Lesson: Timeline

Lesson: Timeline


Students will organize their research findings into chronological order using a timeline.


  • Software timeline creator program, such as Timeliner. (If not available, using a word processing program and using the SORT by ascending order will automatically put information in order if the dates are typed in at the beginning. Or, you can always have students create their own timeline on paper. )
  • “Keeper” notebooks with all the research information that has been gathered






If your class has not worked with a timeline software program before, give them an introduction first. We were lucky enough to have our technical support person available to give the students a 45 minute lesson on how to use Timeliner, which was already loaded on the desktop and laptop computers, but the students had not used it before. The instructor walked them through the features, and they created a timeline using highlights from their own life.

Seeing things in chronological order helps people organize and evaluate information.


  1. Students one at a time share a piece of information they have written in their notebooks about the life of their class research person. Each student may have different pieces of the puzzle, for instance, in our class study of the Civil War nurse, students had used different research tools to research her life. Some had looked at land records, others at church records, others at birth/marriage/death records/,others at different internet sites. There were some research tools that we had looked at as a class, like census records and a local history book. So some information was already known by all students and some information was known by just one or a small group of students.
  2. All students recorded each bit of information as it was shared on a timeline. (In our case, we were using the Timeliner program, and we had the luxury of each student working on their own computer, with the teacher’s work projected on the Smartboard, but you could just as easily compile one class timeline, electronic or on paper.)
  3. Students realized they needed a date and a piece of information to attach to it. It was amazing how much information we ended up with—we had over 25 specific dates when we compiled our research data. The students worked very diligently on this task for over one and a half hours. In the Timeliner program, students have options for different timeline constructs: vertical, horizontal, etc. and it was interesting to note how students thought critically about which form would work best for them. It also became a lesson in how to word an event succinctly, as if it was too long an explanation, it used up too much space on the timeline.  There was plenty of spontaneous peer helping peer (and peers helping teachers!) assistance as we all were working with the Timeliner software we had only recently been introduced to.   


  • A closeline timeline: If students need a more tangible example of a timeline, string up a clothesline in the classroom, and using close pins, attach papers with dates and information/photos in chronological order. Then go back and attach dates for each decade.
  • A human timeline: an even more concrete timeline. Students choose one date from their research and write it in large numbers on a sheet of 8.5 x 11” paper, then below the date write the associated information. Then students hold the paper and make a human timeline as they stand in the correct order in a line.