EL Education.

Helping All Learners: Compacting

Why is curriculum compacting an effective instructional practice for some learners?

"The most common commodity in this country is unrealized potential."-Calvin Coolidge

Some students progress through the education program at rates faster or at ages younger than conventional. Teachers may provide instruction at a level and pace appropriate to a child’s achievement and readiness. 

Compacting is a teaching strategy that “buys time” for acceleration and/or enrichment. The goal is to adapt or “streamline” curriculum to allow students to move at a quicker pace and then have time to go into greater depth in an area of study. The goals of compacting not only include providing a challenging learning environment for students, but also guarantee proficiency in basic curriculum before buying time for enrichment and acceleration.

There are two types of compacting:

Basic Skills Compacting

  • Lessons work best with spelling, math computation and language arts basic skills. 
  • Pretesting is used to document proficiency. 
  • This is the most common form of compacting as students are often at different places in various skills. 

Content Compacting: 

  • This is appropriate for social studies, science, literature, math applications and problem-solving. 
  • This type of compacting is rare, as it is uncommon for students to already have enough knowledge of an historical event, scientific concept, or literary movement to move on to a new topic.

Learning Targets

I can explain the strategy of compacting.

I can describe the benefits of compacting lessons for some learners.

Consider: Who should receive compacted lessons?

If students exhibit the following behaviors, they may be prime for a compacted series of lessons:

  • Consistently finishes tasks quickly.
  • Finishes reading assignments first.
  • Appears bored during instruction time.
  • Brings in outside reading material.
  • Creates own puzzles, games, or diversions in class.
  • Consistently daydreams.
  • Has consistently high performance in one or more academic areas.
  • Tests scores are consistently excellent.
  • Asks questions that indicate advanced familiarity with materials sought after by other students for assistance.
  • Uses vocabulary and verbal expression advance of grade level.
  • Expresses interest in pursuing advanced topics.

Watch:  On Being Gifted

This video showcases student voices about the challenges and success of being gifted.  Perhaps students in your classroom are not identified as such.  However, the chance that some of your students exhibit some of these attributes during some of your lessons is extremely likely.  As you view this short clip, think about strategies you currently use to meet the needs of learners at all points on the continuum of readiness.

Follow: Steps to Compacting a Lesson


Other Topics in This Pack

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Read: Diving Deeper into Differentiation

Read the following excerpt from Expeditionary Learning's (EL's) Toolkit, Differentiated Instruction, Compacted Assignments.

Use the following questions to guide your independent thinking or a discussion with colleagues:

  1. The reading provides a close-up into Jennifer Goldin's classroom.  As you read, identify the eight steps of compacting as described above.

  2. How does Ms. Goldin engage her students in being leaders of their own learning?  How is this practice beneficial for her students?

Read:  Use Curriculum Compacting to Challenge the Above Average

Read this article from Educational Leadership, Use Curriculum Compacting to Challenge the Above Average.

Use the following questions to guide your independent thinking or a discussion with colleagues.

  1. According to the article, why is curriculum compacting necessary for some learners?  How does compacting specifically meet their needs?
  2. This article contains research from University of Connecticut's National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.  How does this research impact your thinking about curriculum compacting?.  

Practice: Experience a Compacted Lesson

The compacted lessons below are based on CCSS.Math.Content.8.EE.3 - Use numbers expressed in the form of a single digit times a whole number power of 10 to estimate very large or very small quantities.  EL believes that instead of asking students to do other unrelated work, we ask students to go deeper into the learning of the standard.  We do not recommend using standards from other grade levels.  Unless a school is deeply experienced in extended learning across all grade levels, focusing on above grade level work can result in uneven and misaligned instruction when an advanced student moves to a different teacher or school.

Step One: 

Download this pre-assessment and answer the questions.  No peeking at the answers in the next step!

Step Two:  

Check your answers here.

Step Three:

If you were correct on 0-2 questions, click here and complete the Yellow Task Card.

If you were correct on 3-4 questions, click here and complete the Green Task Card.

If you were correct on all five problems, click here and complete the Orange Task Card.

Step Four:  

When you complete your task card, check your answers below.  If your answers are correct, you may move to  the next Task Card.

Yellow Task Card Answers

Green Task Card Answers

Orange Task Card Answers


  1. Were you motivated to work on your tasks?  Explain why.

  2. Which steps of compacting curriculum did you experience in the practice lesson?  How might you restructure the process of the practice lesson to meet the needs of your students?    


Download the Curriculum Compactor to help you realize which content may ripe for compacting for some of your students.

Achieve: Set Yourself and Your Students up for Success

  • Be sure to start small.  Target an individual or small group of students.
  • Start with Basic Skills Compacting.
  • Try different types of pre-assessments while determining what is expected for mastery. 
  • Keep accurate documentation.  Share progress with students.  Students should reflect and set their own goals.
  • Consider offering choice that still meets the same grade-level standard.
  • Collaborate with colleagues.

Dig Deeper


Recommendations for Implementing Curriculum Compacting Based on Research:  Excerpted from A Facilitator's Guide to Help Teachers Compact Curriculum  by Sally M. Reis, Deborah E. Burns and Joseph S. Renzulli.

Myths about Gifted Students Myths about gifted children debunked by the National Association for Gifted Children.


For Teachers...

  1. What needs to be in place for compacting to be successful in a classroom?

  2. How will you set criteria for mastery of the standards in particular content areas?

  3. Research shows that less ready students benefit from academic discourse with more ready students.  How will you ensure that there is still opportunities for these types of discussions to occur in your classroom?

For School Leaders...

  1. How can you support teachers with time and materials needed to construct compacted curriculum?

  2. How will you ensure that teachers are appropriately identifying students who would benefit from a compacted curriculum?