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Visual timeline

Learn about reflective planning through visual storytelling and understand the importance of visualization in presentation.


Learning objectives and the skills developed

To understand the importance of visualization in presentation
To learn about reflective planning through visual storytelling

When to use it?

Use this when you want a fast, energizing, and visual method for quickly reflecting on life stories/backgrounds of the participants, or use it to surface compelling stories from their history that they might otherwise never have thought of.


Blank copier or printer paper for each participant.
If you have plenty of table space, flip chart pages are even better. If space is an issue, some participants may be willing to take off their shoes and get down on the floor to work.
Markers or pens for each participant. Multiple colors are good.


Read the info box about visual timeline.


Ask the participants to identify the event that they wish to depict for their timeline. Here are some examples:
Create your individual sport story
Capture the broad story of a one-year at your school
Tell the story of a weekend at the beach last summer (with Mom, Dad, and the kids).
Recall your changing emotional state since just this morning, for creating a mindfulness diary.
You can tell the participants to depict very brief and recent events just as easily as they can render complex.
Establish the Start and End Dates: Have team members turn their blank page sideways (landscape). This horizontal space is the canvas for their timeline.
Have them draw a line near the bottom of the page, leaving plenty of room above it.
Because this is their story, they get to decide when it starts and when it ends. (For example, perhaps they want to make the case that “the story of a student project” actually began.
Think broadly of everything that happened from the beginning to the end. Good events are up; negative events are down.
Ask them to drive only line with ups and downs reflecting their emotions about the chosen period of life.
Remind them to look at what was just created in the space of less than 2 minutes and how their simple line is loaded with meaning, feelings, and memories.
Invite the participants to bring it to life by populating the line with more meaning.
Ask them to populate the timeline with text, titles, and simple icons and stick figures to bring a little more meaning to the presentation.
To build participants’ confidence in their own visual competency, you can provide an Icon Cheat Sheet to demonstrate how simple stick figures, arrows, and icons can communicate a great deal of meaning. You can find a reproducible copy in the Appendix.
Finally, ask them to write the title of story beneath the line.
Expect to see many participants take out their cell phones to capture a picture of their drawing.
The final step is to take turns telling the stories. In small groups, ask them to present their visual timeline and answer questions.

Follow up questions:

Was there any point in the line you had difficulty to explain?
How did it help to reflect your past or experience?

Possible Variations:

The activity can be turned into a collective visualization. If your group has a common history to share, institutional memory, or organization, it can begin with the horizontal timeline with the start and end dates and then begin telling stories along the line.

Additional information

30 mins


60 mins

Group size




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