Your fifth grader and writing under the Common Core Standards

Taking notes, paraphrasing, an emphasis on logic, typing, and more – check out the writing skills your fifth grader will tackle this year.

Holtsman/Flickr

By Jessica Kelmon

By now, your child knows the drill: writing is a process that requires research, input, and revision. Under the Common Core Standards, fifth graders are expected not only to respond to others’ prompts for improvement — they’ll evaluate their own work, too.

Super study skills

In fifth grade, note taking becomes an essential academic skill. Under the Common Core Standards, fifth graders are expected to use books, periodicals, websites, and other digital sources (like a library database) to do short research projects using several sources to investigate a topic from different angles — both on their own and as part of group work with peers. Your child should keep track of all the sources she uses — noting what she learned, the name of the source, and the page number or url so she can find it again and create a source list or bibliography later. A big step in your child’s research process this year: taking the time to review, categorize, and summarize or paraphrase the information she's learned. What did she find out about the animal’s habitat from each source? What themes were present in the author’s novels? (Yes, these research and summary skills apply when the source materials are fiction, too.) These practices of considering and sorting evidence into categories and summarizing the information will help your fifth grader with the planning, writing, and revising stages of her writing project.

bttr, better, best!

By now, your child should understand that writing is a process requiring several steps: planning, first draft, revisions, editing, and publishing or sharing work. Your child's planning work should include reading and rereading, taking notes, finding additional sources, discussing how new knowledge fits into what your child knew before, visually organizing the information she plans to include, and determining the best way to clearly present her evidence as a cohesive set of points. After the first draft is written, the teacher and other students will offer feedback: asking questions to elicit new details, suggesting ways to clarify an argument, or pressing for new sources of information. Don’t be surprised if there are a few rounds of revisions this year: it’s how your child’s written communication gets stronger. If revisions aren’t enough to improve your child’s writing, then this year your child may be required to rewrite the piece or try a new approach. Once the structure and contents are set, final edits are the time to perfect spelling and grammar. All this work on one writing assignment is meant to help your child think of writing as a multistep process so she can evaluate her work and see that — if it’s not up to snuff — she should keep trying until it is.

5th grade opinion pieces

Since kindergarten, the Common Core Standards have been stressing the mechanics of writing strong opinion pieces. This year, there’s an added emphasis on logically organizing written work. Your child’s opinion pieces should start by clearly introducing and stating her opinion about a topic. Then, she should set up and follow a logically ordered structure to introduce each reason she'll offer in support of her opinion. Her reasons should be supported by facts and details (a.k.a. evidence), and your child should use linking words, such as additionally, consequently, and specifically to connect her evidence-backed reasons to her opinion. Finally, she should close her argument with a well-articulated conclusion that supports her original opinion.

5th grade informative writing

Logic reigns when evaluating your fifth grader’s informative writing. The purpose of this type of writing: to convey facts and ideas clearly. So a logically ordered presentation of supporting points is, well… quite logical. Your child should clearly introduce his topic and present related information in the form of a few clear, well thought-out paragraphs. He should draw on facts, definitions, concrete details, quotes, and examples from his research to thoroughly develop his topic. To clearly connect his research, your fifth grader should use advanced linking words (e.g. in contrast, especially) to form compound and complex sentences that convey his points. Remember that your child’s presentation matters: making use of subject headings, illustrations, and even multimedia to illustrate points is encouraged whenever they make your child's work more logical and clear. Then, to wrap it up, your child should have a well-reasoned conclusion.

Check out these three real examples of good fifth grade informational writing:
 •"How to save water"
 •"Saving a Resource"
 •"Water Saveing"

5th grade narrative writing

A narrative is a story, plain and simple. But this year, your child’s stories will be far from simple. Whether inspired by a book, real events, or your child’s imagination, your child’s story should start by introducing a narrator, characters, or a situational conflict. A fifth grade story writer will be asked to use classic narrative devices like dialogue, descriptive words, and character development. Your child should be able to show how characters feel and react to what’s happening. Finally, keeping the pacing and sequence of events in mind, the events should unfold naturally, bringing the story to a close. Does that mean your fifth grader’s ending needs to be boring or predictable? Not at all — but the story’s details and events should plausibly lead wherever the story ends.

