Teaching Flashback

Activities for Your Middle School ELA Classroom

Elements of Fiction: Flashback

[Let’s say your students are reading a story and it begins like this:]

Underneath the creaky, weathered deck of the front porch a pale, peeling hand was hurrying along the edge, coming up and over the top. It’s just a trick, like the prank they played on my last time, Eric told himself. At least you get to keep the fifty dollars even if you can only stay part of the night in this crusty old house. 

[Now your students come upon THIS paragraph, which is clearly a flashback to something that happened earlier]

Eric had been excited, an hour earlier, when Buck the Bully literally bumped into him to tell him about this new dare, for he’d been dreaming about finding a way to be cool with the kids at his new school. Buck had taken him by surprise at his locker and instead of demanding his hat like he did every Friday afternoon, he simply scuffled his hair and heh-heh-heh laughed about the Overnight Dare that everyone in school had been talking about. Would Eric try the dare for the $50 that came with it? That’s what Buck wanted to know about. Eric couldn’t get out of this one, not with Corrina watching from the water fountain, her dark brown hair getting swept into the drain with the water running.

[And here we are back to the present time]

So here he was now, stepping gingerly across the old, musty planked deck with a strange-looking, pale white hand attached to an arm, moving along the edge. Suddenly…

Why do students have so much trouble with flashback?

Where do they get confused?




1) They’re daydreaming and don’t notice the change in scene or in verb tense

     * a pale, peeling hand WAS HURRYING along the edge, COMING up and over the top.


2) They don’t understand that sometimes writers like to tell things out of order because they want to focus on one part of the story more than another part

  • It’s more important to focus on the part of the story where Eric is in the creepy house and it’s less important to note how he got roped into it

3) They sometimes simply don’t have enough experience with reading to know and to expect that time is flexible in a story and that this is actually a really common way to tell a story.

What can a language arts teacher do to help students understand how time works in a story?

1) Provide lots of opportunities using both short and long pieces of text that incorporate the use of flashback.

  • Short and even incomplete pieces of text, like the one that appears above about the mysterious house that Eric finds himself about to enter, are just long enough to get the point across and to provide for a solid teachable moment about flashback. It’s not too long, though, to where the teacher would lose all of his or her class time either, though.

2) Ask really good, high-level questions about the passage that help kids understand why and how writers use flashbacks in their stories.

  • How else might we have learned about Eric’s dare if the flashback weren’t there?

  • Why is using a flashback here easier than beginning the story with the bully situation?

  • Would you think the story was a different type of story if it didn’t immediately begin with Eric?

3) Use video clips to promote critical thinking about the use of flashbacks within a storyline


Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.48.46 PM

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/uXPlzdTcA-I” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Harry Potter


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<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/i5OfSami1jA” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

The Lion King


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<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/ls0XS6J3fs0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Picture Momentos (Pixar)

Warning: This one could make you cry!

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<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/wsG2S_1PRnk” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

4) Visit Pinterest to borrow awesome ideas for flashback anchor charts. Create it once, and leave the chart on the wall in your classroom for those “I forgot— What’s flashback?” moments you’ll have all throughout the year 🙂

And by the way… These are not my own anchor charts– They’re great examples of ones I found that I think are really well-done. So check out Pinterest for more ideas and inspiration!

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.12.19 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.14.00 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.07.04 PM

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