Typical Course of Study for the Elementary Years

Standard Skills and Topics for Students in Grades K-5

Typical Course of Study for Kindergarten Through 5th Grade
Mikael Vaisanen / Getty Images

The elementary years lay the foundation for learning throughout a student's educational career (and beyond). Children's abilities undergo dramatic changes from kindergarten through 5th grade. 

While public and private schools set the standards for their students, homeschooling parents may be unsure what to teach at each grade level. That's where a typical course of study comes in handy. 

A typical course of study provides a general framework for introducing appropriate skills and concepts for each subject at each grade level.

Parents may notice that some skills and topics are repeated in multiple grade levels. This repetition is normal because the complexity of skills and depth of topics increases as a student's ability and maturity increases.


Kindergarten is a highly-anticipated time of transition for most children. Learning through play starts to give way to more formal lessons. (Though play remains an essential part of education through the elementary years.)

For most young children, this first foray into formal learning will include pre-reading and early math activities. It is also a time for children to begin understanding their role and the roles of others in the community. 

Language Arts

A typical course of study for kindergarten language arts includes pre-reading activities such as learning to recognize upper- and lower-case letters of the alphabet and the sounds of each. Children enjoy looking at picture books and pretending to read.

It's crucial to read to kindergarten students on a regular basis. Not only does reading aloud help children make connections between written and spoken words, but it also helps them acquire new vocabulary skills.

Students should practice writing the letters of the alphabet and learn to write their name. Children may use drawings or invented spelling to tell stories. 


Science helps kindergarten students begin to understand the world around them. It is essential to provide opportunities for them to explore science-related topics through observation and investigation. Ask students questions such as "how," "why," "what if," and "what do you think."

Use nature study to help young students explore earth science and physical science. Common topics for kindergarten science include insects, animals, plants, weather, soil, and rocks. 

Social Studies

In kindergarten, social studies focus on exploring the world through the local community. Provide opportunities for children to learn about themselves and their role in their family and community. Teach them about community helpers such as police officers and firefighters. 

Introduce them to basic facts about their country, such as its president, its capital city, and some of its national holidays.

Help them explore basic geography with simple maps of their home, city, state, and country.


A typical course of study for kindergarten math includes topics such as counting, number recognition, one-to-one correspondence, sorting and categorizing, learning basic shapes, and pattern recognition.

Children will learn to recognize numbers 1 through 100 and count by ones to 20. They will learn to describe the position of an object such as in, beside, behind, and between. 

They will learn to recognize simple patterns such as A-B (red/blue/red/blue), complete a pattern that has been started for them, and create their own simple patterns.

First Grade

Children in first grade are starting to acquire more abstract thinking skills. Some begin to move toward reading fluency. They can understand more abstract math concepts and can complete simple addition and subtraction problems. They are becoming more independent and self-sufficient.

Language Arts

A typical course of study for first-grade language arts introduces students to age-appropriate grammar, spelling, and writing. Children learn to capitalize and punctuate sentences correctly. They are expected to spell grade level words correctly and capitalize common nouns.

Most first grade students will learn to read one-syllable words that follow general spelling rules and use phonics skills to decipher unknown words.  

Some common skills for first graders include using and understanding compound words, inferring a word's meaning from context, understanding figurative language, and writing short compositions.


First-grade students will build on the concepts they learned in kindergarten. They will continue asking questions and predicting outcomes and will learn to find patterns in the natural world.

Common science topics for first grade include plants; animals; states of matter (solid, liquid, gas), sound, energy, seasons, water, and weather.

Social Studies

First-grade students can understand the past, present, and future, though most don't have a solid grasp of time intervals (for example, 10 years ago vs. 50 years ago). They understand the world around them from the context of the familiar, such as their school and community. 

Common first-grade social studies topics include basic economics (needs vs. wants), beginning map skills (cardinal directions and locating state and country on a map), continents, cultures, and national symbols.


