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Wine Gums, Timelines and Really Big Overviews!


The most intriguing moment in my workshop on chronological understanding at the 2005 SHP conference was when Catherine McCrory’s mentioned that she gets her pupils to use wine gums to build timelines over very long periods of time. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to find out more but Catherine has sent me the details of her activity for Year 7 – the Humongous Timeline of Humankind – and also her notes for colleagues on how to create a sense of the full significance of the Industrial Revolution in the first or second lesson on the Industrial Revolution. I particularly like this for its discussion of the comparative importance of the Neolithic Revolution.

Catherine comments:

“I like my students to get a sense of how long we spent as hunters and gatherers, millions and millions of years, day in, day out the same old activities.

Then they can contrast the extent of change from, as I see it, our first and second big revolutions – the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution when we learned to farm, quickly spurting off civilisations within a few thousand years, and the Industrial Revolution kicking off their lifestyle in the blink of an eye.”

An activity with similar intentions can be found in The History of the World in a day on pp. 40-41 of SHPs’ What is History? Year 9.

I should add that wine gums aren’t essential. Smarties or Skittles or any other colourful sweets are ideal because you could use different colours for different time periods – just take care. Don’t accidentally eat the Middle Ages.

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A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser (omitting this support section).

Or, a WORD version of this activity can be downloaded, click here.

This activity is based on the ’Timeline’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.

The Activity – How Did I Get Here

Humongous Timeline of Humankind

Challenge: In teams, create a timeline showing human life on Earth according to latest scientific research. 100 points

  • Mathematicians - use an appropriate scale, e.g., one button, sweet, matchstick, centimetre = 1 year, 100 years, 1,000 years. You decide! (20 points)
  • Include a key explaining the scale on the timeline and a title. (5 points)
  • Clearly mark a few dates you think are important to help the viewer understand at a glance when they are looking at, e.g., 0, 10,000 B.C., 2,000 A.D. (5 points)
  • Include the use of colour to indicate different periods. (10 points)
  • Add between 10-20 pieces of information showing important events. If a date is not certain then leave it out, but be sure to put the information or illustration on the appropriate part of the line. (20 points)
  • Include, in the correct place, (7-15) illustrations either printed or drawn. (10 points)
  • If a break in the timeline is necessary, clearly indicate the duration of the missing period in meters, paces, buttons, sweets, football fields – whatever you think is an appropriate scale in keeping with your timeline. (10 points)
  • Include information that scientists disagree about without making your timeline confusing. (10 points)
  • Be careful with your use of language, e.g., is it the first Australian or is it the oldest Australian human remains discovered so far? (10 points)

A = 80-100

B = 60-79

C = 40-59

D = 20-39

Research information using Google and search words such as dinosaurs, first European, cave art, etc.


Where does the Industrial Revolution fit in history? – Notes for Teachers

Imaginary Clock

The roots of our history lie so far back it is hard to grasp just how long ago it was. If we think of a century on our calendar as a minute on an imaginary clock, 2 and a half minutes ago we had the Industrial Revolution, 5 minutes ago white Europeans began to settle in the Americas. 15 minutes before that, Christianity appeared. Just under 1 hour ago the first civilizations emerged in the river valleys of China, India, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, that is, we learned how to produce enough surplus food to feed more than just our own family, so some people could now do jobs other than farming, we could live in larger groups, cities, we would develop writing to help us manage our more complex lives. 2 hours ago the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution occurred and we learned how to farm and live in one place for the first time. About 6 or 7 hours before that, recognizable human beings of a modern physiological type hunted and gathered in Western Europe. Human like creatures have been hunting and gathering, lighting fires, speaking, painting caves, and making simple tools and weapons for about 2 weeks.

So, using our imaginary clock, recognizable humans have been in existence for 2 or 3 weeks surviving by moving from place to place following the animals and berries. History is the study of the records of the past, usually written, and of our 2 to 3 week human past, we learned to write less than 1 hour ago. Everything you have ever heard of or studied about our past happened in the last 2 hours. So after 2-3 weeks of scavenging, what made our whole history as we think of it, possible in the last 2 hours? Our existence has changed so radically, so remarkable since cave dwelling, what made that possible?

Answer: The Neolithic Agricultural Revolution - the change from the cave dwelling foragers to the farmers who learned to settle down and produce their own food. The Neolithic Agricultural Revolution is the biggest revolution in human history without which nothing else would have happened. The Industrial Revolution is the second massive change that has propelled humanity in a new direction. In your normal way of thinking about it, it happened 250 years ago, an eternity ago, a distant past with little to do with you and your life today. On our imaginary clock it happened 2 and a half minutes ago and your life today, from your breakfast, to school, to tv, to your future career and family, are what they are because of the industrial revolution that you, today, are sitting right in the middle (or perhaps the beginning) of.

Time line

168 lines across the board = 2 million years = Paleolithic (Old Stone) Age

Old Stone Age or Paleolithic Period (2,000,000 B.C.)

* Very small population

* Nomads

* Hunters and gatherers

* Simple tools and weapons

* First spoken languages

* Discovery of fire

* Cave paintings

* Belief in afterlife


1 line across the board = from 10,000 BC = Neolithic (New Stone) Age to today


New Stone Age or Neolithic Period (10,000 B.C.)

* Increasing population

* Villages

* Farmers

* Domestic animals

* Calendar and technology

* Personal possessions

* Village headman and council of elders

* Women less important


3,000 B.C. or about 5,000 years ago = first civilizations emerge – Mesopotamia, China, India, Egypt – the river valley civilizations – first cities, writing, organized religion and government, public works (like roads or canals), job specification (not everyone is a farmer), social classes.


1. How important is this kind of activity for putting the normal KS3 content into context? How long should you spend on this?

2. Should you just do this kind of activity once or repeat in different guises in each year of KS3?

3. Did students enjoy the nature of the activity and what impact did this have on their learning?

4. If you teach the History of Medicine at GCSE how could you adapt this activity to improve students’ chronological understanding?

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Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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The Activity