Social Sundays: It's about time and context

Sometimes, I think a lesson is going to be great, and then it falls flat. So, if I'm clever, I can change it on the fly. But sometimes that doesn't happen, and I'm struggling to salvage what learning can happen in the time the students are with me. That's always frustrating. 

But other times a class just soars - students are engaged, learning is happening, you can feel the energy. Those are the wonderful moments where I just think: "yes, it worked." I was surprised to have that happen with a notebook timeline I created mostly as an after thought when we were examining World War II

As happens with many projects and activities in my class, this activity was student-inspired.  I had overheard some students talking about how they just didn't get exactly what happened in World War II. We were building an illustrated timeline, but it was slow going mixed in with our other activities. We were going deep, but students didn't have an overall arc or context in which to anchor the deeper learning on cryptology, propaganda and other topics. I knew that the anchor was important. but also that I didn't want it to take too much time. What could we do in one class period that wasn't just reading or a lecture but could provide context as well as a reference point for students? 

Nothing came to me right off, but as often happens, a run kick-started the creative juices. I put together a quick timeline activity for student interactive notebooks. I know we were already doing a timeline, but this one was a just the facts (color-coded) for each student. I hoped it would work. 

What we did: 

I premade rectangles with the events and dates on it and had a set for each student. Students drew lines down the center of their notebook page and wrote Allied at the top of one and Axis at the top of the other. Ready with glue sticks, scissors and colored pencils, students cut out the events and glued them to the appropriate side of their timeline. Then, they created a color code for each country and colored each slip according to the country involved. Not only could students see the events as they unfolded but Germany's aggressiveness in the first half of the war was immediately apparent with the colors. The students loved it- I mean how fun is it to cut, glue and color! Plus, they spent time analyzing different countries roles and where to put events. I loved the surprise when students discovered that the Soviet Union had invaded Finland at the beginning of the war and was to some extent with Germany, but then switched sides after Germany invaded them. And most importantly, they had that anchor to create a context for all the other higher level thinking activities we were doing. 

The activity was such a big hit that I have since done similar activities with other eras. I turned it into a collaborative activity for the American Revolution which was fun as well because we could hang everyone's timeline and compare.  Students added illustrations to those which brought in my visual Learners. 

 Who knows how else it could be used? Have ideas...share in the comments below. Or I'd love to hear how you provide context without lecturing.

Top links from last week's Social Sundays: My Take on Exit Tickets blog post by Stephanie's History and Renaissance activity bundle from Education with DocRunning.

Social Sundays is a 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 on Facebook or at the store in the question and answer section.



  1. This is an awesome idea for WWII! What a great way to show the role of the different powers during the war. I just created a WWII board (aka "Secret" until I have a few more pins) on Pinterest so I could add this post!

    1. Cool... please send me the link when you do. I bet I can find some cool WWII resources to add to my unit. For some reason, I love studying World War II. Also, there is a freebie of World War II nonfiction and fiction resources if you want to check it out.


    2. Awesome list! Especially great for reading teachers that do a WWII unit.

      I will let you know when the board goes live. :)


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