I don’t make my kids memorize dates for every single event. I do need them to know the Civil War happened before WW2, that JFK was a president after FDR, and for our curriculum that the XYZ Affair happened during Adams’ presidency, but I don’t expect them to remember the day/month/year for every single event (though of course events such as the Emancipation Proclamation and Pearl Harbor are an exception).
I gathered lately that my 7th graders brain dumped more than I expected over the summer, because when we got to our first big timeline last semester (it covered 2 units and included about 35 events without dates) they acted like it was the hardest thing they had ever done in school. I was surprised at how much they struggled with it (even my higher level students) so I backtracked and reviewed the basics with them. Since their initial timeline freakout, they’ve become much more confident in putting them together and in about a week we’ll see how they do with another big 2 unit timeline.
This is what I did to get the whole class on the same page with this skill. For clarification, this took 10-15 minutes each day from start to finish but I have my students for 90 minute blocks so I have some flexibility with taking time for skills reinforcement.
Day 1—On the board: we first reviewed a timeline of events that happened during the school year to make sure everyone was on the same page in terms of what chronological order means and what a timeline looks like. I started by writing 5 jumbled events on the board, my kids discussed the correct chronological order, and I had a volunteer come to the board to write them in order.
Once the class agreed that what was on the board was correct, I wrote 10 events that had happened during the school year (again jumbled up), and in pairs at their desks they put them in chronological order. This first time was without months or dates, it was just determining which event happened earliest to latest (such as taking school ID pictures, having Labor Day off, coming to school in a Halloween costume, having our fall pep rally, and taking midterms).
Day 2—At their desks: they thought of 5 random events from their own lives and wrote them down on a piece of paper in the order they thought of them. Then, they rewrote them in chronological order. After having a discussion on a few of the timelines and making sure everyone done their own correctly, they came up with 5 more events and inserted them in the appropriate place on their personalized timeline.
This is when I (re)introduced integrating dates (since it was from their own lives it would be easier to know the months/years and match them to events). Using their life timelines, they practiced putting months and years next to the events and making sure everything was still correctly chronological. At this point, the class seemed to have a good grasp on timelines.
Day 3—On the board: I had 5 events jumbled on the board from the topic we had just finished on the board. As a whole class, we discussed their correct chronological order, but some students started struggling again.
Some of my kids said things like, “but how do I know what happened when,” to which I responded with something along the lines of, “would the Goliad Massacre have happened before or after the first battle of the Texas Revolution,” and the struggling student said “after” so I said “yes, and which battle was the first one,” and with that answer, we put the Battle of Gonzalez at the top of the list, left some space, and then we wrote the Goliad Massacre.
Then the same student said “well that one was easy…but how do we know when all the things in between the first battle and the Treaty of San Jacinto (because I’d at least made that stick for her) happened in relation to each other?” So I had her study the other events from the board and I said, “think about what we know about the Texas Revolution. Which one happened first, or before another one? In other words, which one did we talk about first in class, and what did we only just finish talking about?”
After a whole class discussion and looking information up in their notes, the rest of the events were inserted into the timeline correctly and I had them wipe the sweat off their foreheads (haha).
The final step was pairing them up and giving each pair 10 events to put in chronological order. When each pair was done we discussed the correct order of events. There weren’t any tears or sweating so I felt ok about it all and I hoped, fingers crossed, they could do this again a bit more independently.
Day 4—Repeat day 3 but with 15 different events
When you see your students struggling with a social studies skill you thought (or assumed) they had down pat, how do you backtrack and address it? I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts in the comments 🙂