Rock Your First Year Teaching Fifth Grade
There's a lot to love about the fifth-grade classroom! Students can concentrate for 30 minutes or more, depending on the activity. They're funny, independent, and capable of engaging in more complex learning.
But that doesn't mean teaching fifth grade doesn't come with challenges. Fifth graders also love to talk and some start to question authority.
If you're gearing up to teach this grade for the first time, it helps to know exactly what to expect. Here are some developmental insights along with tips, tricks, and downloadable worksheets that will help you have a great year as a first-time fifth-grade teacher.
Relax Your Expectations for Worksheets
Lower elementary school students need a lot of guidance. Although even very young students can complete worksheets independently, they require a lot of scaffolding. The teacher or another adult usually has to read the directions, and in order for very young children to focus, they need a calm, quiet, predictable atmosphere.
You get a little more flexibility with fifth graders. Most are happy to read the directions on their own and take a stab at the work on the page without any kind of modeling or explanation. But, they prefer to concentrate their own way. Relax your expectations for how they complete their worksheets and you'll get better work out of your fifth-grade students.
For example, let them eat a snack while they work, or let them spread out in the classroom. They could complete their worksheet on a beanbag, on the floor, or at a table next to the window instead of sitting at their seat. Give them the ability to get up and stretch or work with a friend. You can even give a large workbook or packet to your fifth graders and let them complete the worksheets at their own pace in any order they choose.
Looking for worksheets that are perfect for fifth graders? Check out worksheets for math, reading, early finishers, and much more here!
Find Ways to Support Their Chatty Nature
Younger elementary school students can be talkative, but fifth graders take it to a whole other level. Friendships are becoming more and more important, and as they begin to enter their tween years, they love to talk to each other and about each other-constantly.
Trying to get them to stop and work quietly in the classroom or walk in silence down the hall is just going to frustrate you. Instead, accept their chatty nature and try to find ways for them to express themselves in constructive ways.
Arrange their desks in a group so they can complete work together. If their chatting is too overwhelming, consider spacing the desks apart during the lesson and having them push their desks together for group work.
You might support peer tutoring in your class, or you might start a mentorship program where your students mentor younger students in the building. If you aren't afraid to rock the boat, let your students walk two-by-two in the hallways. Allow them to talk in whisper voices to their partner because you can bet that they're going to whisper to each other anyway.
When you give them plenty of appropriate opportunities to talk to each other, when it finally is time to read quietly or take a test, they are more likely to do it.
Give Them Time to Work Independently on Reading and Writing
Fifth-grade students love working together, but they also crave the ability to practice their burgeoning independence. That means giving them time throughout the day to do things by themselves.
Reading and writing are great opportunities for your students to work independently. Schedule free reading time into your daily schedule or set the expectation that students read quietly as an early finisher activity. You can do the same thing with writing activities.
That doesn't mean reading and writing have to be completely independent! Have students create a presentation for the class about the book they are reading or have them get together in pairs and read each other the short stories they wrote. The best fifth-grade classrooms are the ones that allow students to work both together and independently.
Check out worksheets that support reading and writing skills here!
Incorporate Lessons That Build Their Mental Math and Memory Skills
It's true that the curriculum is more difficult in fifth grade. They will tackle fractions and decimals and even encounter algebraic thinking. In order to be successful as they move from math class to math class, they need the chance to work on their mental math and memory skills. Fortunately, fifth graders are primed to work on these skills!
With a few years of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing under their belts, it's reasonable to expect most of your fifth graders to memorize basic facts. Then, you can get creative with different ways they can solve more challenging math problems mentally. For example, they may not know 34+52 off the top of their head, but they can figure it out by breaking the problem down into 30+50 and 4+2 to find the answer without having to write anything down.
Show your students mental math methods, but let them discover all the ways they can find the answer on their own. Then, have them share their methods with the class. You'll be surprised at how creative your students can be and how accomplished they feel when they figure it out for themselves.
Mental Math and Memory Skills Worksheets:
Math facts worksheets
Mad Minute Timed Math Drills
Math Minutes Worksheets
Mental Math Worksheets
Nurture Your Sense of Humor and Empathy
Fifth graders have a whole lot going on mentally, physically, and socially. Their brains and bodies are developing by leaps and bounds, they're becoming much more interested in their peers, and they are starting to test their independence. They're going to talk when they aren't supposed to talk, goof around when they aren't supposed to goof around, and be moody.
Fifth-grade teachers need a sense of humor-not only to survive the year without going crazy but also to connect with their students. Fifth graders are more open, honest, and cooperative when their teacher isn't afraid to be silly and take things less seriously.
Empathy is also needed. Your students are going to hurt each other's feelings; some students are going to get hangry ahead of lunch, and some students are going to get frustrated when they can't figure out how to solve a math problem. When you take the time to empathize with them, you can help them through it instead of trying to force them to change their behavior.
But Be Consistent and Firm
That doesn't mean you shouldn't be consistent and firm. Fifth graders need to know what to expect, and they have to know they can rely on their teacher.
Your classroom should have a routine, and students should be expected to stick to that routine. They need to be respectful of each other, other students in the building, and other teachers. When it's time to quiet down, they need to listen, and if there's an activity, worksheet, or test that they need to complete, it needs to be completed.
The trick is to be consistent and firm without being angry or frustrated. If you can hold boundaries, make expectations clear, and be firm about holding to them calmly, you'll gain your students' trust, even if they whine or complain in the process.
Make Time for Deep Discussions in Your Classroom
Fifth graders generally have a well-developed sense of right and wrong. They understand the concept of fairness, and they aren't afraid to argue or disagree with each other. That makes fifth grade the perfect time to have deep discussions with your students.
Encourage them to honor each other's differences while uncovering similarities. Read a book and discuss the themes in the story. Challenge them to empathize with history's villains and encourage them to talk about their feelings and why they feel that way. You'll have some powerful conversations that you may never have expected from a group of 10- and 11-year-olds.
Encourage Concepts of Community
Community-building is important in every classroom, regardless of the grade, but it's especially important in the fifth grade. Older elementary students love working together, but they also love to be competitive. And, as they spend more and more time deciding who their friends are, they also decide who isn't.
Encourage a sense of community by asking your fifth graders to help. Whether you have a list of rotating jobs or everyone simply pitches in at the end of the day to clean up, giving them ownership of their space fosters a sense of community.
When students work in pairs or in groups, rotate who they work with so they have the opportunity to connect with classmates they otherwise may not interact with. Celebrate wins together as a class and encourage your students to step into each other's shoes during a dispute. By focusing on community, you can create a safe space where your students are comfortable learning.
Fifth graders can eat you alive if you aren't prepared! But if you are prepared, they can also be the most rewarding bunch of kids to teach. With the insights and tips on this list, you just may find that fifth grade is your favorite grade to teach!
Fifth Grade Resources