Today in American History…or the Neverending Time Line

While not to be confused with my “This day in history” post, the idea for “Today in American History” came to me as I was searching through the forum for older posts I had neglected. At most every level of education students are asked to create time lines. I’ve seen everything from 3rd grade “all about me” time lines to 11th grade “events leading up to World War II” time lines. What I haven’t seen though is an anchor time line activity; a time line that could be introduced and worked on heavily at the beginning of the year by the entire class, or classes if you’re teaching at the secondary level. Once the students have a good idea of how to go about adding to the time line, you could then allow them to work on it whenever they have work time, free time, or use it as bell work and/or the first 5 minutes of each hour as the students get settled for the lesson.

After seeing BionicTeacher’s post about the Digital History website, I started thinking about how a class could manage their own time line of American history without it becoming completely unmanageable or stretching around the room several times. Using PowerPoint, or another presentation program, students could quickly visit a number of bookmarked daily history sites and create a slide for the current day. As the year went on, the presentation would get longer, so navigation slides might be necessary (great opportunity for creating a dynamic, interactive presentation). Or, you could elect to go the online route, and using a wiki or blog (lots of free educational sites that offer these) you could create an online time line for easy archiving and referencing outside of the classroom. Using sites such as the Library of Congress’s Today in History, the History Channel’s This Day in History, or others, students could quickly cull what information was needed and then post it as a new blog entry or add it to the wiki (a great way to practice documenting online sources).

When it comes down to it, it doesn’t even have to be an American history time line, I just started with what I knew. Any History class could easily find sites that have moments in world history or information about history in other nations or regions. And the time lines wouldn’t necessarily have to be limited to Social Studies or History classes either. Math teachers could have students working on a “Today in Mathematics History” time line in which important mathematical thinkers and new developments are highlighted. Literature and writing courses could always create their own writer’s almanac (to compete with Garrison Keillor’s on NPR), and science classes could even create “Important Breakthroughs in Science” time lines. Words, images, videos, and even music could all be used to create a media-rich time line online, opening up learning opportunities for many different learning types. Once the initial investment of time is put in at the beginning of the year, you could post the guidelines for creation and posting near the computers in your room, and let the kids go at it, having students work on a rotating basis each week or day.

The real challenge would be getting students that I only see once a week to create a history of computers time line here in the lab. Perhaps the holiday break will give me some time to think about it.


  1. Digital History is a great resource! Tons of activities and ideas. I’ve shared it with my middle and high school teachers and received wonderful responses. I wish I’d known about this when I was teaching American History!

    Thanks for sharing ~ Danita

  2. And that makes it all worth it! Thanks for taking the time to mention that Digital History is worth the trip to check out. Too often I’m dissappointed by my inability to be on top of every resource that pops up, and try out every site that comes along, so it’s especially nice to know that the resources posted on the forum by colleagues are indeed worthwhile resources for others. I think that too often we’re so busy listening to everyone in their Ivory Towers talk about education that we miss some of the truly great gems and resources out there in our search for the “next big thing”.

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