Paragraph Shrinking

Paragraph shrinking is an activity developed as part of the Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS). 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.

When to use: Before reading During reading After reading
How to use: Individually With small groups Whole class setting

More comprehension strategies

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) 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.

Download a blank template

Collect resources

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 >

Differentiated 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

Lady Liberty: A Biography

Lady Liberty: A Biography

By: Doreen Rappaport
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Readers are introduced to the Statue of Liberty from many perspectives from both sides of the ocean

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman

By: Marc Tyler Nobleman
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Two nerdy teenagers turn into heroes when they begin they craft them. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are still remembered for their now classic creation, Superman.

Annie and Simon

Annie and Simon

By: Catharine O'Neill
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Annie and her big (big) brother Simon have a special relationship. Simon is very patient and quite the opposite of his sister, but together they share summertime adventures, including Annie getting a bee sting and going out in a boat to hear a loon. Cartoon-like illustrations complement each short chapter in this warm book.


iI work one on one with a student, but can see how this approach will help them with better comprehension and retell.

Add comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." — Paul Sweeney