Dinosaurs are a popular topic in schools, especially with younger students. One of the important bits of information students learn is when dinosaurs lived. However, I couldn’t find any simple dinosaur timelines or time scale that students could print out and use to show when a dinosaur lived.
Dinosaurs roamed the earth for 181 million years. It can be challenging for young students to grasp how much time that really is, and the fact that dinosaurs didn’t all live together at the same time.
So I’ve created some timelines, a time scale and a related worksheet that can be used to help students learn more about when the dinosaurs lived.
Students, teachers, and parents are free to download and print these out as well as include them in electronic documents for reports. If you want to use these on your website or for commercial purposes, you must ask permission. Links to the downloadable pdf files are at the bottom of this post.
There are some good web-based timelines such as the one from London’s Natural History Musem. They’re just not well-suited for paper-based projects on which students can add information.
Blank dinosaur time scales
This time scale is great way for students to graphically show when a dinosaur lived during the time of the dinosaurs.
The scale begins at the beginning of the middle Triassic period, 247 million years ago (mya). This is just before the first dinosaur, Nyasasaurus, appeared about 243 mya. The other side of the scale is the K-T boundary, the end of the Cretaceous period 66 mya when the dinosaurs (and many other species) became extinct.
The top of the scale is labeled with the geologic time periods (Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous), and their epochs (Early, Middle, Late) based on the Geological Society of America’s Geologic Time Scale. The period and epoch boundaries are labeled with their years at the bottom of the scale. The minor tick marks are spaced one million years apart.
Using the time scale
The PDF file has four scales on one sheet of US Letter sized paper. I put a dashed line between each scale so students could easily cut them out and paste them in journals, notebooks, or on poster boards.
There’s space at the top for students to write in their own title. Make sure they include the name of the dinosaur. After the students learn when the dinosaur lived, have them color in that time span on the scale. Older students can use a ruler to be more precise with marking the boundaries of the time span.
Many dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurs rex and Triceratops, only lived for one or two million years, so the area that the students mark might be quite thin. Some students might find only a single number for when their dinosaur lived instead of a time range. In that case, it’s fine to just draw a single vertical line.
When did the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park live?
Knowing that T. rex and Triceratops lived in the Cretaceous instead of the Jurassic time period, I wondered when all the other dinosaurs brought to life in the Jurassic Park movies lived. Fortunately, someone had already compiled a list of the dinosaurs appearing in all four movies.
I followed the links on that Wikipedia page to create a timeline of when those dinosaurs lived.
They lived over a span of 134 million years!
A note about Wikipedia
As with anything on the internet, information on Wikipedia should always be read with a skeptical eye. In this case however, all the numbers are backed up by and linked to primary sources: peer-reviewed scientific papers.
Jurassic Park timeline activity
For any parents or teachers wanting their students to do a research activity, I’ve created a printable version of the Jurassic Park timeline with the dinosaur names listed below the timeline. Have the students research when each of the dinosaurs lived and write the dinosaur names next to their corresponding time ranges.
I realize they might find this blog post and use it for all the answers, but you should require them find other web pages (like the Wikipedia pages) that reference or cite primary sources. You could require them write the exact years for the time span, which would require them using sources other than this post.
Depending on their sources, they might find numbers different from what’s in my timeline. That’s a good thing. Have them use their best guess, and discuss it with the rest of the class to compare sources and data.