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Reading and Writing Strategies

Paragraph Shrinking

How do you help students become better at summarizing what they read and be more aware of when they are or are not understanding what they read? Paragraph shrinking combines summarizing with peer feedback to create a powerful approach to growing students’ understanding and confidence as readers.

Paragraph Shrinking is a strategy that allows student pairs to take turns reading, pausing, and summarizing the main points of each paragraph they read. Students provide each other with feedback as a way to monitor comprehension.

Why use the paragraph shrinking strategy?

Paragraph Shrinking does not require special reading materials and therefore can be used with your choice of reading material, which offers flexibility for incorporating the strategy into various disciplines. Paragraph Shrinking also provides opportunities for you to circulate in the class, observe students, and offer individual support. 

How to create and use the strategy

1. Choose the assigned reading and introduce the text to the students.

2. Next, create pairs within the classroom. Each member of the teacher-assigned pair should take turns being “Coach” and “Player.” Pairs should change roles regularly so all students have the opportunity to be “coaches” and “players.” You want to model the role of the “Coach” and “Player” so all students understand the expectations for both roles.

3. When the pairs meet each student reads aloud for five minutes without rereading a text. After each paragraph, students stop to summarize the main points of the reading. Students are asked to summarize the who or what of the paragraph, the most important thing about who or what, and the main idea. 

4. Download and hand out the Paragraph Shrinking Partner Cards to your students. They have reminders of how “Coaches” should offer help. If a “Player” ever gives a wrong answer, the “Coach” asks the “Player” to skim the paragraph again and answer question a second time. Students must state the main idea in ten words or less which encourages them to monitor comprehension while taking turns reading. The pair earns points when the above goals of the strategy are met. 

Strategy in action

Let’s watch as two high school students participate in a paragraph shrinking activity. For the sake of time, the clip only shows one student reading and answering questions.

Tips for success

  1. It is important to monitor and support students as they work together. Students often need reminders of how to offer supportive feedback to their partners.
  2. Students may need additional practice creating 10 words or less summaries. If they seem to struggle, reflect and consider modeling a 10 word summary within your class instruction every day.