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Lesson Planning Channel

A Timeless
Teaching Tool

Across the grades and across the curriculum, teachers treasure the value of timelines. And all the timeline resources you'll need are right at your fingertips. Included: Activity ideas for teachers of all grades.

Looking for a great way to start the school year? Welcome your students back to school and to the new year with a new classroom "decoration" -- a timeline!

Create your timeline. Hang it. And wait.

It won't be long before your curious students are making comments and asking questions about this new classroom addition.


The first week of school is an ideal time to introduce your students to timelines. You can use your classroom timeline to record upcoming holidays and school vacations. Add other cross-cultural holidays to the timeline as you learn about them. Post clippings of important world or community news stories along the timeline. Record classroom events such as appearances by special visitors or the day everybody in class got a 100 on their spelling tests! Post birthdays and important school events. Add events in community history. After a couple of months, your timeline will be crowded with highlights and memories -- from earthshaking news events to the minutia of everyday school life!

Soon your students will be prepared (and eager!) to create their own timelines: timelines of family history or your town's history; a timeline showing when important inventions were first introduced; timelines that document students' personal journal entries; timelines that serve as a record of important events in history from the past (the Civil War) or that record events of history in the making. The possibilities for timeline activities across the grades and the curriculum are endless. Timelines can be as simple or as sophisticated as your students' abilities.

And best of all, timeline resources are everywhere! You needn't look any further than your classroom. Daily newspapers, almanacs, and sets of encyclopedia are great timeline resources. So is the Internet!


Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at The Rice School/Las Escuela Rice in Houston, Texas, used the life of Galileo as the starting point for a wide variety of activities. As part of a special enrichment project, Galileo's Web, students learned all about the life and times of this important scientist. They learned from books, Internet sources, university scientists and historians, and many other resources. As part of the project students performed experiments and built telescopes. They wrote poems about Galileo. They produced a newspaper that documented events of his time. They wrote books about Galileo's life, and they shared those books and all they'd learned with K-2 students in the school. And they created a Galileo Lifeline, which depicts important dates in his life story!

Timelines are a great way to put the life of a famous historic figure in perspective. Such timelines show important events in one person's life as well as "news" of the time that might have influenced that person. But that's just one timeline application.


Start with the everyday classroom resources. Encyclopedias. Almanacs. Newspapers. The Internet.

Encyclopedias. Here, you can find the resources to create timelines of events in your state's history (or to show the sequence in which states were welcomed into the United States). Students can read biographical sketches of famous people in history and create simple birth-to-death timelines for those people. You might set an example by creating a timeline of events in the life of Martin Luther King. Read an encyclopedia account of his life and create a general timeline. As you read aloud (or as students read) books about King, add other important events to the timeline. Looking for a good February project? To celebrate Presidents Day, create a timeline of events in the life of Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. Then assign each student (or student teams) to create a timeline to document the life of another U.S. president. When completed, students can share their timelines with their classmates.

Almanacs. A quick flip through the pages of The World Almanac for Kids (or The World Almanac and Book of Facts) reveals all kinds of timeline ideas. For example, students might (individually or as cooperative teams) create timelines showing the history of the space station, important inventions in history, major earthquakes, or the evolution of animal life on Earth.

Newspapers. Newspapers are excellent sources of information for timelines. Follow events of an important national news story as they unfold.


The Internet is a great timeline information resource for students in all grades and for teachers of all curriculum areas. In this section, I highlight a few excellent general resources for teachers across the grades. These general resources are good starting points. In the sections that follow, I focus on sites of specific value to teachers of elementary grades, then upper grades.

HyperHistory Online provides detailed information about world history during the last 3,000 years and abbreviated timelines for before that. HyperHistory connects the usual timeline events and their dates with scientific, cultural, and religious facts and events, giving a well-rounded overview of the time. The site is separated into five categories: People, History, Events, Maps, and Options, which covers the items that don't fit neatly into the other categories.

While you're checking out general resources, you might find something of interest at The History Place. Resources devoted to Abraham Lincoln, the American Revolution, the U.S. Civil War, Adolf Hitler, John F. Kennedy, and Apollo 11 are among the ones here that might be helpful in creating timelines.


Looking for some easy timeline activities to use with elementary students? You might use Edison's Timeline of Invention from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. Students can create a simple timeline showing Edison's inventions -- from his 1869 invention of the vote recorder to his 1900 invention of the storage battery. Others Edison inventions include the electric pen, the stock ticker, the incandescent electric lamp, the electric motor, and a talking doll!

Or try this activity with your elementary or middle school students: Divide a sheet into eight squares. On each square appears an outline of an invention such as the adding machine, a thermometer, or a piano. Invite students to research each of the inventions shown to learn when it was invented. Then students can create a timeline and cut out each square and attach it to the appropriate place on the timeline. All students might have the same assignment, or you might divide inventions by century and let students work in small groups. Each group's timeline of one century's inventions could be attached to form a long "technology timeline." A good Internet resource for teachers is the -- what a coincidence! -- Technology Timeline.

For other additional timeline activities, Houghton Mifflin's "Education Place" is an excellent resource. Here you'll find lesson plans for A Celebration Timeline for recording holidays; A Living Timeline, where students participate in bringing their town's history to life; an activity that involves students in interviewing family members to create a Family Timeline; and Time -- Then and Now, an activity in which students build a timeline to explore historical sequence and simultaneous developments in ancient cultures.

Teachers in the upper elementary grades might want to check out a timeline-related article on Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site. The article, A Timeline Activity With Children's Books, was first published in Teaching K-8. The activity combines timelines, history, and children's literature.


Pick any topic, use your favorite search engine to do a search, and you (or your students) are bound to find valuable resources for creating timelines linked to that topic!

History, of course, is the most obvious starting point for creating timelines -- and the Web offers many excellent resources for creating historical timelines. You might check out a few of those, including

You'll find lots of valuable information on the Library of Congress Web site. Check out the story of Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson. While you're at the LOC site, be sure to take a look at their Civil War Timeline.

Students interested in mystery and crime stories might want to read The History of the Mystery: From Poe to the Present. After reading the text, students can create a "History of the Mystery" timeline.


  • If each day between now and the end of the school year is represented by an inch on the timeline, each month will extend from 2 to 3 feet along the wall.
  • Extend the timeline along the wall of your classroom above or below -- to make it accessible for younger, smaller students! -- a bulletin board.
  • Mark the start of each new month with a symbol representative of that month: For example, a snowman or the New Year's baby in January, a Valentine heart or a photo of Mount Rushmore for February, and a kite or a shamrock for March.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor in Chief
Copyright © 2010 Education World


Originally published 06/24/2002
Last updated 06/02/2010