Timeline activity helps foster a spirit of activism
"It is that long-term change that I think we must see if we are not to lose hope."
-- Howard Zinn
In an effort to promote an understanding of Zinn's quote, I assign a positive-negative timeline as a culminating activity in my United States History or Social Psychology classes. The theme of the timeline is a history of tolerance and intolerance in the United States.
I ask students to narrow their focus to one group, otherwise the project could be potentially overwhelming. For example, students may focus their research on the poor, racial or ethnic groups, religious groups or women.
Using notes and other resources such as books, videos and the Internet, students brainstorm a list of events to include in their timelines. Students then rank their timeline events according to their perceived historical significance. The most significant positive ranking would be a +5, and the most significant negative ranking would be a -5. For example, if a student chooses to focus on African Americans, she may include the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., ranking it as a -5.
These positive and negative events rise and fall above a horizontal line, which represents zero.
I generally require at least 30 events to be included in the timeline, with a relatively even distribution between positive and negative. On the back of the timeline, students create a key that includes all 30 numbered items, with brief explanations of each.
Timelines are made of various materials -- graph paper, construction paper or tag board, for example. Some students complete the entire project on the computer. I also encourage students to include visuals in their timeline.
When the timelines are complete, I display them on walls throughout the high school.
My primary objective in assigning this project is to foster a spirit of activism within students. I would hope that students, equipped with knowledge and understanding, would take what they learned in the classroom, and move beyond it in an effort to make the world a better place -- just as some of the figures on their timelines did.
Richland Center High School
Soldiers Grove, Wis.