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Creating a Timeline with Knight Lab


Students will learn about the stories on the web that highlight time frames and the rationale for using a free online creation tool from Knight Lab called Timeline. Then, they will create their own data visualization using this tool.


  • Students will create a multimedia data visualization.
  • Students will appropriately source images from the internet.
  • Students will describe which stories can be enhanced by this type of data.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning and evidence and to add interest.


 100 minutes, with possible time at home to finish project work


Lesson step-by-step

1. Introduction — 15 minutes (or more)

If students have not been instructed in data journalism, have them review the lesson “Using Data Visualizations in Online Story Packages” for context; this is not required for this lesson, but it is recommended. In addition, the News Gathering module has six related data journalism lessons.

If students have not been instructed in sourcing Creative Commons images, have them review the lesson “Understanding Copyright and Creative Commons.”

Show students one or more of the examples on After showing the example, have students discuss in small groups which kinds of stories/projects would lend themselves to this type of data visualization. Collect and share answers from each group; you might consider asking each group to present one of their ideas with a paper or whiteboard mock-up.

Explain that the project today will have students create a short example of a Timeline using an online data visualization tool created by Knight Lab.

2. Direct instruction — 5 minutes

Students will be researching and creating a Timeline of Court Cases. You might choose to distribute paper copies of this handout, which can be accessed from the materials list, or to display it on the board or through a classroom management system like Google Classroom.

Advise students they will only be told WHAT these things are — they are responsible for the following:

  • Creating an original Timeline using the online data visualization tool.
  • Finding an image of four events and sourcing them appropriately in the “Credit” area.
  • Writing a description. This can include facts, connections, how to learn more, or something else. However, all four slides should have the same type of information. Information should include the source. This is a good opportunity for differentiation based on student readiness and interest.
  • Proper sourcing for all information.

The topic:

  • Important First Amendment Cases (examples below)
    • Tinker v. Des Moines
    • Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier
    • Dean vs. Utica Community Schools
    • Bethel School District v. Fraser
    • Morse v. Frederick

3. Introducing the Timeline tool — 20 minutes

Use the slideshow “Creating a Timeline” to give step-by-step directions for starting the Timeline. Depending on your teaching style and students, you may choose to forgo the slideshow and use a computer to demonstrate the creation at this point of the lesson. Tell students they can use Creative Commons, Google, Wikipedia, or other resources of your choice to help find information.

After the demonstration, allow students to work on their own Timelines.

4. Application — 50 minutes or more

Deliver the presentation electronically so students can refer to it as they create their own timelines. Give the students a list of the Important First Amendment Cases, and let them choose four from the list (students can also choose their own to complement this list). Depending on the readiness and interests of your students, you might choose to have them research another topic related to current events or your course content.

Students will work alone or in pairs to complete the timelines using computers or tablets. The teacher should walk around the room to provide support as students work. While some students may finish during this timeframe, others may need several more class periods or time at home to finish; adjust the due date to accommodate student needs.

5. Assessment — 10 minutes

Students will reflect on their experience and evaluate themselves using the rubric provided, submitting it to the teacher in class, or at the beginning of class after the assignment has been turned in. Students will find the link of their timeline and submit to the teacher through email, Twitter, Google Classroom or preferred method.


Depending on students’ readiness and available technology, they can work alone or in groups to complete the project.

Students may need more time and support to create the Timeline and work with the tool.

Advanced students can be required to include different types of media (audio, video, etc.) in the Timeline

Advanced students can be challenged to come up with their own theme for a Timeline instead of the court cases.

Once students have completed this, have students complete one of their own to complement an online feature or beat and embed the final product into their work for publication.