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Tip of the Week: Timeline Game


By now, most of you have settled into a regular routine and are deep into your content. Materials have been passed out, seats have been assigned. You and your kids are busy gathering information and solving problems.

It’s the perfect time for a quick activity to assess prior knowledge before starting a unit or to measure their learning afterwards.

The Timeline game is a bit like a card sort activity. You’re asking kids to organize information into patterns that help them make sense of data. With a card sort activity, you typically use people, places, or vocabulary. A timeline activity will use events.

A basic outline of the strategy:

  1. Select 10-15 events that are important to understanding the unit or lesson. An example might be the different events that lead to the US Civil War or the causes of the Great Depression.
  2. Copy the events onto index cards or print them on slips of paper.
    (I like to create a document using the labels feature in Word and select Avery Feature 5395. This lets me print out the events, peel off the labels, and stick them on index cards. Makes it easier to edit the list and well . . . it just looks better. And if you can track down different colors of cards, use a different color of card for each group. This makes it so much easier when you’re picking up the cards afterwards – no mixing up the same events in the same piles.)
  3. Arrange students into groups of 3-5 kids.
  4. Pass out cards to groups.
    (A little competition is not a bad thing here. First group that correctly sorts their events wins . . . something of value. You decide but I’m not opposed to a little extra credit now and again.)
  5. Before revealing the correct order, have students rotate around the room to examine how other groups organized their lists.
    (Perhaps give groups the opportunity to re-arrange their list – knowing that their newly organized list may be incorrect.)

A couple of variations?

  • After completing their sort, students must select two events – the most important event and the least important. They need support their selection with arguments.
  • Younger kids might enjoy hanging the cards on strings you’ve hung across your room. Afterwards, leave the correct version hanging as a sort of word wall of events that you can refer back to throughout the unit. Add additional events and people as you go along.
  • Create additional cards that include dates, descriptions, and places. Have students match these new cards with their event cards. Or have students create their own date, description, and place cards as they work their way through the unit.
  • Use the iCard Sort app to create this same activity for mobile devices.
  • Need some help creating a list of events? I found a sweet site with ready made cards.
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