1731 in historical cornerstone

Memorizing Dates for History

In my years as a teacher, I have spoken at many conferences promoting the study of history. No matter where I speak, I am always asked about the matter of date memorization. “Should I be making my children memorize dates?” “How many dates should we memorize?” “What dates should we be memorizing?” “What are some memorization strategies?” These are all very pertinent questions. There is no serious study of history without date memorization, just like there is no serious study of chemistry without memorization of the periodic table. Let us therefore dig into the question of date memorization in history class.

Should I Make My Students Memorize Dates?

The answer is yes, but with qualifications. Date memorization is important for historical study. Why are dates so essential? We know that history is more than just dates. And obviously one can memorize a score of dates but not have any real comprehension of what they mean or how they fit together. Clearly dates alone do not constitute historical literacy.

Nevertheless, dates are important for points of reference. For children, dates help them work out how far in the past historical events were from their own time, and how far from each other. Very young children don’t have a concept of historical chronology. The past is simply the past, and there is no difference between the time of Julius Caesar and the time of Henry VIII; they are both equally “past.” Date memorization helps children start to develop a sense of historical chronology by establishing mental reference points; in older children the addition of more dates fills in this chronology even more and helps them take hold of the narrative arc of human history.

How Many Dates Should We Memorize?

I said before that there are qualifications to date memorization. The qualifications are in how many dates are memorized relative to a student’s age and grade level. Here’s some general guidelines I have followed with success:

  • Elementary School: I would not make a student learn more than four dates per semester.
  • Middle School: Eight per semester is a nice number that I have had success with in the past.
  • High School: I would say ten to fifteen per semester depending on their age and aptitude.

What Dates Should We Be Memorizing?

That totally depends on what you are studying. There is no official canon. That being said, here is a list of recommended dates for each age group, presuming a standard western civilization course. Please note, you are not intended to compel your students to memorize all these dates. These are template lists for you to pick a few each semester according to grade level. Tailor everything to your student’s age, cognitive abilities, and class content.

Elementary School

1000 BC – David becomes King of Israel
753 BC – Founding of Rome
587 BC – Babylon destroys Jerusalem
509 BC – Founding of the Roman Republic
33 AD – Death of Jesus Christ (traditional)
313 – Conversion of Constantine/Edict of Milan
476 – Fall of Western Roman Empire
800 – Charlemagne becomes Emperor
1453 – Invention of the printing press
1492 – Columbus discovers America
1517 – Protestant Reformation begins
1607 – Founding of Jamestown
1776 – Founding of the United States
1789 – French Revolution
1861-1865 – American Civil War

Middle School

Middle school dates will include all the previous dates from elementary school, with the addition of the following:

3000 BC – Narmer unites Upper and Lower Egypt
2600 BC – Great Pyramid completed
1450 BC – Exodus from Egypt (traditional)
722 BC – Fall of Israel to Assyria
480 BC – Battle of Thermopylae
323 BC – Death of Alexander the Great
202 BC – Battle of Zama
146 BC – Destruction of Carthag
44 BC – Assassination of Julius Caesar
31 BC – Battle of Actium
70 AD – Destruction of Jerusalem by Rome
303-313- Great Persecution of Diocletian
380 – Edict of Thessalonica
496 – Conversion of Clovis, King of Franks
600 – Conversion of Ethelbert of Kent
732 – Battle of Tours
751 – Carolingians take power in France
843 – Treaty of Verdun
1054 – Eastern schism
1066 – Norman Conquest
1095 – First Crusade
1215 – Fourth Lateran Council
1348 – Black Death
1453 – Fall of Constantinople
1485 – Tudors take power in England
1555 – Peace of Augsburg
1620 – Founding of Plymouth colony
1648 – Treaty of Westphalia
1689 – Overthrow of James II, “Glorious Revolution”
1763 – Treaty of Paris
1770 – Boston Massacre
1775 – Battles of Lexington and Concord
1803 – Louisiana Purchase
1815 – Battle of Waterloo
1820 – Missouri Compromise
1857 – Dred Scott Decision
1860 – Election of Abraham Lincoln
1876 – Battle of Little Big Horn
1890 – Massacre of Wounded Knee
1903 – First airplane flight
1917 – U.S. enters World War I
1929 – Beginning of the Great Depression
1941 – Pearl Harbor
1945 – Atomic bomb; end of World War II
1954 – Brown v. Board of Education
1964 – Civil Rights Act
2001 – 9/11 terror attacks

High School

High school dates will incorporate all the previous dates from elementary and middle school, with the addition of the following:

