Be the first player to place all your cards in a timeline of historical events.
How to play video (1 minute)
Don’t let the simple premise of this game fool you into thinking it is only for history teachers.
This easy to play game comes in several popular versions. The mechanics of this card game are the same in each. Each card in the deck is two-sided. The top of the card has the name of a historical event or invention along with an illustration. The back side of the card is identical, but it also includes the date of the event. Players should not look at the bottom of the card until it is placed in a collaborative timeline.
The key mechanic here is collaborative deck construction. You work with other players to build a correct timeline of events using the cards dealt to you. Despite being a history teacher I’m not big on students memorizing dates. What’s more important is that they can tell me when an event happened in relation to other events. In other words, being able to sequence important information. That is also a critical language function and this underlaying principle makes Timeline a wonderful game to modify for use to teach sequencing.
This is a collaborative learning opportunity to be used whenever you want students to sequence, or order events. In can be used in science prior to a lab activity, in math to study the structure of an algorithm, in language arts to sequence events in a story, and in physical education to sequence acquisition of skills.
I play this game near the end of a unit and after students have acquired enough information to complete a timeline. I place students in groups of four and give them a blank deck of 12 index cards. On the screen, I list 12 events that occurred in Chinese history, in random order, and without dates. I ask student teams to create a 12 card deck which will have one card per event. They are to divide the work up evenly amongst themselves and add an original illustration to the card that reflects the significance of the event. In lieu of a date, I’ve designated a letter to take its place. Students add the letter to the card.
When the deck is complete, the first challenge is for individual players to place the 3 cards they’ve created in the correct sequence. As they are going about this, I walk around the room and pull cards aside that I see are out of order. This lets me work closely with my special education students. I encourage conversation between the team as the goal is correct placement of the cards. In the next round, adjacent players work in pairs to combine their 6 cards in a sequence. Again, I move about providing feedback. This also allows me to discover common misconceptions.
The last stage of the game is to merge all 12 cards into an ordered timeline.
Together, we do the “great reveal” whereby I produce a graphic slide deck and students share which event they have for each place on the timeline. It’s a time for review and to clarify misinformation as well as to give them an additional opportunity to reinforce a visual/graphical representation of each event.
A teacher in Singapore ran a version of this lesson with his students covering a sequence of events in the Korean War and his students really enjoyed the activity. His assessment was brilliant. At the conclusion of the sequencing activity and the great reveal, student teams all had the correct order of events in front of them. He then passed out an A3 sized sheet of paper with an empty graph on it to each team. The x-axis was time and the y-axis significance. He asked each team to place the same 5 cards on the graph in the correct sequence and then had them shift each card up or down to indicate its level of significance. An example of this can be seen below. Upon completing this task, teams presented their graphs and were asked to justify their reasoning.
Extending the learning
When sharing this idea with workshop attendees, I always receive interesting ideas and methods for extending the learning. One English teacher mentioned that this could be used to sequence major character development in a novel. Another suggested that, to increase the difficulty, two timelines could be generated, one identifying the actions of the protagonist and another the actions of the antagonist. That would lead students to compare and contrast character actions within each sequence. This would make a wonderful pre-writing activity addressing that topic.
The cards could also be different colors to signify especially important events, or events that will spin off another timeline sequence. With extra preparation, this activity could focus on generating 5-6 related, or parallel timelines. One for each group. The showcases activity would be all teams merging their respective timelines, or placing each so that they run parallel to each other. Students would then be able to visualize how events overlap (and perhaps support) each other.
The cards themselves could be further manipulated. Some could be placed sideways (like a domino) to indicate an event that might spin off another, shorter timeline.
Sequencing - Clearly applied in an engaging and simple to reproduce activity.
Cause and effect - In this case, the cards represent the series of events building up to an outcome. Students could be asked to assemble long chains that lead up to a particular effect. This would make for wonderful discussions and presentations by teams and generate powerful “what if” questions and predictions.
The 4Cs and SEL
Communication - This is another terrific game that generates a significant amount of student talk. I love to see kids trying to persuade each other that their sequence is correct.
Critical thinking - A bit more difficult to reach by playing this particular game. A follow-up activity may be necessary to get to the “why.”
Collaboration - This is a significant element of Timeline. Teams work hard to defeat the other teams and all members need to work together for a successful outcome.
Creativity - I like adding the illustration element to this game as it supports creativity and affirms to my students the importance of visualization. We use sketchnotes throughout the year, so I take every opportunity that comes along to reinforce those skills.
Social and Emotional Learning - Not an inherent element of this game, but builds upon the foundation I establish early in the school year to support playful learning, and as an opportunity to practice the skills necessary to self-manage emotions, build positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.