Flashbacks and Flash-forwards

Contributor: Emily Love. Lesson ID: 10539

Memories can be the best way to explain your ideas in a story. You'll watch several videos to learn about flashbacks and flash-forwards in writing. You'll get to try both in a story of your choosing!



English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Watch this scene from the film Frozen where Anna tries to get her sister Elsa to come home.  

Disney's Frozen - "Elsa's Palace" Extended Scene

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Frozen tells the story of two sisters.

In this scene, Elsa has a moment where she vividly remembers accidentally hurting her little sister Anna. This memory makes her decide to stay away from Anna and everyone else because she does not want to hurt anyone again.  

Memories are very powerful. They allow us to remember happy moments in life or make wise decisions. 

Personal narratives allow you to share your own stories with friends and family members, which can be fun and meaningful. At the same timecommunicating your personal thoughts, feelings, and memories of sensory details can be challenging especially if you are sharing these details with someone who never had a similar experience

There are many different tricks writers use called literary devices that can help you create a strong personal narrative. Two of those devices are the flashback and the flash-forward 



  •       My friend has a little boy who just lost his first tooth. She showed me a picture of his smiling face the next morning when he found money underneath the pillow where he had left his tooth. Seeing his smiling face reminded me of my own experience with the tooth fairy many years ago. My experience had not left a smile on my face...
          I woke up eager to see what the tooth fairy had left for me. I had been so scared to let my mom pull my tooth out because I was afraid it would hurt too much. In the end, the tooth was so loose that it barely hurt when she pulled it out! I thought I would never be able to fall asleep because of the excitement. It was like Christmas Eve! As soon as I opened my eyes, I reached under my pillow eager to pull out some money. Instead, my hand felt something small; too small to be a coin. I lifted the pillow up to see my tooth! The tooth fairy hadn't come after all. I was shocked and disappointed. What could have happened to her? 


  • Present action in a story is temporarily interrupted so the reader can witness past events; it usually takes the form of memories, dreams, or a story within the story. 


  • Can you think of any examples from movies you've seen or books you have read? 



  •      Henry was furious. He had gone into his room to discover his toy robot broken into many pieces scattered across his bedroom floor. There could only be one culprit: his little brother Ethan. He immediately started to think of how he would get his revenge. Suddenly, another thought crossed his mind: what would happen to him after he carried out his revenge against Ethan? He closed his eyes to picture his plan in action...
         He would sneak quietly into his brother's room after Ethan had fallen asleep. Walking on tiptoe, he would go to the closet and pull out Ethan's favorite stuffed animal, a red dinosaur named Rex. With the dinosaur tucked under his arm, he would sneak back out and go to his own bedroom. Opening his own closet, he would find his winter coat stuffed in the back and hide Rex in one of the coat sleeves. The next morning, Ethan would be crying at the breakfast table devastated to have lost Rex. Of course, his mother would know what had happened. She might not know where Rex was hidden, but she would know who had done it. He would be in big trouble.
         Henry opened his eyes. Maybe getting revenge wasn't worth it. He decided to go ask his little brother what had happened instead. 


  • The plot goes ahead in time to show expected or imagined events of the future; acts as a warning of what is to come if certain behaviors do not change and allows a person to imagine what will happen if he takes a certain path; this can also be a dream that the character thinks is reality 


  • Can you think of any examples from movies you've seen or books you have read? 

Both of these devices can be used to make your personal narrative more engaging for your reader. If you want to use either of these literary devices, you must follow two important rules. 

  1. The information that comes to light in the flashback or flash-forward must be triggered by something relevant in the present. For example, a woman could see a picture of her old house and remember the emotions of moving away from that house. Or a man could be faced with the choice to get revenge on someone, so he could imagine what that would be like before he makes his final decision. 

  1. The information provided in the flashback or flash-forward must be essential to the audience's understanding of the story. You use these devices to help the reader experience what you felt or imagined when you lived through the events you are describing. 

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