This is my second post in a series of posts going ‘Back to Basics‘, re-examining techniques and ideas introduced on teacher training courses.
What is a timeline?
A timeline is a visual representation of the relationships that exist between tense and time. They are simple drawings which can illustrate the meaning of these sometimes, let’s face it, rather complex relationships.
- Timelines can illustrate meaning in a much simpler way than using metalanguage to describe tenses (e.g. ‘we use this tense to talk about something that began in the past and continues up to the present’).
- Used alongside concept checking questions, they can reinforce meaning.
- They may appeal to more visual learners.
What can timelines be used for?
Timelines are mainly used in the EFL classroom to represent grammatical tenses.
I’ve deliberately chosen a difficult tense to exemplify how a timeline can illustrate a complex idea much more simply. A teacher explanation might go something like ‘we use this tense to talk about something that began in the past and will continue up to a particular point of time in the future.’ – a lot of information to process there.
The nuts and bolts of timelines
- A basic timeline is labelled with ‘past’, ‘now’, and ‘future’, as appropriate.
- Specific points in time can be added using a X.
- Arrows can be added to show connections between times.
- Wavy lines can be added to represent actions in progress (useful for continuous tenses)This could represent ‘This time tomorrow I’ll be flying to Italy’.
Tweaking your timelines
- Adding simple pictures can make timelines even more visual.This could represent ‘I used to play the saxophone’.
A simple idea, but effective. Some other great examples can be found in ‘Basic English Usage’ by Michael Swan.