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I’ve got a new fav. It’s called Timeline and it’s awesome

timeline game box

It seems like I have a new favorite of some kind pretty much every week. And so, yes, today I have a new favorite game. I found it at the MidAmerica Nazarene Center for Games & Learning – the CGL is hosting their first conference today and I had the chance to do a couple of cool things as a part of the event.

One of the things I got to do today was to deliver the opening keynote. We had a great time having a conversation about how play and board games can be an important part of instruction and learning. I also had the opportunity to participate in a couple of breakout sessions.

The first session was hosted by Assistant Professor of History Elizabeth Horner. Elizabeth was one of the bleeding edge practitioners on the MNU campus who volunteered to integrate game-based learning – specifically the use of tabletop games – into her spring 2015 semester.

She led a conversation this morning focused on her experience using tabletop games to teach world and US history. She suggested that there are three ways to use games in classroom:

Introduce content

  • Spark excitement / interest
  • Demonstrate knowledge gap

Reinforce content

  • Give concrete example for an abstract concept
  • Her example is a board game called Roll Through the Ages. She had students read articles on how population growth can put strains on society. But population is important for growth and advancement – this can be difficult for students to reconcile. After reading the documents, students played the game. During the debrief session after game play, kids were saying things likes “now I get how important population is because I played the game and it reinforced the content in the documents.”

Teaching content

  • Convey information
  • Simulate an event or experience
  • Create an emotional connection to content
  • Her example for this was a surprise. Oregon Trail. Yup. Oregon Trail. She had her students read lots of primary sources on Oregon Trail. They sourced them and discussed the specific content. Then the kids played the game. Elizabeth said the “choices students make in the game are richer because of the new knowledge.” She also made them keep a log of their games and the decisions they made. They get emotionally invested. And the cool thing is that most kids today have never played the game before so even though it’s a simple game, it’s new to them. Even her college kids got into it because it was connected to actual events.

Okay. My new favorite game? It’s called Timeline and Elizabeth uses it to introduce content. It’s easy to learn and fast to play. Timeline is basically a collection of cards. Each card has an event or thing on one side. The other side has a date. Each player gets four cards, date side down. The top card on the draw pile is flipped over to revealed the date. Players then take turns placing one of their cards in what they hope is the correct chronological order. Once placed, the player flips over the card to see if it is the correct order. The goal is to get rid of your four cards. If a card is placed in the wrong place, the card is discarded and you have to draw another card. 

At the beginning, pretty simple. But as more and more cards are placed in the timeline, it becomes more difficult placing your last card. There are several different options of the game – Inventions, Discoveries, History, US History, Music and Cinema, and Diversity.

The reason that Timeline is awesome is that it is quick and easy to use. And there are so many ways that it can support both entry level and high levels of learning. The first thing to remember is that the game is fun to play. And at it’s simplest level, Timeline reinforces what kids already know and provides you (and your students) with immediate formative assessment information about what they know and don’t know. 

Elizabeth uses the game to collect formative assessment information about the content knowledge of her kids. She uses it to encourage contextual thinking – kids would ask questions like “what was this item made from?” and “who was involved with the event?”

During the upcoming fall semester, she plans to have kids modify the game.

How can you make the game better?

This might include such changes to play the game in teams, to keep discards in the line, maybe play alone. She also plans to have kids participate in conversations about why the deck contains the cards it does and how the developers decided to put those cards in the game and not others. I think this sort of game is also handy for creating engaging writing prompts or for helping students develop their own TImeline sets.

timeline game

Playing Timeline. I didn’t win.

I really like this game. It truly is much more fun to play then it sounds. And it’s a perfect example of how to integrate a game into your instruction.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Shannon #

    My 6th gr gifted students love these. There are multiple boxes on a variety of topics throughout history including inventions and scientific discoveries.

    July 31, 2015
    • glennw #


      Great to hear from a K-12 teacher who uses these! I’m planning to try the game with some HS / MS teachers next week to get some more feedback from them but if the game works with 6th graders and college kids . . . pretty much universal.

      Thanks for sharing!


      August 1, 2015
  2. I love how this game works. I could play it with my family and actually have a blast playing it. Thank you for sharing the game with us.

    August 3, 2015
    • glennw #

      You’re welcome! I’ll be playing with my family tonight. Have fun!


      August 3, 2015

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