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6th grade English Language Arts skills: Find out what you need to know

In sixth grade, students read and understand a wide range of stories, plays and poems from across cultures and time periods.
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Want to help your sixth-grader master reading and writing? Here are some of the skills your sixth-grader will be learning in the classroom.

Reading & writing

Rich and challenging texts

Read closely from rich and challenging sixth grade-level texts, with guidance when text is particularly demanding.

Some sample texts for sixth-graders:

  • "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain
  • "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" by Mildred D. Roll
  • “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman
  • "Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad" by Ann Petry
  • Preamble and First Amendment to the United States Constitution
  • "Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction" by David Macaulay

Making inferences

Cite evidence to explain what a story, play, poem, or informational text says, and what clues can be used to make inferences or “read between the lines.”

Identifying the main theme

Identify the theme or main idea in both literary and informational text, based on specific details; summarize the text without adding opinions.

Identify essential information while reading:

As the amount of reading material your child is assigned increases, he will need to develop new strategies for synthesizing all that he is learning. Help him figure out how to process information by asking questions such as “What was the main idea in the article you just read?” “What are the most important things you want to remember about it?” Learning how to identify and focus on essential information will be an important skill throughout his life.

Tracing an argument

Trace an argument and specific claims in a text, differentiating claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.

Exploring short novels:

Now that your child is in middle school he will be given longer reading assignments, such as short novels. These might be classics you remember, like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, or newer works, like the Hunger Games trilogy. Try to read these assignments yourself, if you have the time. You’ll enjoy them and will be able to discuss them in detail with your child. Ask questions that go beyond just talking about what happened in the book. Ask him what motivated different characters or how he thinks they felt in different situations.

Ask “What if” questions:

Ask “what if” questions about the books and stories your child is reading. What if the author had decided to change a specific plot point? What if a character in a biography had made a different decision at a key moment? Ask questions that prompt your child to think through the motivations behind the actions of different characters.

Vocab, text meaning, and tone

Read and understand sixth grade vocabulary, and determine how an author’s word choices affect the meaning and tone of a text.

Understanding 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.

Examples of common Greek roots: biblio (book) as in bibliography; therm (heat) as in thermometer.

Examples of common Latin roots: aqua (water), as in aquarium; cent (hundred), as in century.

Tip: Read instruction manuals.

If you find yourself assembling household items, ask your child to read through the directions and guide you through the assembly process. The instructions often include technical words and sequencing concepts, which help your child develop important non-fiction reading skills.

Supporting arguments

Write arguments that state a claim, and support the claim with clear reasons and relevant evidence from credible or trusted sources.

Informative papers

Write informative or explanatory papers that examine a topic and express information clearly. Use facts, details, and other information to develop the topic.

Developing story elements

Write stories or narratives about real or imaginary experiences. Establish a context and develop story elements such as characters, a well-sequenced plot, and descriptive details.

Supporting thinking and research

Include evidence from text to support thinking and research.

Using technology

Use technology to produce and publish writing, and to work on writing with others.

Using a computer keyboard

Use a computer keyboard comfortably; type at least three pages in a single sitting.

Fun writing projects:

Keep an eye out for fun projects that involve writing. If your child made a family tree when she was younger, she can update it with a companion piece of writing in which she provides short biographical entries about each person. She can make these as simple or as involved as she likes. An especially interesting relative’s entry could become a longer profile, incorporating information from an interview with that relative and external published sources.

Using basic grammar rules

Use basic rules of English grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling in written work.

Listening & speaking

Class participation

Participate in class discussions about complex sixth grade topics, texts, and issues. Be prepared to refer to evidence in a text when discussing ideas, to restate other people’s ideas, and to understand other perspectives.

Explaining speakers' claims

Listen to and describe another speaker’s arguments and claims, and explain whether the claims are supported by reasons and evidence.

Giving a presentation

Give a clear, well-organized presentation about an argument or research finding. Support ideas with facts, details, and descriptions.

Research & inquiry

Research projects

Conduct short research projects to answer a research question, gathering information from several print and online sources, and refocusing the question when needed.

Tip: Suggest fun writing processes

Keep an eye out for fun projects that involve writing. If your child made a family tree when he was younger, he can update it with a companion piece of writing in which he provides short biographical entries about each person. He can make these as simple or as involved as he likes. An especially interesting relative’s entry could become a longer profile, incorporating information from an interview with that relative and external published sources.

Evaluating sources

Evaluate whether sources can be trusted, and paraphrase or summarize the material without copying it. Provide a basic bibliography or list of sources.

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

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