Competency in language arts is an especially important set of foundational skills for young learners to master because language is the basis for everything else they will learn during their academic careers.

Mastery over common core competencies (like how to complete different types of writing and choosing their words with care) is one of the surest predictors for future academic success for students. Spending time working on these skills is important both for bringing new students up to speed and providing helpful repetition for students who are already familiar with these foundational skills.

Opinion Writing

Everyone has an opinion. Learning how to effectively write about those opinions sets your 5th graders up for success in the future when they’re writing persuasive essays in high school and college.

One of the main differences between having an opinion and opinion writing is that the latter is expected to explain the opinion in such a way that it can at least be understood, even if it’s not always completely persuasive to the reader. Anyone can have an opinion, but writing about an opinion requires a little more nuance than just saying it.

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Having an opinion is easy, but supporting an opinion in a way that helps entice others to share that opinion is a bit more difficult. It’s important for students to understand that their opinion is their own belief, but when sharing them in writing, they should be supported by reason and logic.

Not everyone has to believe the same things, but it’s useful for people to be able to articulate why they believe what they do and also to accept differing opinions with empathy and open-mindedness.

Activities to Try

  • Use this worksheet to help students get used to forming an opinion, explaining the reasons for their opinion and then supporting those reasons with facts.
  • Lead a discussion about conflicting opinions on a specific topic (like whether it’s better to go camping or visit the beach). Have students take turns saying which they prefer and why.
  • You can also have more abstract discussions to help students get more comfortable justifying and defending opinions. Which is better: Orange or yellow? Rocks or sand? Axolotls or wombats? Have fun and make it really silly, with a class vote at the beginning and end to see how these nonsense opinions changed.

Informative Writing

Many of the writing projects students will complete throughout their academic career and beyond will be informative text writing. At some point your students will have to write a research paper. Learning how to master this type of writing early on will help set them up for success.

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A “spool paper” is a template that students can memorize early and then pull out whenever they need to write any kind of essay, but it’s particularly well-suited to informative writing. 

It follows the pattern of introduction, information and conclusion that are common in most types of writing, but with a focus on building out the main idea with a series of facts. Students can build these skills with repetition, and it works for presenting information about anything: people, places, animals, historical events, even speculating about future technology.

Activities to Try

  • After you’ve spent time on an important science or history lesson, move on to having your students explain the lesson back to you. As a class, decide on the main idea of the lesson, facts and details that were covered in the lesson and a conclusion summarizing the main point of the lesson.
  • Use this worksheet to help students organize their thoughts for writing an informative paragraph, including a compelling introduction, topic development and conclusion.
  • Have students take notes during a video about a broad topic like outer space or the deep ocean. Everyone writes a paper about the same topic but chooses a smaller topic within that to “specialize” in. See how many different papers you can get out of one topic.
  • Incorporate informative writing into science, history, math or any other topic by letting students choose an important person, event, discovery or object that they can research and write an informative paper about.

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Explanatory Writing

On the surface, explanatory writing might sound similar to informative writing—and some explanatory writing skills are used in most writing—but the main difference is that informative writing seeks to convey information, whereas explanatory writing is more focused on description. Knowing the difference and knowing how to tailor their writing for each one will help students write more efficiently in the future. 

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Being able to explain how something works or what something looks like is important in many different types of writing.

In order to do this, students have to utilize mechanical understanding (to imagine how something works or fits together spatially), theory of mind (to imagine how another person would best understand the concept), prioritizing (to know which order details should go in) and articulation (to explain the topic). Most of us do all of this multiple times a day without giving it much thought. 

Spending time considering this nearly-automatic process, and mindfully improving one’s abilities, will help students not just with their writing, but in their verbal communication as well.

