Creating a Timeline Using Newsela with Secondary Students

Students create a timeline highlighting key events centered around a specific topic
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Reviewing Timeline with Students

About This Strategy

A timeline is a tool that students can use to track key events or details as they relate to a historical topic or event. In this strategy, students read multiple articles related to a certain event or social movement and highlight key events or dates as they read. Then, students determine which ten events were most significant and plot them on a timeline.  Afterwards, students determine how this event or movement has influenced the US and/or the world.

Before Reading Implementation Steps

Teacher Preparation and Planning:

  1. Select or create a Newsela Text Set. Be sure that each of the selected articles has appropriate events with dates based on the curriculum and objectives.

  2. Create a timeline using your Text Set ahead of time to make sure it spans the right amount of time and has an appropriate amount of information for the task.

  3. Decide if students will work independently or in pairs/groups.

  4. Either share the blank timeline and closure questions with students electronically or make hard copies for students to use (see the resources section below).

  5. Gather post-its and/or note cards for student to use as they read the texts and organize events.

Student Preparation:

  1. In order to introduce students to the concept of a timeline, ask students to write down five significant events from each of the following time periods of their lives:

    • early childhood

    • elementary school

    • middle/high school.

  2. Then, ask students to select the top ten most significant events from their lives, explaining that common events can be combined where appropriate.

  3. Ask students: "How did you make your selections?" and "What makes an event significant?" (See slides 1-3 of the Timeline Activity: Civil Disobedience presentation in the resources section below for guidance.)

During Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Assign a Newsela Text Set with articles related to a specific event or social movement.

  2. Have students read the articles in the Text Set, highlighting significant events and dates as they read.

After Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Have students go back into the articles and decide which dates are most significant. Have students write each significant event (including the date) on a separate post-it or note card. Then, have students place these events in order. This can also be done electronically if teachers/students prefer.

    • Explain to students that it is a requirement for them to paraphrase the information from the articles about the event on their note cards. This is essential for students to process the information and effectively comprehend the material.

  2. Have students then decide which events should be omitted or combined to determine the top ten events.

    • Additional practice may be needed during this part. See slides 6-7 in the Timeline Presentation in the resources section below for an example of further practice.

  3. Have students place their top ten events on the blank timeline sequentially. This can be done on paper or electronically based on teacher/student preference. See the resources section below for a copy of the Blank Timeline and samples of completed timelines for the Newsela Text Sets featured.

  4. Instruct students to meet in small groups to share their timelines. Group members can compare timelines and discuss why they chose the ten events on their timelines.  

  5. Hand out closure questions (see a generic version called Timeline Closure Questions or a more specific Civil Disobedience Closure Questions in resources section below) and allow students time to answer questions individually.

  6. Students share and discuss answers to the closure questions as a class:

    • Which event would you most like to have witnessed? Why?

    • How has this event/movement influenced the US and/or the world?

    • What did you realize when you plotted these events sequentially on the timeline?

Recommended Newsela Texts or Text Sets

Timeline: Civil Disobedience

  • Essential Question: How has civil disobedience been used to create social change?
  • Grade Level: 6-12
  • Content Area: SS/ELA

Timeline: The Women's Rights Movement

  • Essential Question: What key people and events have helped to shape the Women's Rights Movement?
  • Grade Level: 6-12
  • Content Area: SS, ELA

Text Set Title: Timeline: Plate Tectonics

  • Essential Question: How did the theory of plate tectonics develop?
  • Grade Level: 6-12
  • Content Area: Science

Extended Timeline

To get a much broader understanding of events/social movements throughout history, it is essential to look back at the roots of such movements and also determine how they affect society today. These extended Text Sets require students to plot a much larger timespan and include a more comprehensive summary of the events. Instead of limiting students to ten events, all significant events should be placed on the timeline.

Implementation Steps:

  1. Assign one of the extended Newsela Text Sets in the resources section below or create your own.

  2. Provide a copy of the advanced blank timeline (in the resources section below) and allow students to use as many sheets as needed to complete their advanced timeline.

Special Education Modification

Gathering information from a variety of sources and determining which events are most significant may be overwhelming to students with a learning disability. If this the case, there are a variety of modifications teachers can use to allow all students to feel successful with this task.


  • Provide a timeline with the dates already written for students. This is a great modification for students who struggle with executive functioning, processing disorders, or other disabilities that may make a blank timeline feel overwhelming.

  • An additional modification for those significantly struggling with this task would be to have the dates and events already printed out. Students could read the articles and use what they learn to match the dates with their corresponding events. Then students could place them in order to create a timeline.

Questions to Consider

  • What essential questions do you want the completed timeline to answer?

  • How can you draw connections between this activity and other events/social movements in your curriculum?

Teacher Tips

Christine Scoppa
Newsela Master Teacher
  • Be sure to complete the timeline activity using the Text Set you create (or look over the ones I've provided) before assigning the activity to your students. I had to modify my Text Sets a few times to get them to cover an appropriate time frame and include a manageable amount of information.

  • Allowing students to complete the timeline by logging onto is a great option for tech-savvy students. See the Lucidchart link in the resources section below.

  • Because determining what is most significant can be subjective, students' timelines will vary.  Looking at the differences and allowing students to defend their choices helps students to be invested in their learning and take ownership of their decision making.