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two elementary students talking about a text together

Paragraph Shrinking

Paragraph shrinking is a strategy that makes the process of summarizing explicit. It gives students an easy-to-learn set of steps to find the main idea.

Key Information



When To Use This Strategy

During reading

Appropriate Group Size

With small groups
Whole class setting

What is paragraph shrinking?

The paragraph shrinking strategy allows each student to take turns reading, pausing, and summarizing the main points of each paragraph. Students provide each other with feedback as a way to monitor comprehension. 

Why use paragraph shrinking?

  • It helps students develop their reading comprehension skills.
  • It allows each student to take turns reading, pausing, and summarizing the main points of each paragraph.

Note: Paragraph shrinking was developed as one of the Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) (opens in a new window) at Vanderbilt University. Because of that, the directions below describe how students work with a peer to complete the strategy.

How to use paragraph shrinking

  1. Choose the assigned reading and introduce the text to the students.
  2. Create pairs within the classroom by identifying which children require help on specific skills and who the most appropriate children are to help other children learn those skills.
  3. Model the procedure to ensure that students understand how to use the strategy.
  4. Have each member of the teacher-assigned pair take turns being “Coach” and “Player.”
  5. Ask each student to read aloud for 5 minutes without rereading a text. After each paragraph, students should stop to summarize the main points of the reading. Ask students to then summarize the following information:

    • The who or what of the paragraph
    • The most important thing about who or what
    • The main idea

    Note: If a “Player” ever gives a wrong answer, the “Coach” asks the “Player” to skim the paragraph again and answer question a second time.

  6. Ask students to state the main idea in 10 words or less which will encourage them to monitor comprehension while taking turns reading.
  7. Award each pair points when the above goals of the strategy are met.

This handout provides a concise routine for teaching paragraph shrinking.

Watch a demonstration

See how to use the paragraph shrinking strategy to teach students how to identify main idea and details in short reading passages and in multi-paragraph essays, and then summarize them in writing or orally. (Education Service Center Region 13, Texas)

Watch a demonstration

Watch two elementary students demonstrating the PALS paragraph shrinking strategy.

Watch a presentation and demonstration

Get an overview of a partner reading intervention based on Peer Assisted Learning Strategies, including steps, error correction, and a demonstration by two education research assistants. (University of Missouri)

Collect resources

  • Paragraph shrinking cards
  • This PowerPoint developed by the Center on Teaching and Learning at the University of Oregon explains how to model and practice paragraph shrinking, and includes question card templates, completed question cards, and how to pre-teach paragraph shrinking with pictures. Paragraph shrinking presentation ›

Differentiate instruction

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners

  • Have students work together to write out the main points of the reading.
  • Change the pairs regularly so that all students have the opportunity to be “coaches” and “players.”
  • Monitor and support students as they work together.

See the research that supports this strategy

Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L., & Burish, P. (2000). Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies: An Evidence-Based Practice to Promote Reading Achievement. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 15(2), 85-91.

Fuchs, L., Fuchs, D., & Kazdan, S. (1999). Effects of peer-assisted learning strategies on high school students with serious reading problems. Remedial and Special Education, 20(5), 309-318.

Saenz, L., Fuchs, L., & Fuchs, D. (2005) Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies for English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities. Exceptional Children, (71).

Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development. (n.d.). Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies. Retrieved 2008, January 21, from

Children’s books to use with this strategy