Beacon Lesson Plan Library

My Time: Understanding Timelines

Richard Johnson
Bay District Schools


Students practice using timelines and create their own personal timelines. This lesson is the first lesson in an introductory unit entitled Historical Tool Time that covers basic historical concepts and themes.


The student uses chronology, sequencing, patterns, and periodization to examine interpretations of an event.


-At least one or more computers in the classroom or a lab situation.
-An overhead projector (if no computers are available)
-Drawing paper (8.5 x 11 plain copier paper will do) for students to use to create their personal timelines
-Colored pencils or crayons (Optional)
-Pretest (See Extensions)
-Pretest answer key (See Extensions)
-Personal timeline assignment and rubric (See Associated Files)
-Comparison Chart (See Associated Files)
-Student Web Lesson, Seeing Time (See Procedures for options; See Weblinks for link)
-PowerPoint Presentation: What is Time? (See Procedures for options; See Extensions for link)


1. Create a personal timeline using presentation software to be shown by a computer or use a word processor and copy it to a transparency for use on an overhead. Make sure you use the student rubric (see Associated Files) in order to model the product they will be creating and that some of the events that are chosen show a pattern. (See Associated Files.) It might be helpful to create a second timeline that would score low on the rurbic to show as a non-example.
2. Gather materials for the students to use to create their personal timelines.
3. Go to Extensions to link to the Unit Plan: Historical Tool Time to obtain the pretest, answer key, and instructions for administration.
4. Decide which options in Steps 2 and 3 of the Procedures will be best for students. Gather appropriate presentation materials.


NOTE: Alternative methods of instructions and presentation are given for steps two and three in the Procedures.

Day 1

1. Give students pretest consisting of questions requiring them to interpret a timeline. (See Extensions.)

2. (Alternative One) Present PowerPoint presentation: What is Time? via a computer presentation system. (See Extensions.)

2. (Alternative Two) Present the PowerPoint presentation: What is Time? from transparencies on an overhead projector,if a computer presentation system is not available.

Day 2

3. (Alternative One) If classroom or lab computers are available, have students identified in the pretest as having trouble with the use and intrepretation of timelines do the Student Web Lesson: Seeing Time. (See Weblinks.) Students, who were successful, might be paired with those having trouble and work through the Student Web Lesson with them in a class situation. If only one computer is available in the classroom, the Web lesson could be projected to the whole class, with discussion of each Web lesson assignment.

3. (Alternative Two) Another alternative would be to have the identified students do the Web lesson outside the class on their own computers or ones found at the school library, public library, etc.

3. (Alternative Three) If there are no computers available, give back the graded pretest and have the successful students pair with the unsuccessful ones and go over the returned pretest. This will allow the students needing help to be tutored by students that have grasped the concept.

4. Show the students, via an overhead transparency, PowerPoint presentation slide, or by drawing on the board, your personal timelines.
*One example should model the one that they will be creating. (See Associated Files for the assessment rubric.) Make sure that some of the events that are chosen to go on this personal timeline show a trend or pattern.
*In the discussion of your timeline, model the thought process that you used to choose the particular events from your life. Pay particular attention to how you chose events that showed some type of pattern.
*A second non-example could be shown, as well, to illustrate what a low achieving timeline might look like. This second example would highlight the common mistakes that students make on this assignment, such as having the events occur at the divisions, unequal division of the timeline, and too few events. This step in the lesson shows the students how to create their own timelines and is a wonderful way for students to get know their teacher.

5. Have the students create their own personal timelines following the directions and share the rubric found on the My Time assignment sheet. (See Associated Files.) Go over the rubric with the students prior to doing the timeline assignment so they are clear as to the expectations for the assignment. These student timelines require students use the concepts learned in steps 1, 2, 3, and 4. This is a good way for teachers to get to know their students, as well. Have the students begin the assignment in classroom so that you can facilitate any problems that they might have. Students might find the use of graphic organizers, such as web diagrams or brainstorming webs, to be helpful in organizing the events and finding themes and patterns before they begin their timelines. It also allows them time to think critically about the time span and information that they want to include or thought was important before actually starting their timelines. Have them finish the timelines as homework.

Day 3

6. Prior to turning in the timeline assignment, have the students pair up and complete the Comparing Time comparison chart that compares and contrasts the last ten years of their lives. (See Associated Files.)

7. Have students score their own timelines using the rubric before turning them in.

8. The students turn in their personal timelines and grading rubrics with the comparison charts attached to the back.

9. After you score the assignment using the rubric, return it to the students thus showing the students where they stand on the assignment. They will also be able to see how well their self-assessment compared to your score.


A diagnostic pretest is administered to identify student weaknesses in understanding and using timelines. (See Extensions.)

Students do the My Time assignment as a formative evaluation if used as part of the Unit Plan: Historical Tool Time. (See Attached Files.) If this lesson is used as a stand-alone lesson and not part of the unit, this activity might be used as a summative assessment. Student products will be assessed using a rubric that is part of the assignment sheet My Time that was given to them and discussed prior to beginning the assignment. The rubric provides points for the different levels of achievement with performance at the highest level equaling 100 points. Students should score their assignments using this rubric prior to turning in the assignments. Write your assessment points next to theirs in a color different from what they used when they graded their assignments. If the point total on the assignment is less than 70, mark the paper so that the student will come and see you. The student that makes less than a 70 needs further help with these concepts. This allows students to compare their self-assessments to your assessment, as well as gaining feedback on the assignment.

Student pairs complete a comparison chart, Comparing Events, comparing the events of the last ten years of their lives based on criteria identified on the assignment sheet(See Attached Files). This provides for the intrepretation of events. This chart is attached to the My Time assignment and
then turned in.


1. This lesson could be modified for use in grade levels from 5-8.

2. Having students write a paragraph explaining the patterns in their life as shown on their timelines would be a way to incorporate language arts into this social studies lesson.

Web Links

The Student Web Lesson, Seeing Time, can be obtained here.
Seeing Time

This is the Beacon Unit Plan associated with this lesson. It can be viewed by clicking on the Web link. Scroll to the bottom of the unit plan page to find the section, Files to be downloaded. This section contains links to the Diagnostic and Summative Assessments, Unit Plan Overview, the PowerPoint presentation, and other associated files, (if any).
Historical Tool Time

Attached Files

Rubric and Comparison Chart     File Extension: pdf

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