A Human Timeline activity requires students to learn about a particular event and then line up with peers according to their events’ chronology. This strategy uses movement to help students understand and remember the order of events.
Select Timeline’s Content
Establish a context for the chronology you want students to focus on. If you are studying a particular moment in history, such as the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, you would want students to be aware of key events that led up to this moment. Sometimes you also want students to know what occurred after the focal event. You should aim to include enough events on the timeline so that each student, or pairs of students, can be assigned one event.
In preparation for this activity, we suggest placing each of the events on an index card or a standard-size sheet of paper, along with the date when it occurred. Rather than distributing the timeline slips randomly, you might want to give certain students easier or more challenging items, depending on their strengths and weaknesses. When students present their timeline events, it is best if they are sitting or standing so that they are able to see and hear each other. This activity often works best if students stand or sit in a U-shaped line rather than in a straight-line formation.
Students Prepare for Presentations
Assign each student one event from the period that you are highlighting. Each event should be described along with the date it occurred. Whether students work individually or in pairs, here is an example of instructions you can provide:
Read over your timeline event once or twice.
Rewrite the timeline item in your own words. If you are having trouble writing the statement in your own words, ask for help.
An extension of this activity asks students to create or find an image that corresponds with their event.
Build Your Human Timeline
Invite students to line up in the order of their events. Then, have students present their events. After each event is presented, students can suggest possible causes of the event and can pose questions about what happened and why. These questions can be posted on the board for students to answer later.
Evaluate Students’ Learning (Optional)
After all students have presented their events, sometimes teachers give students a timeline with relevant dates but no descriptions. Based on what they recall from the class timeline activity, students then complete this written timeline. This can be done individually or in small groups. Sometimes teachers ask students to add images to their timelines.