Core Knowledge

Core Knowledge balances the description of academic skills with a prescription for subject-content knowledge. The curriculum is designed to give educators a way of knowing what students have experienced in school and to give students a common foundation on which to build additional learning.

Core Knowledge is a systematic syllabus of topics to be studied by students in prekindergarten through 8th grades. It includes topics and subtopics in language arts, world history, American history, geography, visual arts, music, mathematics, and science.

Lightbulb in chalkboard thought bubble

How Core Knowledge Works

Core Knowledge is a rigorous survey of the subject matter in language arts, history and geography, visual arts, music, mathematics, and science that a well-educated student should know by the end of 8th grade.

Knowledge Builds on Knowledge

Example Sequence

We learn new knowledge by building on what we already know. The Core Knowledge approach is a coherent sequence of specific knowledge that builds year by year. For example, in sixth grade students should be ready to grasp the law of the conservation of energy because they have been building the knowledge that prepares them for it, as shown in this selection from the physical science strand of the Core Knowledge Sequence:

  • Kindergarten – Magnetism, the idea of forces we cannot see; classify materials according to whether they are attracted to a magnet
  • First Grade – Basic concept of atoms; learn names and common examples of the three states of matter; examine water as an example of changing states of matter in a single substance
  • Second Grade – Study of Lodestones, naturally occurring magnets, and magnetic poles; learn about magnetic fields and laws of attraction
  • Fourth Grade – Study of Atoms; atoms are made up of even smaller particles (protons, neutrons, electrons); learn about the concept of electrical charge and its connection to magnetic fields; study properties of matter, including mass, volume, and density
  • Fifth Grade – Study of Atoms forming molecules and compounds; learn about the Periodic Table of elements and its organization
  • Sixth Grade – Learn about Kinetic and potential energy (and examples of each); perform experiments and labs to reinforce scientific concepts of conduction, convection and radiation

Examples of Subjects Taught

Grade levelSubject and content
KindergartenVisual Arts
  • Painting
  • Line and color in such work as Matisse’s The Purple Robe, Picasso’s Le Gourmet, Mary Cassatt’s The Bath, Henry O. Tanner’s The Banjo Lesson, and Diego Rivera’s Mother’s Helper
  • Sculpture
  • Statue of Liberty, mobiles of Alexander Calder, Northwest American Indian totem pole
1st GradeWorld History - Early Civilizations: Ancient Egypt
  • Importance of the Nile River
  • Animal gods
  • Pharaohs, pyramids, and mummies
  • Hieroglyphics
2nd GradeAmerican History: Civil Rights
  • Susan B. Anthony and the right to vote
  • Rosa Parks and the bus boycott in Montgomery, AL
  • Eleanor Roosevelt and civil and human rights
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream.”
  • Mary McLeod Bethune and educational opportunity
  • Cesar Chavez and the rights of migrant workers
  • Jackie Robinson and the integration of major league baseball
3rd GradeMath
  • Fractions
  • Recognize fractions to one-tenth
  • Identify numerator and denominator
  • Write mixed numbers
  • Recognize equivalent fractions (e.g. 1/2 = 3/6)
  • Compare fractions with like denominators using the signs <, > and = Geometry
  • Horizontal, vertical, perpendicular, parallel lines
  • Polygons: pentagon, hexagon, and octagon
  • Angles: right angle, four right angles in a square or rectangle
  • Compute area in square inches and square centimeters
4th GradeScience: Electricity
  • Simple circuit (battery, wire, bulb, filament, switch)
  • Electricity as the flow of electrons
  • Conductors and insulators
  • Static electricity
  • How electromagnets work
  • Electric current
  • Electric circuits: closed, open, and short
  • Using electricity safely
5th GradeAmerican History and Geography: Westward Exploration and Expansion
  •  Daniel Boone: Cumberland Gap, Wilderness Trail
  • “Manifest Destiny” and conflict with Mexico
  • The Louisiana Purchase: Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea
  • American Indian resistance: Tecumseh attempts to unite tribes to defend their land
  •  Land routes: Santa Fe Trail and Oregon Trail
6th GradeLanguage Arts: Fiction and Drama
  • The Iliad and The Odyssey
  • Julius Caesar
  • The Prince and the Pauper

Writing and Research
  • Write a research essay, with attention to:
    • Asking open-ended questions
    • Gathering relevant data through library and field research
    • Summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting accurately
    • Defining a thesis • Organizing with an outline
    • Integrating quotations from sources
    • Acknowledging sources and avoiding plagiarism
    • Preparing a bibliography
7th GradeAmerican History and Geography: America in the Twenties to World War II
  • Isolationism
  • Technological advances: mass production, pioneers of flight
  • The Great Depression: mass unemployment, dust bowl, Roosevelt and the New Deal
  • Rise of totalitarianism in Europe and Asia Issues and Problems of U.S. regions
  • Expansion of settlement
  • Middle West: Rust Belt, Corn Belt
  • Urbanization: New York City, Phoenix
8th GradeAmerican History: Post World War II U.S.
  • Cold War: Truman doctrine, Korean War, Domino theory
  • Space exploration: Neil Armstrong, NASA
  • Civil Rights Movement: Brown vs. Board of Education, Thurgood Marshall, “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, Malcom X, Robert Kennedy, race riots