Making a Life-Sized Timeline

Full disclosure, this is not an original idea, but I know good teaching when I see it, and this is a must do activity if you teach in special education and (bless you) take the time to teach social studies.

Many times when I find myself teaching historical content, I shudder at all the dates that come up in the content.  Of course, I want my students to have some general understanding of what happens first, second and last, but the actual dates are not that critical to me.  Having said that, I don’t always know what is important to my students.  Students with autism often have quirky interests and splintered skills.  So, I don’t want to leave the dates out all together.  Set your expectations high, and more often than not, your kiddos will surpass them and AMAZE you!!

So, how do you make dates and events in history have meaning to ALL your students?  Try making a life-sized timeline.  Here is what you need:

  • Identify a few major events in the subject material
  • Cardstock
  • Color printer (or colored pencils to color in yourself)
  • laminator (for durability and repeated use)
  • Make a timeline card on a piece of paper
  • OR, just print out the ones I have provided below FOR FREE

Once you have your cards printed, pass them out to the students.  Challenge them to see if they can put themselves in order.  There are lots of ways you can differentiate this.

  • Put single numbers (1,2,3) on the back of the card
  • Put a matching picture or image (or number) on the floor so student stands on the image they are holding
  • Use fewer cards for classes who have  more challenges

I would definitely recommend doing this exercise every day as part of your lesson plan.  In addition, if at all possible, I like to have the kids (in their communication mode of their choice) read their card as you go through the time line.  I also liked taping the cards up in the front of the room after the exercise is complete so the students can see the finished product from the front.  One last way that is super exciting to the kids is to video tape them reciting the finalized timeline.  It is another great review tool!

Finally, I like having students complete the same timeline in a smaller cut and paste format.  This helps with generalization and is something they can take home to review.  Of course, I have these included in all the units I have listed below (the link is in the free timeline you can download.)

Ready to try it?  Click below to download a life-sized timeline for FREE.   I hope you find this activity as engaging and impactful as I did.  You will receive an email with access to the following timelines.  Try one (or more) with your next history lesson!!

  1. War of 1812
  2. Colonial America
  3. Revolutionary War
  4. Civil War
  5. Slavery
  6. Harriet Tubman
  7. Great Depression


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