Using Timelines to Enhance Comprehension

Educators may find timelines a useful strategy for a variety of educational purposes. They can be used to record events from a story or a history lesson in a sequential format. They can help students keep events in chronological order as they write summaries. But most important of all, they can also provide comprehension support to English language learners (ELLs), helping them make connections and recognize patterns in a series or process. Because numerical markers such as hours, years, days or months are placed apart with plenty of space in between, timelines can appear visually less complex than pure text, helping ELLs more easily relate events to their corresponding times. Both educators and parents can use timelines to help students organize information in a chronological sequence so that they can better understand growth, change, recurring events, cause and effect, and key events of historical, social, and scientific significance (Moline, 1995).

Key Benefits

Timelines provide ELLs with a visual framework that supports reading comprehension, whether it be in social studies, science (e.g., life cycles), or simply in fiction or nonfiction stories.

Suggested Activities

Early Elementary Grades (K-2)

  • Timelines can be introduced to help ELLs understand chronological events while they are gaining English vocabulary to expand their oral and written skills.
  • Students can create simple timelines in which they describe a day in their life, or they can describe what happened in a story they just heard or read.
  • Younger children might use visual images or drawings to represent events.

Elementary & Later Grades (3-12)

  • Timelines can be used at these grade levels to ensure that students have an in-depth understanding of chronological events in social studies, science and language arts.
  • At this level, timelines can represent more complex ideas. They should include complete sentences, with detailed information for each event.

PBS: A History of the Computer

A timeline of important events in the history of the computer.

Teaching With Timelines

This resource is a place where parents and educators can learn the many ways in which timelines can be used to support learning. A variety of formats are presented, including wall timelines and notebook timelines, and there are colorful photographs illustrating each one.

ReadWriteThink: Creating Timelines of a Life

Here teachers will find a well-planned lesson designed to guide students in creating a timeline about the life of a famous person. Students are shown how to explore multiple sources to gather information about their subject, and then they use an online "timeline tool" to organize their data.



Moline, S. (1995). I see what you mean: Children at work with visual information. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.


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