Making connections: reading and writing

Under the Common Cores Standards, a writing standard called a “range of writing” calls for more writing, more often — both in short spurts and through more ambitious projects that may take weeks or months. When helping your child with these various writing assignments, the same questions you ask to boost her reading comprehension will come in handy. Questions about fiction like Can you offer specific details from the story to show us how characters reacted? and questions about nonfiction like Can you point to specific evidence that supports a certain point? will help your child connect how she thinks about reading to how she should be writing.

Grammatically advanced

Now that your fifth grader has a firm grasp of the parts of speech, she should be prepared to perfect grammar skills. Your child should learn to use and explain the function of conjunctions (e.g. because, yet), prepositions (e.g. above, without), and interjections (e.g. Hi, well, dear). They’ll also start using correlative conjunctions (e.g. either/or, neither/nor). What’s more, students learn to form and use the past, present, and future perfect tenses (I had walked; I have walked; I will have walked.) — and with this tense mastered, fifth graders will now be expected to use various verb tenses to convey a sequence of events and to recognize and correct any inappropriate shifts in tense.

Check out this related worksheet:
• Active and passive sentences

Perfecting punctuation, spelling, and vocabulary

This year, the quest to spell ever-harder words — and to further understand nuances in word meanings and the English language — continues.

This means your child will:
• Regularly refer to print and online dictionaries, thesauruses, and glossaries to spell challenging words correctly
• Use academic terms in writing
• Find ever-more nuanced descriptors (think advanced synonyms and antonyms)
• Master homographs (e.g. understand that bear means the animal and to support or carry).
• Employ common idioms, adages, and proverbs (e.g. “born yesterday”; “the early bird gets the worm”; “failure teaches success”)
• Interpret figurative language like similes (e.g. “light as a feather”) and metaphors (“it’s a dream come true”).

Now that your child understands how to correctly use most punctuation, this year’s punctuation star is the common but commonly confusing comma. To start, your child will learn to use commas after a sentence’s introductory segment (e.g. Earlier this morning, we ate breakfast.), to set off the words yes and no in writing (e.g. Yes, we will; and no, thank you), to set off a question from the rest of a sentence (e.g. It’s true, isn’t it?), and to show direct address. (e.g. Is that you, Mike?) Your child will also use commas to separate items in a series. (e.g. I want eggs, pancakes, and juice.)

Commas aside, your child will be taught how to consistently use quotation marks, italics, or underlining to indicate titles when citing sources in reports and papers.

Check out these related worksheets:
• Punctuating a paragraph
Simile or cliche?
• Homophones and homographs

And it’s live!

The final step? Publishing! Once all the hard work (the research, planning, writing, revisions, edits, and rewrites) are finished, your fifth grader’s ready to publish. The Common Core Standards specify using “technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others.” The format is open — printing or electronic publishing on a blog, website, or even an app. While teachers should be there to support your child, he should be doing the work. So what does interacting and collaborating with others look like? It could mean, for example, that your child reads his classmates’ published work online and either comments on it or references it when answering a question in class.

What about the big H?

Traditionally, fifth graders have been expected to master cursive and print handwriting. For decades, typing skills have also been required. The Common Core Standards clearly state that fifth graders should be able to type two full pages in one sitting. However, even with the emphasis on using technology and publishing writing, not all of your child’s writing is expected to be typed. It’s logical to conclude that your fifth grader’s penmanship matters. However, there’s no mention of cursive in the standards. So learning cursive is essentially up to your child’s teacher. If cursive isn’t part of the teacher’s curriculum, you may want to work on this craft with your child at home.

Updated November 2013 to align with the Common Core Standards

is an associate editor at GreatSchools.org.