Activities to Try

  • Use this printable worksheet to help students first draw a diagram of something, then turn the diagram into words. In explaining the diagram, students learn to develop their explanatory writing skills.
  • Split students into groups of two. Student A is given a picture (line drawings work best) and their task is to explain the drawing well enough for Student B to draw it. Once they’re done, have students compare the original with the copy and discuss how it could have been explained better. Then switch.
  • Ask students to practice explaining things they don’t necessarily know about by making brochures to sell “inventions” that cause anti-gravity, faster-than-light travel, teleportation or other scientific impossibilities. Students should explain how the invention works in as much (made up) detail as possible and list some ideas about how to use the invention to make life better.
  • Students can do a similar project by making a poster about something simple, like a fidget spinner or a bicycle, and explaining how it works with both a diagram and a written explanation. Ask students which way of explaining makes more sense to them: the picture or the words? Then have students think about why.

students-in-classroomNarrative Writing

By the time they’re in 5th grade, most students are intuitively familiar with narrative structure: they’ve been telling stories since they first learned to talk, and they’ve been watching and listening to stories for even longer than that. 

Learning how to construct a narrative that has a compelling premise, a logical character arc, a satisfying emotional payoff and enough verisimilitude to sustain the reader’s suspension of disbelief is a tall order for anyone, but it’s never too early to get started. 

5th graders are at a great point in their mental development, where they can have a better understanding of theory of mind and empathy, which help them understand motivations from different characters’ points of view.

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The basic building blocks of narrative structure are plot and character. This means a story needs to have something happen and someone for that thing to happen to. A compelling premise can be weird or fun or important or personal, but what makes it interesting are the unique details that make it different from other stories, even if the idea is similar to something that already exists.

The same goes for the characters. Compelling characters have agency within the narrative, making decisions and taking action; they can also have different relationships with other characters, and students should spend at least a little bit of time considering how each character in the story relates to the protagonist and their actions.

Activities to Try

  • Give students a general story prompt (“A turtle wants to go to Paris,” “A bird who wishes they could swim,” “Two roads diverged in a wood,” etc.) and have them all brainstorm ideas for a story. Compare all the different story ideas.
  • Take a common story and have students retell it from another perspective: What if Cinderella was told from the Fairy Godmother’s perspective? What about Goldilocks from Baby Bear’s perspective?
  • Use this writing worksheet to help students think through their narratives with more added details.
  • Try writing a story as a class, one sentence at a time. Start by writing a sentence on a piece of paper, then passing the paper around the room with each student contributing a sentence. Once the paper has gone all the way around, read it out loud and then work together as a class to edit the story into a more satisfying narrative by brainstorming more details and different events that could be added.

A great way to incentivize students to put extra care into their writing is to publish their work into a classbook using one of Studentreasures’ free classbook publishing kits!

Assignments based on any of the above worksheets are an ideal place to start. Compile their opinions, explanations or stories into a themed classbook to create an entire classroom full of published authors! Now that’s something to be proud of.


Overused Word List

The bane of teachers everywhere are vague, overused words that take up space without saying much—and these linguistic crutches are so easy for students to fall back on. Words like “pretty,” “fun” and “happy” might get the general point across, and it’s true that every student might have spent a happy weekend watching funny shows and having fun, but it’s important for students in the 5th grade to start learning how to be more detailed and specific with their writing. 

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Good writing that connects with readers tends to be more specific than vague and more precise than general. Get your students to make mindfulness a part of their writing practice by swapping out vague words for specific ones whenever possible.

For example, if they’re writing about helping their grandparent in the garden, have them describe exactly what that means: Is it a flower garden or a vegetable garden? What exactly did they do in the garden? What was the weather like? Learning these skills early on will help set your students on the path towards specific writing that will be easier for their readers to imagine and connect with.

Activities to Try

  • Try writing a vague sentence on the whiteboard, then go around the room and have students suggest more precise words to make better, more interesting sentences.
  • Use this writing worksheet to help students check their work for overused words while editing their writing.
  • Have students make their own sheet of words they like better than other, more vague words, and remind them to add new words they like and keep track of the list for when they’re editing in the future.

Learning how to compose different types of writing and write in a more precise and mindful way are critically important foundational skills for your 5th graders to learn. The habits and tips they learn from these worksheets will help them progress through their academic careers and succeed in communicating well throughout their entire lives.

For more lesson plans, worksheets and other helpful creative writing resources for your classroom, check out our online Teacher’s Lounge and be sure to sign up for your free classbook publishing kit!