What Skills Should a Sixth Grader Have?

Although every child is different, most sixth graders should have a similar level of skills and knowledge at the end of the school year. Read on to find out the math and language arts skills your sixth grader should have.

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Overview of Sixth Grade Academic Skills

Every state has its set of curriculum standards, which you can access from the website of your state's department of education. School districts often have their own curriculum standards as well, which are modeled on the state standards. These standards detail the skills your child should have at the end of each grade. State standardized tests are based on these standards, so it's important that your sixth grader has all the skills outlined in the sixth grade standards for your state.

Although there are no national standards from the federal government, there is a fairly new set of standards called the Common Core State Standards Initiative. This initiative is an attempt to aggregate state standards into a set of learning objectives for children across the nation. According to the Common Core State Standards, here are some skills your sixth grader should have in language arts and math.

Language Arts Skills

The Common Core State Standards detail the skills your child should have in reading, writing, speaking, listening and language skills. The standards also suggest books and materials that you can use to help your child gain these skills.


By the time your child reaches sixth grade, he or she should be able to comprehend basic texts and use higher order thinking skills to analyze different types of texts, including fiction and nonfiction. Your child will be expected to identify themes, understand plot structure and use specific details from a text to support a point. He or she should also be able to understand figurative language and use context to decipher unfamiliar words. Sixth graders should be familiar with different genres and text forms, including historical fiction, drama, memoir and biography.

Writing and Language

Sixth graders are expected to write essays with clear organization and main ideas that are supported by specific facts. Your child should understand multiple ways to organize texts, such as comparison/contrast and cause/effect. Sixth graders write informational essays and narrative texts such as stories. When writing stories, your child should be able to develop characters and use devices, such as dialogue. In addition to being able to write, your child should be able to revise texts and take guidance from peers and teachers.

While writing, your child should be able to follow the conventions and rules of standard English. These conventions include grammar and punctuation and also cover style, tone and word choice. Wide reading can help your child develop a large vocabulary and can also help him or her understand the connotations of specific words.

Speaking and Listening

As your child advances through middle school and beyond, he or she will be expected to participate in discussions and give confident presentations. As a sixth grader, he or she should learn how to prepare for discussions and support statements with specific examples. Frequent discussions and presentations will help your child develop the confidence to maintain eye contact and speak clearly. Your child should also be able to listen to a lecture or discussion and identify main ideas.

Math Skills

Sixth grade math is a transitional time for many students. In elementary school, your child learned arithmetic, including math facts and long division. In sixth grade, your child will continue to learn advanced arithmetic concepts while also preparing for pre-algebra. For all of the math areas below, your child should be able to solve both numerical and word problems.

Number System

Your child should be able to solve advanced long arithmetic problems by hand, such as dividing multi-digit numbers. He or she should also know how to factor numbers and find the greatest common factor or least common multiple of a pair of numbers. Your child will also do work with number lines and basic graphing.

Expressions and Equations

In preparation for pre-algebra, your sixth grader will begin learning the basics of expressions and equations. This includes learning about variables and order of operations. Your child's teacher may assign simple equations, such as 5+x=7, and teach the steps to solve the problem.

Ratios and Proportions

Ratios and proportions may be one of the more difficult aspects of sixth grade math because they can be new concepts. Your child should be able to write simple ratios in order to solve word problems. Lessons in ratios and proportions might also cover percents and rates.


In addition to preparing for pre-algebra, your child will also learn some of the basics of geometry in preparation for high school geometry. Most sixth grade geometry involves the study of shapes, such as right triangles and rectangular prisms. Your child will learn how to find area, volume and perimeter and will also learn how to draw shapes or polygons on a coordinate plane.

Statistics and Probability

Statistics and probability lessons can be a fun part of sixth grade math because they often involve hands-on experiments and surveys. As a sixth grader, your child should be able to assemble a set of data and look at the distribution. This may include finding the mean, median and mode.

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