Each year before we start our unit on Reconstruction, I have the students do a timeline of their lives, intersecting it with global events. I share a portion of my own timeline with them and point out that around my middle school years, global events and my own life begin to interweave and mix as I become more and more active in politics. I want the students to begin to see the potential for impact and interplay between their personal lives and what happens in the larger world.
This assignment also gives the students the opportunity to become more aware of and learn to play with parallel structure— using sentences or fragments, verb tenses, first or third person consistently—which can sometimes be pretty challenging for 8th graders.
As I was grading the timelines, one student’s 2015 entry (pictured above with name change) had me laughing out loud. I love my job.
The actual assignment is printed below.
There is a chronology to events that happen in our own lives and in the wider world. Sometimes these personal and public events occur without intersecting. Sometimes they intersect in obvious and causal ways. Global events may literally impact our personal stories; sometimes our personal experiences explicitly impact the larger community. Our personal histories and the larger context within which our personal histories unfold are always intertwined and woven together in subtle and not so subtle ways.
As one way to explore this phenomena, make a timeline of your life. Put down significant events that occurred, important memories, turning points for each year of your life. Using web or print resources, add events that occurred in the wider world during those same times that seem important to you. Be deliberate in your choices.
At one obvious level, this exercise demonstrates that critical and significant events occurred in the world during your lifetime. At a deeper level, this timeline becomes a kind of poetic “conversation” in which your life and world events intersect, reflect, and contrast with each other. It is not always obvious how the larger world informs whom we become, but the larger world always has a significant impact, just as we can have a significant impact upon it.
You may need to talk with your parents or other family members to gather memories when you were very small. Try to locate key events that have shaped and influenced who you are becoming. As you explore worldwide events, try to locate ones that seem significant, influential, contrasting, impactful, relevant to your life at any level.
Be creative in the format you decide to present your Timeline, but use parallel structure to help organize your events, to help equalize the importance of the events, and to create a poetic rhythm to the text that you will use. Work to include at least two personal and two global events for each year.