Those of you who have worked with me will know how I feel about a good timeline. It's such a simple tool but so effective on so many levels. To build one that teaches you more than just dates, you need to start by defining its purpose: what journey do you want to go on? You might be thinking about the rise of Hitler, the development of medicine over time or the causes of the English Civil War. The question you are asking decides on the information you will add.
Once you've chosen your focus, choose your time period. The last date will be the event you are investigating (the outbreak of the civil war for example, or the oath of allegiance sworn by the German army). You will have to make a decision about where you start. Consider whether you are focusing on short or long term causes (you can of course have both if you want but that will impact on the size and shape of your line) and look carefully at the timespan you have - you will want to be careful to space out your years/months/days evenly.
The next bit is the easy bit: use your notes or your textbook to find the key dates and add the relevant events onto your timeline. Make sure that if you have multiple events for a particular year that you identify the months so that you put them in the correct order.
Now you have a timeline BUT you are not finished yet. Now you need to start identifying links between events. For example, Hindenburg died which enabled Hitler to merge the office of President and Chancellor. Charles I's attempt to arrest five MPs increased tensions between the King and Parliament and moved the country closer to war. Draw some arrows between events to show what happened. That's you learning causation!
You should by now be getting a sense of the story of the subject you are investigating. Understanding causation is vital but to develop your analysis further you need to start to think about factors. Try colour coding your events with a different colour depending on what they seem to be most about: social (things that impact on ordinary people's lives); political (decisions and changes made by governments); economy (stuff to do with money); international (relations with other countries); scientific (new inventions and discoveries) and individuals.
Want to take it even further? Identify which factor appears most frequently on your timeline and write a narrative of the events which explains why that factor is most significant. Now do it again but this time pick a different factor. Which is most convincing? Come to a conclusion - justify it. That's significance!
Alternatively, if you want a more interactive timeline, use a piece of string across your bedroom or the back of a piece of wallpaper stuck to your wall. Put the events on post-it notes or clip cards to the piece of string. You can use different coloured post-its and you can try putting up the events which support different arguments or pull out the most important ones. Take the events down and shuffle them up before putting them back up to help you remember the chronology.
If you have made a timeline, do send me a picture either via Twitter or Facebook and tell me what has worked for you.