Personal Timeline

Rebecca Teed & Carrie Wright
Earth & Environmental Sciences, Wright State University; Dept. of Geology & Physics, University of Southern Indiana
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: February 23, 2012 | Reviewed: November 3, 2013


Students start this worksheet by listing the most important events in their own lives, plotting them on a timeline, and then doing the same with Earth history events. Usually, their personal timelines will resemble the Earth history, with most events clustered close to the present, and they need to explain why this clustering occurs.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



It could be used in a variety of introductory geoscience courses or with middle-school or high-school students. I have tested it in geoscience courses for pre-service teachers (junior and senior education majors).

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students will need to be able to measure, and have a rough concept of proportionality.

How the activity is situated in the course

This project has been assigned as homework.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Review or learn about some of the major events in Earth history
Observe that the major events with which we are familiar and consider important are generally clustered close to the present
Learn that many of the older layers in the rock record are harder for us to retrieve or to understand than the newer ones

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Proportional reasoning
The use of analogy
Pattern-recognition (and explanation)

Other skills goals for this activity

Drawing timelines to scale

Description of the activity/assignment

For this homework assignment, students have to draw two scaled timelines. The first is a personal timeline. They need to come up with the events themselves, an easy task that will build confidence for student who are intimidated by science and math. Following guidelines, they decide on a scale, and draw a linear timeline on which they plot their chosen events. Most students will primarily include recent events. They are asked to identify and explain any patterns in their timeline. Students should note the clustering at the present, and describe the emphasis on the present as resulting from memory, relevance to future hopes and worries, etc.

The second timeline is more traditional. The students are given 16 Earth history events with dates and asked to draw another timeline, using the procedure from the personal timeline, but the line is already drawn for them. They will probably recognize most of the events on the list, and will be keeping them in order and spacing them out on the timeline. They are once again asked to identify and explain patterns and should recognize the emphasis on the present. This time, availability of fossils/rocks and relevance to current conditions and problems are good answers.

Determining whether students have met the goals

From an assessment perspective, the most important thing is for the students to notice the way that events cluster on both timelines, and to create parallel explanations for that clustering.

After the first few classes, the assignment was graded based on completeness, and adherence to directions (the introduction of grading increased the proportion of timelines actually drawn to scale).

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

A similar project, emphasizing different levels of scaling, is the Hierarchical Alignment of Timelines activity