Purpose: The purpose of this minilesson is to free students from having to write in a straightforward linear fashion. Glimpses into the past can be used to develop character, invite readers into significant moments gone by

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Using Flashbacks to Enhance Writing

Nancy Knox

Purpose: The purpose of this minilesson is to free students from having to write in a straightforward linear fashion. Glimpses into the past can be used to develop character, invite readers into significant moments gone by, or to make contrasts that emphasize important changes that have occurred. In this mini-lesson, students will be exposed to examples of flashbacks in adolescent literature, as well as start an ongoing list of flashback transitions.

NCSCS: 6th grade

Competency Goal 1: The learner will use language to express individual perspectives drawn from personal or related experience.

1.01 Narrate a fictional or autobiographical account which:

- includes a coherent organizing structure.

- tells a story or establishes the significance of an event or events.

- uses remembered feelings and specific details.

- uses a range of appropriate strategies (e.g., dialogue, suspense, movement, gestures, expressions).

NCTE 6: Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.
NCTE 12: Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Time Required: 15 - 20 minutes

Materials Needed: Sarah, Plain and Tall (Patricia MacLachlan)

Posterboard with quotations from: Belle Prater’s Boy (Ruth White), Yolanda’s Genius (Carol Fenner), and Wringer (Jerry Spinelli)


**These choices can easily be substituted by other books which include flashbacks**

Script: Good afternoon, class! Today we are going to talk about flashback. Sometimes a writer is moving along in a story and wants to show the reader something that happened in the past. Directors use this in films too. Think of it as a cut from the action where the director signals to the viewer that you are going to see something that happened at another time. A well-placed flashback can enrich the present scene you are watching. Who can tell me some examples from movies where you’ve scene flashbacks? (Wait for hands to raise and give full attention to students)
Writers also use this technique. Many of you have read Sarah, Plain and Tall. Patricia MacLachlan, the author, uses flashback at the beginning of this book. (Take out bookmarked copy of Sarah, Plain and Tall.) The story starts with the scene of Caleb talking to his sister Anna about the day he was born, which was also the day his mother died. Anna is kneading dough while Caleb is sitting in front of the fire. MacLachlan uses Anna’s daydreaming to flashback to the scene of her mother’s funeral.
I looked at the long dirt road that crawled across the plains, remembering the morning that Mama died, cruel and sunny. They had come for her in a wagon and taken her away.” (p.5)

This flashback takes us back to a significant moment in Anna’s past. Knowing about this past event allows us to experience more fully Anna’s present situation.

Now, sometimes it is easier to recognize when a writer employs a particular technique than it is to use it in your own writing. Let’s look at a few more examples and discuss how the sentences signal us to think, “ah, flashback!” (Place posters with quotations in full view of the class)
Once, when we were about ten, I saw Woodrow...” (p.8)

Belle Prater’s Boy (Ruth White)

Her mind traveled images from long ago slipped slow-motion through her head.” (p. 38)

Yolanda’s Genius (Carol Fenner)
Palmer tried to hold the moment there, but it would not stay. It tunneled back through time and burst up into this same field three years before, the first Saturday in August, when the grass was streaked with red and guns were booming and birds were falling.” (p. 17)

Wringer (Jerry Spinelli)
(Go through each quotation and discuss how flashback is signaled...for example, what are some words which deliberately flash readers back to the past?). You can use a very simple transition, like “I remember when,” “Once, long ago,” OR you can use a more complex transition as Spinelli did in Wringer.

I’m going to put this posterboard up on the wall (titled FLASHBACK TRANSITIONS). As you can see, there are a few examples listed already. (Ex: once, long ago, yesterday, a while back, hitherto, _____ reminds me of, etc.) Whenever you think of a good flashback transition, add it to the list with a marker. This poster will be up everyday so that if you get writer’s block when you‘re trying to do a flashback, just take a look at the poster and it can help you out!

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