Learning about Time

Please note: this guide was written before the 2014 National Curriculum and some of the advice may no longer be relevant.

History is concerned with lives, events, situations and developments in time and through time, so chronology is central to its understanding.

A class timeline is an essential element of any history unit. It gives the children a framework for understanding and organising the historical period: when it all happened, what happened at that time (the key events), how things developed or stayed the same (change and continuity) and the sequence of events.

We never use ready-made timelines, but engage the children in constructing timelines of lives, events, periods. Our timelines can take the form of string-and-peg sequences, wall or artefact displays or chronicle and diary writing. We utilise numbers, pictures, artefacts, and the written word (captions, labels, explanations, accounts).

Some useful chronological activities for children to engage in:

  • Sequencing pictures or artefacts (such as for local history, buildings according to period built; for Britain since 1930, fashions or inventions)
  • Comparing now and then (how did people travel to school or work then, and how do they travel now; or how many hours a day did children in the mines work compared with children's work at school today)
  • Comparing the features of different decades within a period
  • Building up class timelines (such as incrementally over the course of a unit; or selecting key events from topic books to place on a skeleton timeline showing decades)
  • Selecting key events (or headlines) of the decade (or year)
  • Writing logs, chronicles or diaries of events such as Viking raids, the course of the Spanish Armada, the Jarrow march, the Great Fire of London
  • Compiling personal life timelines (for themselves, or for key historical characters such as 'Henry VIII: This is Your Life'). 

Short lesson exemplars


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