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Visual Timeline


Visual timelines are similar to traditional timelines, but include images or drawings. They are one tool to help students with the sequencing of events. They can be an effective tool for analyzing a piece of text by identifying the arc of a story, charting character development, or tracking specific events over the course of time. Visual timelines can also be helpful to students as a precursor to writing their own stories; they can sequence events or character development over time. They can be paper-based or electronic and include drawings by students or images they pull from online sources.

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Visualizing

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Reading
  • Writing

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Building Knowledge in the Discipline
  • Text-Based Answers


Decide on the purpose of the timeline. Create an assignment sheet that details the specifics. Create a sample timeline. Decide the format of the timeline: digital or paper-based.

Activity Steps 
  1. Introduce the purpose of the visual timeline.

    ยท Is it to analyze a piece of text or as a precursor for student writing? Is it a timeline of the arc of a story with key events or the development of a character over time?

  2. Share sample timelines with students.

    It is helpful here for the timeline that is shared to be specific to the assignment, rather than a sample of a timeline found online.

  3. Have students brainstorm a list of the important features to include on the timeline.

    This information is dependent on the assignment. For example, if they are following the arc of the story, students could brainstorm a list of the key events in chronological order. If it is a historical text you may want them to list key people, events, and dates.

  4. Students decide whether to create a paper-based or a digital timeline.

    You may skip this step if you have chosen the medium for them. Students can draw their own depictions using an online drawing tool, or search for images that represent their event. If students are creating a paper-based timeline, it is important to reinforce that artistic ability is not key to success with this activity.

  5. Students create the visual timeline.

    If students are producing a digital visual timeline, a mini-lesson on the technology would be needed here. See http://bit.ly/1rM90XI for a variety of digital visual timeline tools.

  6. Students reflect.

    Sample questions include: How is the timeline useful to you as a reader/writer? In what other situations or subjects might a visual timeline be useful?

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