First-grade math concepts reflect this age group's improved ability to think abstractly. Skills and concepts typically taught include addition and subtraction, telling time to the half-hour, recognizing and counting money, skip counting (counting by 2's, 5's, and 10's), measuring; ordinal numbers (first, second, third), and naming and drawing two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes.

Second Grade

Second-grade students are becoming better at processing information and can understand more abstract concepts. They understand jokes, riddles, and sarcasm and like to try them on others. 

Most students who did not master reading fluency in first grade will do so in second. Most second graders have also established foundational writing skills.

Language Arts

A typical course of study for second-grade children focuses on reading fluency. Children will begin reading grade-level text without stopping to sound out most words. They will learn to read orally at a conversational speaking rate and use voice inflection for expression.

Second-grade students will learn more complex phonics concepts and vocabulary. They will begin to learn prefixes, suffixes, antonyms, homonyms, and synonyms. They may start learning cursive handwriting.  

Common skills for second-grade writing include using reference tools (such as a dictionary), writing opinion and how-to compositions, using planning tools such as brainstorming and graphic organizers, and learning to self-edit.


In second grade, children begin using what they know to make predictions (hypothesis) and look for patterns in nature.

Common second-grade life science topics include life cycles, food chains, and habitats (or biomes). 

Earth science topics include the Earth and how it changes over time, the factors affecting those changes such as wind, water, and ice, and the physical properties and classification of rocks

Students are also introduced to force and motion concepts such as push, pull, and magnetism.

Social Studies

Second graders are ready to begin moving beyond their local community and using what they know to compare their region with other areas and cultures. 

Common topics include Native Americans, key historical figures (such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln), creating timelines, the United States Constitution, and the election process.

Second graders will also learn more advanced map skills, such as locating the United States and individual states; finding and labeling oceans, continents, the North and South Poles, and the equator.


In second grade, students will begin to learn more complex math skills and attain fluency in math vocabulary. 

A second-grade math course of study usually includes place value (ones, tens, hundreds); odd and even numbers; adding and subtracting two-digit numbers; introduction of multiplication tables; telling time from the quarter hour to the minute; and fractions.

Third Grade

In third grade, students begin to make the shift from guided learning to more independent exploration. Because most third-graders are fluent readers, they can read directions themselves and take more responsibility for their work.

Language Arts

In language arts, the focus on reading shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. There is an emphasis on reading comprehension. Students will learn to identify the main idea or moral of a story and be able to describe the plot and how the actions of the main characters affect the plot.

Third graders will begin using more complex graphic organizers as part of the pre-writing process. They will learn to write book reports, poems, and personal narratives.

Topics for third-grade grammar include parts of speech, conjunctions, comparative and superlatives, more complex capitalization and punctuation skills (such as capitalizing book titles and punctuating dialogue), and sentence types (declarative, interrogative, and exclamatory). 

Students also learn about writing genres such as fairy tales, myths, fiction, and biographies. 


Third graders start to tackle more complex science topics. Students learn about the scientific processsimple machines and the moon and its phases.

Other topics include living organisms (vertebrate and invertebrates), properties of matter, physical changes, light and sound, astronomy, and inherited traits.

Social Studies

Third-grade social studies topics help students continue to expand their view of the world around them. They learn about cultures and how the environment and physical features affect the people of a given region.

Students learn about topics such as transportation, communication, and the exploration and colonization of North American.

Geography topics include latitude, longitude, map scale, and geographic terms.


Third-grade mathematical concepts continue to increase in complexity. 

Topics include multiplication and division, estimation, fractions and decimals; commutative and associative properties, congruent shapes, area and perimeter, charts and graphs, and probability. 

Fourth Grade

Most fourth-grade students are ready to tackle more complex work independently. They start learning basic time management and planning techniques for long-term projects.

Fourth-graders are also starting to discover their academic strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. They may be asynchronous learners who dive into topics that interest them while struggling in areas that don't. 

Language Arts

Most fourth-grade students are competent, fluent readers. It is an excellent time to introduce books series since many children at this age are captivated by them. 

A typical course of study includes grammar, composition, spelling, vocabulary-building, and literature. Grammar focuses on topics such as similes and metaphors, prepositional phrases, and run-on sentences. 

