Timelines are a teaching aid we use to help explain how different verb tenses are used. They are a visual representation of the passage of time.
This is an empty timeline:
Here, the timeline shows an event in the past (last night) and can be used to explain the past simple:
Last night we ate curry.
For explaining continuous tenses, we tend to use a wiggly line:
Next month he is making a film.
Using Timelines in Class
Timelines are extremely useful to use in class.
Their main advantage is that they give a visual reference as to how a verb tense is used. Students can immediately see how the verb works and for many students this helps a great deal rather than just writing down how it’s used and trying to learn that.
Also, timelines can be mixed and matched: as a teacher you can put several different verb tenses on the same timeline (see the video for an example) and they’re easy to draw up, change and erase as you need them.
Remember though, the first time you use a timeline with a class you will need to carefully explain it to them so they understand. It doesn’t take much though and they will become commonplace in your grammar explanations!
Simple Timeline Activities
An interesting activity for the classroom is getting the students to prepare a Life Timeline. Ideally the teacher should prepare their own timeline first as an example and to encourage the students with their timelines.
This is an abbreviated version. It contains both serious and frivolous items.
There are different ways of exploiting this idea.
1) Students prepare their own timelines. They are all anonymous; the teacher collects them and hands out one at random to a student who reads it out: In 1994 this person went to Spain; in 1998 they were living in Seoul; next year they are going to France on holiday, etc with the rest of the class trying to guess who it is.
2) Students interview and prepare timelines for each other. When were you born? When did you go to university? How long have you been married? When are you going to graduate?
Using an timeline (historical ones are useful here) students can convert between them and written texts. For example, give the students a timeline of the highlights of space exploration. From this they must write a narrative based on that timeline:
In 1957 Sputnik 1 was launched. It was the first man-made object in space…
Alternatively, give the students a written text and ask them to read it for comprehension and then prepare a timeline based on the salient facts in that text.