1184 BC – Fall of Troy
701 BC – Siege of Jerusalem under Hezekiah
612 BC – Destruction of Nineveh
399 BC – Execution of Socrates
216 BC – Battle of Cannae
164 BC – Maccabees take Jerusalem
29 BC – Augustus becomes first Roman Emperor
43 AD – Roman invasion of Britain
66 – Great Fire of Rome
251 – Persecution of Decius
430 – Death of St. Augustine
432 – St. Patrick arrives in Ireland
451 – Battle of Chalons
532 – Nike revolt
547 – Death of St. Benedict
814 – Death of Charlemagne
911 – Normans convert to Christianity
1077 – Emperor Henry IV does penance at Canossa
1170 – Murder of St. Thomas Becket
1187 – Fall of Jerusalem to Saladin
1209 – Founding of the Franciscan Order
1381 – Wat Tyler revolt
1400 – Florence baptistry contest
1415 – Battle of Agincourt
1527 – Sack of Rome by Charles V
1545-1563 – Council of Trent
1588 – Spanish Armada
1603 – Death of Queen Elizabeth
1609 – Galileo looks at the moon through his telescope
1618 – Start of the Thirty Years’ War
1622 – Good Friday Massacre
1715 – First Jacobite Uprising
1745 – Second Jacobite Uprising
1789 – Ratification of the U.S. Constitution
1803-1806 – Lewis and Clark Expedition
1815 – Treaty of Ghent
1845 – Mexican War
1848 – Revolutions of 1848
1854 – Kansas-Nebraska Act
1870 – Franco-Prussian War/First Vatican Council
1898 – Spanish-American War
1917 – Bolshevik Revolution
1933 – Hitler becomes Chancellor
1939 – Hitler invades Poland
1963-1965 – Second Vatican Council
1969 – First man on the moon
1965-1973 – Vietnam War
1974 – Resignation of Richard Nixon
1978-2005 — Pontificate of John Paul II

What Are Some Memorization Strategies?

New dates can be introduced monthly (elementary), weekly (middle school), or daily (high school), as you see fit. Since many dates are mentioned in history class, it is important to make a clear distinction between dates students must memorize and dates you are just mentioning for context. This is important.

It may seem intuitive to you which dates are essential, but to your students it is not. Therefore, you need to be very explicit. Start by letting the students know “You are going to have to remember this date.” If you’re using a board, write the date on the board. Write it big. When I taught in a classroom, I liked to put a square around dates the kids were accountable for. I told them, “If I write a date on the white board, you don’t need to memorize it unless it has a box around it.” We’d call these “box dates.” I’d always reaffirm the “box dates” in my weekly emails to students and parents. However you choose to do it, make sure you are extremely clear which dates students need to know.

When a date is introduced, keep its description simple. For example, if the date is 313, the associated description should be “Edict of Milan.” That will make it easier to memorize. Saying something like “Constantine converts to Christianity and legalizes it after his victory at the Milvian Bridge” is too much.

While everybody has their own opinion on the best way to remember dates, I believe the most effective method is simple repetition drills. I find it helpful to use a “cascading” technique. This technique is often used in group settings to learn lots of peoples’ names quickly. The best example is a teacher learning students’ names on the first day of school. For example, the teacher starts with the first student in the first row and asks their name. The student would say, “Robert”, or whatever their name was. The teacher would repeat the name. Then the second student says their name, “Margaret.” The teacher repeats, pointing at each, “Robert, Margaret.” Then the third student says their name, “Tony,” and the teacher, again pointing at each as she goes, says, “Robert, Margaret, Tony.” And so it goes until the entire class is introduced. By the time the teacher is finished, she has repeated everybody’s names multiple times (except for the final student in the sequence).

Similarly, when you introduce a date, have the students say it. “476, the fall of Rome.” Then when you introduce another date later, repeat the first date as well. “476, the fall of Rome. 532, the Nike revolt.” Then, again: “476, the fall of Rome. 532, the Nike revolt. 600, baptism of Ethelbert.” Every new date added becomes an occasion to review all the old dates as well. This is a marvelously effective method of memorization. I once used it to get a class of 12-year-olds to memorize every English monarch from William the Conqueror to the present over the course of a semester.


People bristle at the idea of memorizing dates, but it can be made both fun and attainable with the proper methodology. Kids will even get competitive about it, drilling themselves to see how well they can memorize and repeat the assigned dates. As long as you keep the number of dates scaled to their age group, communicate clearly on what dates they are expected to know, and help them memorize by repetitive practices in class, your students should not have any difficulties.

Did you enjoy learning about this? You might be interested to know that this article was taken from Chapter 7 of my book, The Catholic Educator’s Guide to Teaching History. This book has a ton of excellent resources on teaching history, both practical and theoretical. and at $15.95 it is a real bargain! If you’re looking for solid help for setting up your homeschool history classes—at any age—get yourself a copy, available in paperback and Kindle.



0 0 votes
Article Rating

Resources to help you in your Catholic homeschool…

Catholic Homeschool Classes Online

Homeschooling Saints Podcast

Good Counsel Careers

The Catholic Homeschool Conference

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get updated every month on all the latest Homeschooling Saints podcast episodes and new blog posts

Ready to Get Started?

Homeschooling can seem daunting at first, but take it from us: The joy and freedom you gain from homeschooling far outweighs the challenges.

With flexible online classes, passionate instructors, and a supportive community at your back and cheering you on, there’s no limits to where your homeschooling journey can take your family! 

Sign up today!

Pin It on Pinterest