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It’s about time: a round-up of time-lining tools

Timelines are a perfect tool for inquiry projects. They force students to see contexts; to make critical decisions about relative importance; to make connections among people, events and movements; to visualize history and processes; to discover patterns and sequences; to examine cause and effect; and to juxtapose content from across disciplines and media.

We now have a seriously growing array of tools to help us build timelines with learners to support that kind of mind work.

History in Motion:  Founder Paul Cashman describes his goals as:Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 10.52.21 AM

  • to improve the teaching, learning, and experiencing of history for everyone from grade-school students to lifelong learners.
  • to build a Wikipedia-like community of history enthusiasts who create, exchange, and discuss historical scenarios.

History in Motion allows users to create multimedia scenarios that move through space and time.  Working with maps and source materials, using any timescale, users can tell narrated stories; create, animate and customize paths; link to media; specify start and end times using calendar prompts; and embed descriptions of events. The animation feature allows timeline creators to make armies move, cities grow, and fires spread with a few mouse clicks and control the rate at which historical time passes.  The site offers a basic icon library as well as the ability to import your own icons. A series of how-to videos simplifies the process for new users. Final projects may be shared with permalinks or embedded.  Community members may build on others’ scenario projects (by making a copy, keeping the original scenario intact) and enable others to build on their work.

(Users are also encouraged and guided to add their own geocoded maps.)

Here’s a quick-start video describing the process of scenario building.

HSTRY is another serious multimedia timelining contender.  Create your own timeline or use the Explore tab to examine the HSTRY created library of CCSS-aligned timelines created by experts and educators or shared community timelines. Teachers create their own online classrooms in which they can view all their students’ timelines.

Timelines display with notes of minimum appropriate age ranges. They may be shared with classes and/or with the HSTRY community.  Timelines scroll vertically and may contain any type of media, including your own quizzes. As a civic engagement strategy, students are encouraged to comment on timelines.

The HSTRY Handbook for Teachers, a bundle of timelines, guides educators in getting started.

The thing about some of these tools is that their affordances are often exploited for unexpected and kinda fabulous alternate purposes. The site shares both standard and some outside-the-box suggestions for using HSTRY in the classroom, including:

examples for portfolio building:

examples of use in note-taking:

examples of storytelling in history:

examples of use for geographical inquiry:

examples of use as a communication tool:

While basic use of HSTRY is free, a $49 Premium subscription allows teachers to

  • View an unlimited number of Student Timelines
  • Save timelines offline as PDFs
  • Print timelines
  • Access HSTRY’s social studies content

Timeline JS from Northwestern University’s Knight Lab, is authentically used by journalists.  It allows anyone to create and collaborate on professional-looking, media-rich, slide-based embedable timelines using a Google spreadsheet template. Users copy and paste the URL of their published spreadsheets into a Timeline JS box to generate a sharable, embeddable timeline.  Creators may bring in a variety of media types, including content from a wide array of social media–Twitter, Storify, Google Maps, Instagram, Flickr, Document Cloud and much more.  If Timeline JS doesn’t recognize a media URL, it will use to try to include the content on your slide.

Here are a few examples of Timeline JS timelines:

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 12.38.26 PMTimeglider: Web-based, free for students and modestly priced for teachers, Timeglider offers a collaborative, data-driven approach to timelining. Timelines may be public or private. Events are created using a calendar tool. Timelines may include descriptions, images, media, and tags.  Images may be grabbed from the library or uploaded. The Timeglider folks describe a handy zoom feature as the tool’s special sauce.  Users may relate the size of an event to its importance by assigning it an importance level from 1 to 100 to avoid crowding.  As a viewer zooms in, less important events come into view.  The ability to create event spans allow views to examine overlapping durations. Published timelines are assigned URLs and embed code for easy sharing.

Check out these samples:

CIA Leak Case

A History of Idaho

Word Origins

Wright Brothers

MyHistro for education: Was awarded a 2013 AASL Best Website.  MyHistro are slide-based and may be collaborative and may include maps, images, videos and blogging.  Stories can be shared or made private.  Comments may be turned on or off. Stories made be viewed as automatic or manual slideshows or as chronological lists of events.  Final projects are easily shared with links, embed code or downloaded in KLM (Google Earth) or CSV formats.  MyHistro plays nice with Edmodo.

This presentation explains MyHistro’s features.

You may also be interested in phpThumb_generated_thumbnail

RWT (ReadWriteThink) Timeline: an easy to use, drag and drop interactive that allows users to create timelines displaying labels with descriptive text and images. Timelines content is organized by date, time or event.  Available also as an iOS or Android app.

Dipity:  The free, attractive, collaborative and popular timelining tool allows users to create horizontal timelines integrating video, audio, images, text, links, social media, location and time stamps. Dipsters share lots of fun and trending content.  But because this is not specifically designed for education, the community, and often the homepage, may display some distracting and possibly offensive content.

Storify: This fabulous social media curation tool allows users to drag and drop social media into a timeline and connect it with your own narrative.

I know I got a bit lost in time in this post.

Here’s summary of timeline links:


Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Irene Fenswick says

    Thank you, Joyce, for your article. It’s worth a repost.

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