Timelines in EFL – some tips

As you might have read in this post, two weeks ago I gave my first ever webinar. It was on different ways of concept checking. While preparing for it, I drew quite a few timelines and realised that I’d almost forgotten how to do this properly. Below is the first timeline that I drew.

Ive been living in Holland black

It’s fairly typical. We’ve all seen similar ones, and probably been guilty of drawing  a few too.

It’s also really boring! While it clarifies the target language, it makes you yawn right away.

So how can we improve it?

Tip #1 – add colours

Ive been living in Holland colours

Tip #2 – add symbols and use them consistently

I was watching football when

The symbols I usually use:

  • box to denote longer actions
  • ‘X’ to denote points in time
  • ‘—–‘ to denote actions that might continue in the future (see picture 1)
  • ‘?’ to denote we’re not sure when exactly an action happened (e.g. I’ve been to Spain 3 times)

Tip #3 – add pictures

I was watching football_pictures

If you’re as bad at drawing as I am, then the pictures will make your students laugh. And when you’re doing grammar, a bit of comic relief is just what the doctor ordered. You can also get the students to draw the pictures for you.

Tip #4 – add arrows

Ill buy pizza for lunch

Arrows are good for showing relationships between different events or points in time. For example, with this use of ‘will’ it is important for students to realise that the decision was made now (in contrast to ‘going to’, which if used for future intentions, suggests that the decision was made in the past).

Let’s practise:

Now it’s time to put it all into practice. Try drawing timelines for these two sentences:

  1. At 8pm on Monday I’ll be playing football .
  2. He realised he’d been drinking since Friday.

You can see my suggested timelines by clicking on the links below:

  1. Suggested answer – future continuous.
  2. Suggested answer – past perfect continuous.

Final suggestions:

  • use real-life examples AND
  • make the sentences meaningful and the language probable
  • OR use examples that might be amusing
  • get the students to draw timelines and put them up in the classroom as posters
  • draw blank timelines and get students to guess which action is which (this is what I would have done for the timeline in photo under Tip 2)
  • ask students for feedback to improve the quality of your timelines

If you have any comments or suggestions, please comment below. I’d love to hear from you whether you found these tips useful, and how you tend to use and draw timelines in the class.

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You might also like:

  1. Do you understand? – 7 ways of concept checking
  2. Checking understanding – practice
  3. Clarifying meaning
  4. Recycling vocabulary

18 thoughts on “Timelines in EFL – some tips

      1. I’d add “going to”(for intentions) and present continuous(to talk about plans)
        “used to” and “would” to talk about repeated action in the past. (would only for dynamic verbs)

        1. Yes,
          “going to” and present continuous for future plans/intentions is extremely tricky. As a native speaker, I find they often overlap

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