A flashback is a way of presenting events that happened prior to the current action taking place.
Flashbacks are a useful way to start a story at the end, and then fill the reader in on the events that got the characters there. Flashbacks also mirror the way our minds work, as we think back to past events or people as the result of triggers we may see throughout a normal day. Often, we aren’t even aware it’s happening! In literature, flashbacks are incredibly useful for:
Many well-known works of literature begin their tales at the end and work their way back to the beginning. Other stories begin in in medias res and fill in the rest of the narrative with flashbacks before moving forward. Students may also be familiar with TV shows and movies that bend the chronological timeline. Some popular examples of flashback are listed below. Showing excerpts of a TV or movie flashback to students may be useful in helping them better understand the technique:
Have students try out using flashback in a story of their own! Students can start in the middle or end of their story and work around it, or they can jump around if they’re feeling truly adventurous. Students should use their flashback purposefully and be able to explain what it reveals: character, theme, setting, plot, or foreshadowing. Then, they can depict the action in a storyboard like the one below.
Cell 1: I found myself outside of the castle, with only the moon to guide me. I had arrived, but I had no recollection of how I got there. I felt my face, and the bruises were fresh. I looked down at my arm. “SHAME” was written in large letters across it, and suddenly, I realized I couldn’t speak. I didn’t have a voice!
Cell 2: I had been walking through the village, quietly enjoying the sights and smells of the local marketplace. It was a beautiful spring day, and the village was in a celebratory mood after the long winter. [Flashback serves to reveal: plot and foreshadowing]
Cell 3: Suddenly, I heard shouting from within a nearby alley. I quietly crept over to investigate, and found two men arguing heatedly. One was an average-looking man in royal dress; the other was a man with a funny cap and robe. The man in the cap raised his arm at the royally-dressed man and made a slight movement with a long stick. There was a flash, and in his place was a frog!
Cell 4: I must have shouted in surprise because the next thing I knew, the man in the cap was whirling towards me. I yelled at him that what he had done was a crime – and it was shameful! In our beautiful city, how could he do such a thing? The man sneered and raised his stick towards me. The end of it glowed with an evil red phosphorescence.
Cell 5: I jumped, and the red glow missed me by inches. I began to run, crashing through the market and knocking over carts. I could hear the man on my heels, yelling and zapping his magic wand at me as I dodged back and forth. Finally, I felt an electric sensation hit the back of my head. I fell, and all around me was black. I could hear a man mumbling, “Shame me, will you? Put me in a dunce cap will you? Oh no, never again!”
Cell 6: When I awoke in front of the castle, I realized I would never be able to scold anyone again. The wizard had taken my voice. I don’t know why “shame” had made him so angry, but I knew I would have to find him and get my voice back. This time, though, I would need backup. I knew where to find it: the dragon in the Hidden Cave.
| Proficient |
| Emerging |
| Beginning |
Narrative and Flashback
The narrative is at least 6 cells long and employs a good flow of plot elements, such as character and setting descriptions, transitions of events, etc. The flashback scene is identified and reveals an important element for the story. The narrative makes sense and shows creativity, time, and effort.
The narrative is at least 6 cells long and employs basic plot elements, such as character descriptions and transitions of events. There is an attempt to provide a flashback scene, but it does not add to the story. The narrative makes sense and shows adequate time and effort.
The narrative is less than 6 cells long, or is incomplete. The descriptions are too limited to assess. The flashback scene may be missing, or incorrect. The narrative may be confusing or disjointed, and the entire product seems to have been rushed.
The art chosen to depict the scenes is appropriate and neat. Time and care is taken to ensure that scenes are eye-catching and creative.
The art chosen to depict the scenes is appropriate but may seem rushed. Some art may be haphazardly placed and lack of attention to detail is noticeable.
The art chosen to depict the scenes is inappropriate or too limited. Some scenes may have been left blank.
Ideas are organized. There are few or no grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas are mostly organized. There are some grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas may be disorganized or misplaced. Lack of control over grammar, mechanics, and spelling reflect a lack of proofreading.
ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences
ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically