How to Read Timelines

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

Timelines can teach you a lot about both historical and personal events if you know how to read them. In this lesson, you will learn how to read the title, time periods, and events on a timeline.

What is a Timeline?

A timeline is an easy way to show events in the order they happened. You may see a lot of timelines when you study history and biographies. Sometimes you also find timelines as part of a plan, such as for a vacation or business.

A timeline is a great way to see an overview of what happened or what is being planned. Let's look at a sample timeline to learn how to read the parts of a timeline.

Beach Vacation Timeline


The title of the timeline will tell you what type of information it contains. This timeline has the title 'Megan's Beach Vacation.' That tells us that the events on this timeline happened during Megan's vacation at the beach.

Time Periods

A timeline is broken up into even periods of time. You need to look at these to find out if the timeline you are reading is broken up into days, months, years, decades (10 years), or centuries (100 years).

The sample timeline has lines labeled 'Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.' It is broken up into days. We can also see that there are only 7 days labeled on this timeline, so everything on this timeline took place in the same week.


The next thing you notice on a timeline is the specific data points, or events. To read the event, we look at the label and then where it is on the timeline. Where the event is located on the timeline tells you when the event took place.

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