The 5th and 6th Grade Program


Hillside’s Humanities curriculum builds on the natural connection between Social Studies and Language Arts. This interdisciplinary approach promotes deep student engagement and benefits students since the more connections they make with academic content, the more they learn. Each class is organized around essential questions, encouraging students to discover their own answers and truly make the learning their own. While the three subjects are integrated, each has its own class period to ensure a balanced approach. Unlike most schools, Literature and Writing have their own classes here, doubling the time students spend on Language Arts and ensuring individual growth in each area.


Writing Essential Questions:

  • How can I best harness words to express my thoughts?
  • How do the steps of the writing process strengthen my work?
  • How does feedback best improve writing?

Writing Overview:

5th and 6th grade

Everyone has stories to tell and thoughts to share. Hillside’s writing program focuses on using writing conventions and structure to develop and polish those ideas. The 5th and 6th grade is when students establish the writing patterns they will use throughout their academic career. By focusing on the writing process, notably multiple drafts with varied feedback, students internalize the importance of revision and editing, setting them up for success in expressing their thoughts and interpretations. We learn how to craft essays as well as writing stories and poems. Using open-ended prompts and working with rubrics gives students ownership of their work, building intellectual independence. Students are energized and enthused as they see their writing improve over time and discover the beauty and force of their authentic voices.


Literature Essential Questions:

  • Why read this?
  • How do authors harness words to express meaning?
  • What makes a “good read?”

Literature Overview:

The overall goal is to instill a love of reading. Students choose books to read independently and also engage in book groups during class where students read, discuss, and analyze literature together, using their peers to help promote their understanding of the text. To demonstrate their reading experience, students have a wide choice of reading projects such as writing a song inspired by the book, rewriting a chapter from a different character’s point-of-view, designing character posters complete with graphics and quotes, or creating a board game based on their book. This allows students to interact with the text on levels besides analytical writing, and helps develop student intelligence and ability in varied arenas.

Social Studies

Social Studies Essential Questions:

  • How do geography and climate affect human societies?
  • How does the past influence the present?
  • What do various civilizations share, and what is unique?

Social Studies Overview

Curriculum for 5th and 6th Social Studies alternates by year. One year begins with Early Man and moves through the Hellenistic Period; the next year focuses on American History from Pre-Colonial America to 1900. Rather than learning dates and events as ends within themselves, we cover dates and events to set up background knowledge so that students can engage in historical inquiry, using facts and documents to answer historical questions. It is more meaningful and interesting for students to develop their own answer about how Abraham Lincoln viewed African-Americans based on primary source documents than to learn what a history book says about his views. Much of our Social Studies work is based on the the Reading Like a Historian approach from Stanford University’s Education School.


Along with work in the text, students are involved in cooperative problem-solving activities, use of manipulatives, games and puzzles.  Homework is for exploration and enrichment or for the purpose of completing work begun in class.  We emphasize strategies for using math skills to solve problems.  Math level is determined by student ability rather than by grade.

Students are encouraged to ask questions of each other’s work and not only learn from the teacher, but also from each other. They share and work as a community of mathematicians to build on their knowledge and understanding of mathematics.

Featured Topics:

Operations and whole numbers Operations with decimals and fractions
Place value Non-metric and metric geometry
Economics Ratio and proportions

In intermediate science, we focus on the earth sciences, studying topics such as soil science, rocks and minerals, plate tectonics, weather, and astronomy. We learn about these topics through inquiry-based hands-on activities. We follow each activity with discussions and writing assignments that help the students to cement their learning and assign appropriate scientific terminology to the concepts that they explored during the activities. The students regularly practice identifying relevant scientific evidence and using that evidence to draw conclusions. We use the forest on campus to augment the curriculum and give the students a chance to design and carry out ecological research.

Arts and Crafts

Hillside’s fifth and sixth grade art program introduces basic drawing, design, and three-dimensional craft skills. Students draw from life, memory, and imagination in a wide variety of dry and wet media while learning the basics of composition and perspective. Craft and sculpture projects introduce media such as weaving, papier mâché, and clay to build the foundations of three-dimensional expression.


Throughout the year, the fifth and sixth graders explore the world, inside and out. We take weekly field trips to extraordinary places – museums, galleries, parks, and scenic and historical wonders. Each exploration is accompanied by reflections, both shared and individual – through poetry and prose, and the use of drama improv and games to comprehend the environment in which we live. The year culminates each Spring in a full theatrical production, from Shakespeare to Chekhov to selections from Grimm’s fairy tales, in which each student plays a significant part in the whole, bringing to bear the lessons learned in the previous months.

Physical Education

Focuses on a cooperative, non-competitive approach. Hillside Student Community School offers a fencing club after school as a competitive sport open to the broader community.