Timelines in History Class
Timelines are a powerful way to teach historical information, in any content area. Experts on teaching history have identified five ways that the use of timelines helps students master important historical ideas:
- Information is presented in a historical context, instead of isolated facts;
- Ideas are connected to one another, enabling greater understanding of bigger historical themes and movements;
- Students develop the background knowledge necessary for engagement in deeper analysis and discussion;
- Students see the sequence and timing of events, understanding how one event contributed to the ones that follow;
- Timelines provide a structure for organizing information, making it easier to learn and remember.
Many teachers create timelines from strips of paper or sentence strips, adding events to the timelines as they come up during instruction. In this post, we will review how digital timelines can be created and used by teachers and students to teach, learn and respond to historical ideas, by students of all abilities.
There are many free digital timeline apps available. This timeline was created using the free version of Sutori, which creates a number of types of presentations, called “stories.”
Digital timelines have advantages over the paper wall version most of us are familiar with. Most importantly, they invite direct use by students. A wall timeline can be referred to by the teacher, or used as a resource by the students. A digital timeline, however, can be directly manipulated by the learner, via any electronic device. Secondly, because they are digital, a variety of media can be embedded or linked to the timeline, including teacher notes, PowerPoints, images, videos and web pages. This makes the timeline adaptable to the 21st Century tools our students already have access to. Additionally, more literacy-based activities can be connected to their use, as the space used by text is flexible (not fixed, as with a paper timeline). Another advantage of the digital timeline format is the ability to share electronically with other collaborators, with the teacher, and anyone else with a link. This allows multiple contributors, a cycle of review and revision, and other high-quality publishing activities to take place.
Most timeline apps have a wide variety of ready-made templates to choose from. I found the template I used in Sutori to be very helpful in designing a high-quality, rich timeline with a variety of interactive elements — ones I might not have considered, had it not been for the template’s suggestion.
A Walk-through of a Sutori Timeline: The Early History of Norwich, Connecticut
Working with digital timelines gives students excellent opportunities to practice important literacy skills:
- Selection of a feature image: Students practice how to choose a cover image that adds to the story of their timeline.
- Creation of a title: Students practice creating a title that captures the main idea of their story.
- Development of an introductory paragraph: Students practice important summary skills.
- Use of embedded tools: Students use embedded presentation and collaboration tools.
- 5. Image selection: Students must research to find time-appropriate images that add value to the text, for timeline events.
- 6. Labeling of timeline entries: Students practice writing timeline labels that capture important historical events.
- 7. Evaluation and selection of appropriate sources, with proper links to all resources: link to high-quality source is provided, for further information.
- 8. Giving and receiving appropriate feedback, through comments link.
- 9. Writing informational text: Students create concise explanatory text to accompany images and explain relevance of timeline events.
- 10. Creation of Subheadings: Brief subtitles (with dates) that help the viewer navigate the presentation, and that are appropriate for the timeline section.
- 11. Use of sidebars: Use of embedded “Did You Know?” module allows student to include fun facts, explanations of terms and other interesting information.
- 12. Connection to known landmarks: Use of images and information about commonly known, local landmarks helps viewer connect with the presentation, and helps establish connection between big historical events and local history.
- 13. Identification of necessary background knowledge: The embedded Video module allows the student to include videos of any length, to help the viewer understand the content better.
- 14, 15. Use of interactive elements: The students can engage the viewers by including interactive elements, such as the Quiz module, which can provides feedback to the responder.
- 16. Connection to famous locals: Including famous people from the area helps viewers see connection between “big” history and their own region.
- 17. Use of embedded digital media: Students can embed Google Docs, Canva infographics (such as the one shown), Flickr albums and a wide variety of other media, using the embedded tools. This allows showcasing of other student work in the timeline, allows students to customize their timeline and adds viewer interest.
- 18. Development of discussion questions: By using the Forum module, students can identify and include compelling questions that lead to classroom discussions.
- 19. Selection of graphic aids: Students can include a variety of graphic aids, including paintings, portraits, photographs, drawings, maps, and charts, as the content dictates. Here, the map of the trolley line includes local street names, so students can see where trolleys once ran in their hometown.
- 20. Making connections across time periods: By including connections to today in their concluding paragraphs, they show the relationship between past events and the way history unfolded up to the present day.
- 21. Proper citation of digital sources: The bibliography modules in the template allow for students to include properly cited digital resources used in their stories.
- 22. Use of hyperlinks: Students practice correctly hyperlinking their sources to the correct webpage.
- 23. Sharing of tools and techniques: As a consultant, I was always taught to debrief not only the content I presented, but the strategies and tools I used, as well. Giving students the opportunity to share the tools they used with others fosters a spirit of collaboration.
If you’d like to see the whole presentation, feel free to click over to The Early History of Norwich, Connecticut , on Sutori.
Options for Using Digital Timelines
Student products. We have gone over in detail how digital timelines are an excellent way for students to “show what they know.” Consider using them as a replacement for essays, reports and other research projects.
Stand-alone presentations: Teachers can develop stand-alone lessons using the timeline (don’t forget – Sutori has other “story” options, as well!). In presentation mode, each element is displayed, one at a time, making the timeline more like a PowerPoint presentation.
Organization of units of study: The timeline can be used as an outline for a unit of study, with each element representing a lesson within the study. Lesson material (Google Docs, videos, PowerPoints, etc.) can be linked via the embedded linking tools. The subheadings are available on the sidebar to the left, for easy navigation between components.
Try Making a Timeline!
I have always used PowerPoint to organize my lessons in science and social studies. After playing around with Sutori, I can’t wait to start using it for my lessons, instead! I’d love to hear how you have used digital timelines with students. Share!