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History of the English Language

Found In: language arts, social studies, 6-8, 9-12

The BBC and British Library both have interactive timelines describing the development of the English language. The BBC site is suitable for grades 6-8 and the British Library site for grades 9-12.

The Ages of English (Grades 6-8)

The Ages of English (BBC) is in ten acts from the Anglo-Saxon invasions of 449 AD to the present. Each act provides some contemporary history, description of language development, vocabulary from the period, curious bits of trivia, and excerpts of poetry, essays, plays, and with accompanying audio files. For example, Act I includes an excerpt from Beowulf and the anchor riddle read in the Old English of the eighth century. Act VII, looks at the influence of American English.

A word of caution, Act V includes an excerpt from “The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy” a notorious 16th-century Scots poem by William Dunbar filled with crude insults.

The English Timeline (Grades 9-12)

The English Timeline (British Library) presents British Library collection items chronologically and thematically to trace the evolution of the English language and literature from the 11th Century to the present. Students can explore poetry and prose and social, cultural, and political documents. The timeline includes image, video, audio, and transcript. Timeline items can be saved or printed in Adobe PDF format to create fact sheets.

The timeline can be viewed in 2D or 3D and reconfigured to show one of three timelines: English Language and Literature Documents, Literary Works, or Letters Newspapers and Chronicle. They can also be combined to provide context for social and political life, language change, and literature. An introductory video provides a brief overview.

For a more detailed description of the website and resource sheets with ideas for using the timeline chronologically and thematically, see the Teachers’ Orientation Guide (PDF icon PDF, 265 KB, 46 pgs.) for a more detailed outline of the timeline’s features.



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