A few people have asked me to write a little about my use of lesson timelines which I mentioned here

So, here goes.

For a long time I wondered what the point of lesson objectives was. I understood that it helped me plan but I always worried that I was focussing far too much on skills or tasks instead of knowledge and uncertainty:

  • To identify the key features of Nazi policies towards women.
  • To analyse the causes of WWI.
  • To briefly summarise how detente changed during the 1970s.

These are poor. They’re classic examples of throwaway objectives that are task orientated. The last example is better because its focus is on the concept of change, but it’s still a task. It implies that some history must have been covered, yes, but it’s inflexible and sedentary. An objective, surely, needs to have some degree of purpose to it. When I head Zoe Elder talk about the so that of a task I changed my use of objectives.

  • To identify the key features of Nazi policies towards women so that we can explain how women’s lives changed in the 1930s.
  • To analyse the causes of WWI so that we can make a reasoned evaluation of the situation in 1914.
  • To briefly summarise how detente changed during the 1970s so that we can gain an overview of Cold War relations during the. …

 … Oh dear, it’s all gone wrong. I like so that, I really do. There’s a sprinkling of zest in the reasoning. But it has a tendency (at least in my hands) to get a bit unwieldy. And heaven forbid that students have to write these labyrinthine passages down.

My current school’s policy is to use a simple I can: I can explain how women’s lives changed in the 1930s; I can make a reasoned evaluation of the situation in 1914; I can briefly summarise how detente changed in the 1970s.

The problem with I can, however, is that it introduces certainty. I don’t always want this and, even if I do, I don’t always get this. In fact, even if I think we’re certain as a class I’m probably wrong. I’ve often tried to introduce this into my objective language: begin to, have an idea of, gain an overview of, to consider, to question, etc. My Y12s tell me that this is annoying, but they also accept my reasoning, which is ‘tough, it’s for your own good’.


I do want an element of certainty in terms of the history I’d like us to cover and we do need to eventually be able to do certain things, like decide which of the two interpretations of Henry VII’s financial nous is the more convincing. We might not get there during the lesson but at least the journey will be clear. 

So I write lesson timelines on the board. It’s pretty simple, really. For a recent revision lesson based on the results of an exam and knowledge test I placed the following on the board:

  1. Self-evaluation of exam and knowledge test.
  2. General overview: positives and negatives.
  3. Hinge: political violence, 1923, Stresemann’s solutions.
  4. 5 mark question possibilities: political violence, 1923, Stresemann’s solutions.
  5. Hinge: social and political effects of Wall St Crash, ‘Political Deal’
  6. 5 mark question possibilities: political violence, 1923, Stresemann’s solutions.

I’d upload a photo but am on an enrichment week so haven’t been writing them today.

I then tick off the tasks as we go, well aware that we might not get through them but that the journey is mapped. We do, of course, need a destination, and this is where the objective might come in, whether it’s I can or so that. But I wonder if the journey is more important? And I wonder which is better to share with students?

So are timelines more useful than objectives?

What I desperately don’t want is for some eager leadership-type to snap this up and decree that all teachers must write a timeline for every lesson, before Ofsted decree this to be a preferred teaching style, not that they would – of course – because these don’t exist. The idea is not to add work. It’s just an idea. That I sometimes use. And I saw Nick Butler, now of my old haunt, describe this idea at a teach meet. So blame him. This is a bit time consuming, but it also might be worth it.

What I would like is for any school which expects objectives to be written and/or displayed to consider whether these are useful for the students in that moment, in that lesson. I was once told to tick off the objectives as we’d met them but this assumed that each part had been learned, and that therefore everyone was getting an A and that I should just go home feeling smug. Which I’ll do, really, but I can’t in good conscience agree with.

I think that students feel more secure when they can see the journey ahead of them. No more ‘Are we watching a video this lesson?’ No more ‘Are we going to look at pictures of hyperinflation again?’ And no more ‘What are we doing next?’ The Timeline is the Word now. All hail the logic of the Timeline, the chronlogy of the Word.

Or you could just tell them. That’s cool too. Just don’t, whatever you do – for the love of all the sad dogs’ eyes on Twitter – make them write it down.