How-To: Create a Timeline in Microsoft Excel

Curriculum Area: English/ Mathematics/ Studies of Society and Environment/ Science

Grade Level: Yrs 2 and up

Application: Microsoft Excel 2000

Tip: Use a spreadsheet to create a timeline.

Description: Students create a timeline. They designate periods of time by utilising fill colours to fill in groups of cells. Text can even be entered sideways to mark the events being represented. If students are feeling creative, they can enter text inside a drawing such as a rectangle or add pictures to jazz up the timeline. Younger students might just use pictures to represent events on their timeline.

A timeline can represent information from many different curriculum areas such as Science, Studies of Society and Environment, Mathematics, and English. Timelines often look at changes over time in areas such as transportation, technology, space travel, and so on. Timelines also work well when representing people's lives (a student, a character from a story, or a famous person) and events throughout history.

Sample timelines:

Sample 1: Technology Timeline

This timeline features rotated text within cells, borders around the cells, and cell fill colours.

timeline sample 1


Sample 2: A Day in the Life of...

This timeline features rotated text within cells, cell fill colours, and clip art to enhance the appearance. Also, lines attach an event with its time.

timeline sample 2


Two variations on these timelines:

Sample 3:


This timeline uses drawings (rectangles) with text typed inside.

timeline sample 3


Sample 4:

This timeline uses drawings (rectangles) with text typed inside.

timeline sample 2
How To:
  1. First, plan your timeline. Do any necessary research and then sketch out the timeline on paper.
  2. Start Microsoft Excel, and make sure a new, blank spreadsheet is open.
  3. Type a title across the top of the spreadsheet, and format the text as you like.
  4. Skip several rows, and then type the first date or time of your timeline. You might want to wait to format all the dates or times at once.
  5. Next, type a short description above or below the date or time cell, whichever works best for your timeline.
  6. To format the description so it is turned sideways, select Cells from the Format menu. Click the Alignment tab (see picture below). Select the Orientation for the text by clicking on the picture sample or by typing a number in the Degrees box. Change the Text alignment (horizontal or vertical), and then click OK.
    format cells
    Tip: You might want to format a group of cells (for example, all cells that should be rotated) at the same time. First select the group of cells, choose Cells from the Format menu, apply the formatting you want, and then click OK. All selected cells will now be formatted the same. Just type your text in those cells and press ENTER. They will be rotated automatically because you preformatted them.
  7. Finish typing the text for your timeline and format the cells as needed (font, size, colour, and so on). If you want to add a box around a cell or group of cells, click the Borders button on the toolbar.
  8. You can change the width of your columns as necessary. Position the mouse pointer on the lines separating any two column headings (between the column letters), and then drag the line right or left to change the column's width.
  9. Fill in cells with colour. First, select the cells you want to colour. Then, click the Fill Colour button (paint bucket) on the Drawing toolbar. (If the Drawing toolbar is not visible, click View, Toolbars, and then Drawing.)
  10. If you would like to add pictures to your timeline, select them from the clip art selection or another source (such as the Internet, a picture CD, a scanner, or a digital camera). Resize and move them as needed.
  11. Don't forget to save your timeline frequently
Tip: To add text inside a drawing, such as a rectangle, first draw the shape. Click the Rectangle or Oval button on the Drawing toolbar, and use the mouse to draw the shape where you want it.

Next, right-click (click with the right mouse button) inside the shape, and select Add Text from the shortcut menu. Type your text, and then format it. Resize and move the shape as needed. If you'd like, fill the shape with a colour by using the Fill Colour button. Just be careful not to make the fill colour too dark if the font is a dark colour, too.

Be sure to draw a line from the shape to the timeline to connect the event with the date or time.

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