Social Sundays: Beyond the dates of a timeline

We don't spend a lot of times on specific dates in my social studies class. I'm firmly of the belief that if you can google it, you don't need to know it. In the real world when I can't remember a date, I google it. 

In my class, we tend to focus on the big ideas. Still, I have noticed that while I know generally when things happened, my students sometimes struggle with the context. So, I started using timelines with my students. 

 I love illustrated timelines, but those aren't always realistic in terms of time for research. So I thought about how to create an alternate activity that would: 1 provide context and 2 engage students. 

What I developed was what I call, for lack of a better word, notebook timelines which can be done individually in student notebooks or as a cooperative project. The basic activity goes like this: 

  • I pre make timeline slope for the given time period 
  • Students draw a timeline in their notebook 
  • Students glue the slips in the notebook in the appropriate order Students color code the timeline 
  • Students analyze the timeline.
Pretty basic. But the twist I add is providing contextual clues to think about. For example, for the age of exploration, I truly do not think it is of value if students know the exact year of DaGama's expedition, but it is interesting to discover that while Da Gama was exploring, Leonardo DaVinci was finishing The Last Supper

Since I started using these notebook timelines, I find that students are more inclined to make connections between different units and the development of the world. Students also demonstrate a better understanding for the context outside my class. Making these connections is a key part of understanding the big ideas in social studies and beyond into our community.

Social Sundays is a bi-weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.  



  1. With very very very few exceptions I totally agree...the dates are not important for students to spend their time and energy on, but rather the general order of things (I actually had a student once who didn't know if WWI or the Civil War happened first) and things like what event/treaty/person was related to Civil Rights, Women's Rights, the Reformation or the Renaissance, etc.

  2. I agree that it is not necessary to memorize the exact, specific date an event occurred or a person lived if it can be easily and quickly found online when needed. But I do think it's important to know generally when something happened and how it relates or connects to other things. Your contextual timeline is a great activity for accomplishing that!