The human timeline teaching strategy uses movement to help students understand and remember the chronology of events.
Step One: Selecting content for your timeline
Establish a context for the chronology you want students to focus upon. 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 focus event. You want enough events on your timeline so that each student, or pairs of students, can be assigned one event.
Step two: Preparation
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 have are sitting or standing so that they are able to see and hear each other. Therefore, this activity often works best if students stand or sit in a U-shaped line, rather than in a straight line formation.
Step three: Individual or pairs prepare timeline 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:
1. Read over your timeline event once or twice.
2. 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.
Step four: Building your human timeline
Invite students to line up in the order of their events. Then, students present their event. After an 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.
Step five (optional): Retaining information and evaluation
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 human timeline activity, students complete this timeline. This can be done individually or in small groups. Sometimes teachers ask students to add images to their timelines.