Composition topics include creative, expository, and persuasive writing, research (using sources such as the internet, books, magazines, and news reports), understanding fact vs. opinion, point of view, and editing and publishing.

Students will read and respond to a variety of literature. They will explore genres such as folklore, poetry, and tales from a variety of cultures. 


Fourth-grade students continue to deepen their understanding of the scientific process through practice. They may try conducting age-appropriate experiments and document them by writing lab reports.  

Earth science topics in fourth grade include natural disasters (such as earthquakes and volcanoes), the solar system, and natural resources.

Physical science topics include electricity and electrical currents, physical and chemical changes in states of matter (freezing, melting, evaporation, and condensation), and the water cycle.

Life science topics typically cover how plants and animals interact with and support one another (food chains and food webs), how plants produce food, and how humans impact the environment.

Social Studies

The history of the United States and the students' home state are common topics for social studies in fourth grade.

Students will research facts about their home states such as its native population, who settled the land, its path to statehood, and significant people and events from state history. 

U.S. history topics include the Revolutionary War and westward expansion (the explorations of Lewis and Clark and the lives of American pioneers)


Most fourth-grade students should be comfortable adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing quickly and accurately. They will apply these skills to large whole numbers and learn to add and subtract fractions and decimals. 

Other fourth-grade math skills and concepts include prime numbers, multiples, conversions, adding and subtracting with variables, units of metric measurements, finding the area and perimeter of a solid, and figuring the volume of a solid.

New concepts in geometry include lines, line segments, rays, parallel lines, angles, and triangles. 

Fifth Grade

Fifth grade is the last year as an elementary student for most students since middle school is generally considered grades 6-8. While these young tweens may consider themselves mature and responsible, they often need continued guidance as they prepare to transition fully to independent learners. 

Language Arts

A typical course of study for fifth-grade language arts will include components that become standard through the high school years: grammar, composition, literature, spelling, and vocabulary-building. 

The literature component includes reading a variety of books and genres; analyzing plot, character, and setting; and identifying the author's purpose for writing and how his point of view influences his writing.

Grammar and composition focus on using correct age-appropriate grammar to write more complex compositions such as letters, research papers, persuasive essays, and stories, honing pre-writing techniques such as brainstorming and using graphic organizers, and building on the student's understanding of parts of speech and how each is used in a sentence (examples include prepositions, interjections, and conjunctions).


Fifth graders have a strong basic understanding of science and the scientific process. They'll put those skills to work as they delve into a more complex understanding of the world around them.

Science topics usually covered in fifth grade include the solar system, the universe, Earth's atmosphere, healthy habits (proper nutrition and personal hygiene), atoms, molecules, and cells, matter, the Periodic Table, and taxonomy and the classification system.

Social Studies

In fifth grade, students continue their exploration of American history, studying events such as the War of 1812, the American Civil War, inventors and technological advances of the 19th century (such as Samuel B. Morse, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, and Alexander Graham Bell), and basic economics (the law of supply and demand, the primary resources, industries, and products of the United States and other countries).


A typical course of study for fifth-grade math include dividing two- and three-digit whole numbers with and without remainders, multiplying and dividing fractions, mixed numbers, improper fractions, simplifying fractions, using equivalent fractions, formulas for area, perimeter, and volume, graphing, Roman numerals, and powers of ten.

This typical course of study for elementary school is intended as a general guide. The introduction of topics and acquisition of skills can vary widely based on the students's maturity and ability level, a family's preferred homeschooling style, and the type of homeschool curriculum used. 

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Bales, Kris. "Typical Course of Study for the Elementary Years." ThoughtCo, Sep. 12, 2021, thoughtco.com/typical-course-of-study-kindergarten-1828414. Bales, Kris. (2021, September 12). Typical Course of Study for the Elementary Years. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/typical-course-of-study-kindergarten-1828414 Bales, Kris. "Typical Course of Study for the Elementary Years." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/typical-course-of-study-kindergarten-1828414 (accessed June 9, 2023).