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App review by Stacy Zeiger, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2014
Timeline World War 2 With Robert MacNeil

Timeline World War 2 with Robert MacNeil

Vast interactive multimedia resource makes history come alive

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Social Studies, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Introductory video and tutorial helps kids use the timeline, which combines a variety of teaching resources about World War 2.

Cons: Extensive timeline may feel a bit overwhelming to kids; lacks learning extensions.

Bottom Line: Forgo the textbook -- students will find the same information and more as they scroll through the timeline and access the multitude of resources.

Teachers can use Timeline World War 2 with Robert MacNeil to supplement, or even replace, their text-based materials in a U.S. history or world history classroom. This overview of the war doesn't just focus on the United States' role in the war; it covers the roles of all of the major players, helping students gain a thorough understanding of the war. It serves not only as a good introduction to the war, but also as a key resource for inspiring and helping students find information for research projects. For example, students may use the nationality filter to find information on a particular country's involvement in the war, or the ships filter to find information about the role a particular ship played in the war. Teachers may also want to incorporate the app as part of a whole-class lesson, using the timeline to replace a slideshow in a more traditional lecture or exploring the timeline as a class during an introduction to the war.

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Editor's Note: Timeline World War 2 with Robert MacNeil is no longer available to download.

Noted journalist Robert MacNeil opens Timeline World War 2 with a video introduction explaining his connection to World War 2 and the significance of the war, and a brief tutorial covering the main features of the app. Students have the option to skip the video introduction but should take the time to watch it to help orient themselves with the app. Those who don't watch the introduction may feel a bit overwhelmed when they first enter the timeline, as it can appear quite busy. The busy-ness, however, comes from the wealth of information about World War 2 that it contains.

The timeline begins in September 1939, when Britain, France, India, Australia, and New Zealand declared war on Nazi Germany. Kids can tap a notecard to reveal more information, tap photographs to get a view of what was going on, or tap a film strip to access video and audio recordings, such as a recording of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's declaration of war. After exploring the beginnings of the war, they can scroll through the timeline, accessing similar information for each month and year. They can filter the timeline to highlight specific people, locations, nationalities, or other important information. Also included is a map that kids can use to help them understand where key events on the timeline took place, and an "On This Day" feature that allows them to see what key events happened on the current date in history.

Using the interactive timeline, students can build their own understanding of World War 2, its key players, and some of its most important events. The timeline itself helps kids learn about the war by providing them with multiple types of resources, including videos, audio files, photographs, and informational passages. Seeing that information in relation to the map helps them better organize it in their own heads and recognize the war's global impact. A search and filter feature helps kids limit non-relevant information and focus on what they need to know for a specific activity or research assignment. Lower-level readers and English learners may struggle a bit with the content, as a lot of it is text-based. However, the timeline attempts to become a little more accessible by offering smaller headlines or summaries of information and allowing kids to tap to reveal longer passages. Photographs and videos accompanying many of the text passages also make it easier to make sense of the text.

Overall Rating


Design appears a bit busy at first and, while engaging, it lacks a bit of fun.


Covers multiple aspects of World War 2 by incorporating multiple texts, video, audio, and images.


Video introduction orients kids and guides use but lacks additional resources for support or extensions to further learning.

Common Sense reviewer
Stacy Zeiger Homeschooling parent

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