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This activity has students explore the history of their city/town’s development.  Given a series of historic images, students will create a chronological timeline.  Through analysis and reflection of the timeline, they will be challenged to think about the factors that shaped their city/town such as geography, changes in transportation, and economic trends.


Download the entire Timeline Lesson Plan

Core Question

How does the shape that we give to our city, in turn, shape us?
Supporting Question: How was my neighborhood shaped?  How is it still being shaped?

Learning Objectives

I can create a timeline that shows the history of how my city developed.
I can explain how historical events impact the growth and development of a city.

Supporting Text

Nashville Past and Present” chapter from The Plan of Nashville: Avenues to a Great City
Note: This reading is specific to Nashville.  For communities outside of Nashville, refer to your local library for historic resources about your community.  


Butcher paper for timeline
Nashville Topography Map” (for projection or handout)
Historic Images of your city/county

  • 3 levels of difficulty provided for Nashville

Historic images of your school’s neighborhood (optional for extension)

Timing recommendation

Launch: 10 min
Activity: 45 min
Closing: 20 min
Total time: 1 hr 15 min



Nashville Topography” document ready for display or as a handout


  • Piece of butcher paper for each group long enough for all of the images

  • Glue or tape for each group.

  • A set of historic images for each group. Images for Nashville are included, and organized into three levels of difficulty. Levels 1 and 2 are recommended for middle school, and Level 3 is recommended for high school.

  • “Timeline Key” ready for display

  • Closing:

  • Questions and factors ready for display



This launch is intended to activate student’s thinking about the factors that impact how a city develops.  They will explore the factor of geography, and how impacted the development of Nashville.

Nashville Topography Map

  • Look at the Nashville Topography Map, and ask students:. How did the river, hills, and floodplains impact how Nashville developed? The key points are below, and each one has a scaffolding question for optional use.

  • Historic pikes that were once bison trails run between the hills.

Question: How did geography impact the main roads coming out from downtown?

  • The state Capitol was intentionally placed on a hill downtown to signify its importance.

Question: How did geography impact the placement of the state capitol?

  • Downtown developed close to the river as water was a source of life and trade.

Question: How did geography impact the location of downtown?

  • The flood plain is not as densely developed because of the threat of flooding.

Question: Did the flood plain had an impact on what was built in those areas?  If so, how?

  • Transition to Activity: As you transition into the activity, explain that they will be exploring more factors, other than just geography, that helped shape how the city developed.


Chronologically order the historic images to make a timeline.

Extension: Add images and storylines of the history of your school’s neighborhood, and the life of a citizen who has lived there long enough to see impacts of historical events.

  • Introduction: Introduce the above directions, and explain that they will be collaborating with a group to order a series of historic images of their city. Explain and model the thought process that they will need to use:

    • They will use image and caption “context clues” to figure out the order of the images. It is ok if they don’t remember historic events really well because this exercise is about comparing images and descriptions.

    • Model the thought process for ordering a few of the images as a whole class. For example: “I see a mule drawn streetcar in this image, which means that it goes before the images with automobiles.”

  • Ordering Images (Levels 1 and 2): Have students work in groups to order the images. If students struggle to get started, or get stuck, here are some recommended support techniques:

    • Begin with only 2 images to order, and continue to add two at a time.

    • Find all of the images that fit one category, and order only those. Then, fill in the rest of the images. For example, find all of the images that are maps or show transportation, and put them in order.

    • Point to specific things in the images or captions that can help them think chronologically, such as what types of transportation they see, or events that are mentioned in the captions.

  • Ordering Images (Level 3): The images for Level 3 have a category label on them. Have students first sort the images by category, and then order each category. This helps them break down the large amount of information, and better see the impact of each category. After they have ordered the images by category, they should attempt to chronologically combine all of the images for one large timeline.

  • Check and Revise: Give student’s the key to their timeline, and let them revise their order. If you are using the Nashville images that are included, there is a space in the upper left hand corner for them to fill in the year.

  • Glue Images: Give each group butcher paper and glue to create the timeline.

Activity Extension

Have students create two more timelines that will overlap their first one: Neighborhood History, and Individual Citizen History.  Adding layers to your timeline will help students understand the how the historical factors impacted the smaller neighborhood scale, and the individual.   

  • Neighborhood History: Either the teacher or students should gather images that capture the history of your school’s neighborhood, or the student’s own neighborhood. This is a great opportunity for student to research the history of their neighborhood, including visiting historic sites. After images are gathered, place them on a new timeline that will hang above or below the original one, making sure that the years line up vertically.

  • Individual Scale: Have students continue their neighborhood research into an interview of a community member who lives in your school’s neighborhood, or their own neighborhood. It is best if the community member is old enough to have lived through some significant historical events. Have students document their story on a new timeline that will hang above or below the other ones, making sure that the years line up vertically. The questions below are guidance for interviewing the community member:

    • How has the neighborhood changed over the years?

    • What historical events have impacted your life?

    • What history do you believe needs to be preserved?



Once the timeline is created have, students observe them, and look for the factors listed below.  For each factor, answer the following question:  How did this factor impact the physical shape and/or experience of the city?  If you would like to dive deeper into the content for one or all of the factors, refer to the supporting text listed at the beginning of this Activity Guide: “Nashville Past and Present” chapter from The Plan of Nashville: Avenues to a Great City.

  1. War

  2. Technology

  3. Transportation

  4. Parks

  5. Economy/Trade

  6. Social Movements (ex. Civil Rights)

  7. Housing

Extension: Compare how certain factors or events impacted the city, neighborhood, and individual.  What historical events do you see impacting the city, neighborhood, and individual?