Sample text for What your fifth grader needs to know : fundamentals of a good fifth-grade education / edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

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This chapter presents poems, stories, and sayings, as well as brief discussions of language and literature.

The best way to introduce children to poetry is to read it to them and encourage them to speak it aloud so they can experience the music of the words. A child’s knowledge of poetry should come first from pleasure and only later from analysis. However, by fifth grade, children are ready to begin learning a few basic terms and concepts, such as metaphor and simile. Such concepts can help children talk about particular effects that enliven the poems they like best.

The stories in this book are excerpts, abridgments, and adaptations of longer works. If a child enjoys a story, he or she should be encouraged to read the larger work. Don Quixote and stories about Sherlock Holmes are available in child-friendly versions as part of the Foundation’s Core Classics series. You can draw children into stories by asking questions about them. For example, you might ask, “What do you think is going to happen next?” or “What might have happened if . . . ?” You might also ask the child to retell them. Don’t be bothered if the child changes events: that is in the best tradition of storytelling and explains why we have so many different versions of traditional stories!

The treatments of grammar and writing in this book are brief overviews. Experts say that our children already know more about grammar than we can ever teach them. But standard written language does have special characteristics that children need to learn. In the classroom, grammar instruction is an essential part, but only a part, of an effective language arts program. Fifth graders should also have frequent opportunities to write and revise their writing –with encouragement and guidance along the way.

For some children, the section on sayings and phrases may not be needed; they will have picked up these sayings by hearing them in everyday speech. But this section will be very useful for children from homes where American English is not spoken.

For additional resources to use in conjunction with this section, visit the Foundation’s Web site:


A Wise Old Owl
by Edward Hersey Richards

A wise old owl sat on an oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard;
Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?

The Eagle
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

From Opposites
by Richard Wilbur

What is the opposite of riot?
It’s lots of people keeping quiet.

. . .

What is the opposite of two?
A lonely me, a lonely you.

. . .

The opposite of doughnut? Wait
A minute while I meditate.
This isn’t easy. Ah, I’ve found it!
A cookie with a hole around it.

. . .

The opposite of a cloud could be
A white reflection in the sea,
Or a huge blueness in the air,
Caused by a cloud’s not being there.

. . .

The opposite of opposite?
That’s much too difficult. I quit.

The Road Not Taken
by Rober t Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

From the Hardcover edition.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Fifth grade (Education) -- Curricula -- United States.
Curriculum planning -- United States.