Human Timeline


This activity uses physical movement to help students understand and remember the chronology of events. 



  • Identify the events you would like students to sequence.  Ideas include events from a historical time and place, steps of a scientific process, and major events in a novel or short story.  You should identify key events that lead up to and that follow a “key” or “focus” event.
  • Put each event on an index card.  If relevant, consider putting a date or time on as well.
Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher gives each student or each pair of students a card with a timeline event on it.
    You can consider giving the stronger students the more challenging cards so that all students have a good chance of feeling successful.
    This portion of the activity often works well if students are in a U-shape so they can hear each other once they begin speaking.
  2. Each student or pair writes a short description of the event in their own words, identifying the main elements of the event, and indicating when it occurred.
    During this time you can circulate among students, helping those who are struggling.  Reinforce the need to describe the most important aspects of the event in students’ own words.
    An option extension would ask students to create or find an image to complement the written description of the event.
  3. Students build a human timeline, but ordering themselves in a U-shaped line in order of event.

    This will generally be straightforward, especially if you included dates or times on the cards.  However, some events may overlap, so you may need to facilitate discussions about the most logical order.  Sometimes two events occur simultaneously.

  4. Students are asked to present their events chronologically, retelling the main elements of the event and sharing an image if they have one. After each event is discussed, students suggest causes of the event, questions about the event, and effects of the

    It can be nice to record these ideas on chart paper or something else that can be saved, so that students can respond to their ideas in a later activity.

  5. Give students a timeline with dates, times, and step numbers, but with no corresponding events. In pairs or individually, students fill in events based on memory.

    This can be a nice follow-up homework activity.

    Some students may need to refer to notes to fill in events, but they should first try to do so from memory since this activity is meant to help students to create durable memories of a series of events.  If students struggle to remember events and their sequence at this stage of the activity, then they and you should talk and troubleshoot to try to identify ways in which to adapt this activity to make it more helpful to them.

  6. Students reflect on their learning process either in writing or discussion.

    Students should respond to questions such as:

    • How did focusing on chronology help you to understand the focus events?
    • How might this activity have affected your learning differently if you had filled out a timeline on paper?
    • How might this strategy help you in a different class or context?
Downloadable Resources 
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