas like science or social studies.

  • Academic vocabulary includes words that are found in texts across subject areas. Examples: relative, vary, formulate.
  • Subject area vocabulary includes words that relate to a field of study, like biology. Examples: mitosis, chromosome.

Example: Spot metaphors and similes

As your child learns about new concepts like metaphors (He has a heart of gold) and similes (She’s busy as a bee) make a game out of identifying examples in everyday conversation, on television or in print.

New words and phrases

Use different strategies to understand new words and phrases: for example, use context as a clue; use common Greek and Latin roots as a clue; consult a dictionary online or in print.

Developing a topic

Explain how an author develops a topic and supports it with reasons and evidence.

Discuss reading:

Talk to your child about what they are reading. Ask them to tell you what a book is about and who the main characters are. Ask them what they're enjoying about the book. Having them talk about what they're reading prompts her to analyze the text as they're learning to do in school and to ask the kinds of questions that are being discussed in class.

Discuss different points of view:

Your child’s classroom discussion of reading is starting to focus on how different points of view can influence and shape perceptions. You can help develop them understanding of this concept with your conversations at home, whether you’re talking about what happened that day at school or about stories that are on the news. Ask your child to tell you not just what happened, but why they thinks someone acted in the way they did.

Opinion pieces

Write an opinion piece that supports a point of view with reasons and information.

Examining a topic

Write papers that examine or explain a topic and present information clearly. Use examples, facts and details to develop the topic and organize the information in a logical way.

Writing stories or narratives

Write stories or narratives about real or imaginary experiences. Establish a situation and develop story elements such as characters, a well-sequenced plot, and descriptive details to help the narrative come alive.

Use social media to practice writing:

If your family uses social networking sites, such as Facebook, ask your child to become a regular contributor to status updates. Writing short summaries of important family events or weekly activities will help them practice their writing skills and develop good social networking skills. Make sure to check their posts and to discuss concerns about content or language that you have with them.

Supporting evidence

Include evidence from text to support thinking and conclusions.

Applying grammar rules

Use conventional capitalization, punctuation, and spelling and apply the rules of grammar in written work.

Using technology

With guidance from adults, use technology to produce writing and to work with others on writing.


Comfortably type at least two pages in a single sitting.

Listening & speaking

Class participation

Participate in class discussions about complex fifth grade topics and readings. Be prepared to share ideas, ask and answer questions, and draw conclusions from the discussion.

Summarizing ideas

Summarize ideas that another speaker makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence.

Giving a presentation

Give a well-organized presentation about a topic or a reading, or present an opinion. Support ideas with facts and descriptive details. Speak clearly and audibly and include multimedia or visuals to more clearly and effectively express information.

Rules of spoken English

Learn and apply the rules of spoken English.


  • Use verb tenses correctly, including the “perfect” tenses (I had walked; I have walked; I will have walked).
  • Use conjunctions (and, but, or) and conjunction pairs (neither/nor, either/or) correctly.

Research & inquiry

Research projects

Conduct short research projects to gather information from print and digital sources.

Tip: Look up answers.

When family conversation leads to questions that require looking up an answer, challenge each person to use a different print or digital resource to quickly find an answer to the question.

Taking notes

Take notes to summarize or paraphrase the material and provide a list of sources.

For tips to help your fifth-grader in English Language Arts class, check out our fifth grade English Language Arts tips page.

TODAY's Parenting Guides resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, and align with the Common Core State Standards.