Grade V Central Subject: Modern & Ancient China

Naturally embedded in any academic curriculum are human themes. In keeping with Shady Hill traditions, in all subjects we integrate themes regarding character, values, respect for self and others, and the responsibility children have as members of the community. Some of the topics include: taking ownership of one’s actions, resolving conflicts without focusing on blame, understanding other points of view, listening skills, and working cooperatively with others.

We address these topics in the Grade V curriculum in several ways. In the study of literature, we look at how the protagonists’ choices shape their lives and the story as a whole. In Central Subject, we look at the Chinese culture from multiple perspectives. Group work is a constant exercise in being responsible for both one’s own work and that of the team. In addition, we conduct exercises and activities designed to develop fifth graders’ abilities as members of a community and as lifelong learners.
The year begins with a study of geography. We look closely at important geographic features as well as thematic maps. Concurrently, students study modern China with an emphasis on food, education, and entertainment. As the year progresses, we read Chinese creation myths and examine early dynasties. During this time students develop an understanding of and appreciation for how cultural belief systems arise and evolve over time. Students consider the historical importance of ritual and tradition through a close look at the emergent philosophies of Confucianism and Daoism. Investigating the reign of the first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, enables students to consider the role and influence of charismatic leaders upon a society.

Beginning midyear, students conduct group and personal research to explore the many aspects of daily life in modern and ancient China. To further enrich their understanding of the topics, students engage in a variety of hands-on projects such as mapping, calligraphy, and kite making. To allow students to directly experience the legacy of this culture, students take field trips to local museums, Chinatown, and visit with Chinese scholars and artists.


  • In what ways do geographic features and natural resources of an environment affect where people choose to live?
  • Why is the daily life of a community often influenced by the natural environment and belief system?
  • How does a belief system emerge from people’s need to understand and explain their world?
  • How do charismatic leaders shape a society’s culture and have a powerful influence on a nation’s destiny?
  • Why was ancient China a successful society that thrived and survived for thousands of years, and in what ways does it continue to influence people today?
Literature, Reading, and Writing

Central Subject literature texts may include: The Monkey King, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, Confucius: The Golden Rule, Spilled Water, Kite Rider, The Year of the Tiger, Tales from a Chinese Grandmother, and excerpts from Confucius’ Analects.
Other books read in small groups or a in whole-class setting may include: A Wrinkle in Time, Anything But Typical, Liar and Spy, Rules, Maniac Magee, Out of My Mind, and Bridge to Terabithia as well as selected biographies and poetry.
In addition to a half-hour of independent reading at home every night, there are several periods of silent reading per cycle. Students read books from a variety of genres including historical fiction, biography, realistic fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and adventure.
Reading skills such as isolating salient information, building vocabulary, making comparisons, skimming, and drawing conclusions are taught through literature and research. The students participate in individual, small group, and whole classwork. Discussions and assignments focus on setting, character development, point of view, and theme.
There is an emphasis on the process of writing. The curriculum includes both expository and creative writing.  Research papers are written using developmentally appropriate research techniques.
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