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        Incorporating Flashbacks in Narrative Text - The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis

        After watching an interview with a survivor of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, students write an original story that utilizes flashbacks.

        Lesson Summary


        Students watch a video segment that shows an interview with one of the survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis who recalls the sinking of the ship and his survival.  Students then create an original narrative that utilizes flashback to tell the survivor’s story.

        Why is this an important concept?

        Flashback is a literary device that is commonly used in short stories and novels, as well as movies and television shows.  Understanding what flashbacks are will help the reader comprehend sudden shifts in a story’s setting, changes in character development and developments in a story’s plot line.  Flashbacks also help to develop a historical context for many works of literature.  Being able to incorporate flashbacks into one’s own writing demonstrates a solid understanding of the literary device and its effects.

        Grade Level:


        Suggested Time

        (1) 40-minute period and (1) 20 minute period

        Media Resources


        The Lesson

        Part I: Learning Activity

        Day One

        1. Provide the purpose for this activity: students will watch an interview with L.D. Cox, a survivor of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, as he recounts the attack on the ship and his fight to survive.  Then students will use the flashback literary technique to write a narrative describing Cox’s experience.

        Note: You may choose to refer to the definition of flashbacks as a device in TV, film and written narratives at

        2. First, ask students what is a flashback.  How can flashbacks be used to tell stories?  Discuss their answers during a guided question and answer period.

        3. Tell the class that they will be watching a video segment about a sailor who survived his ship being torpedoed during World War II.  While watching the video, tell the students that they should think of various settings where a flashback could be used in a story that recounts L.D. Cox’s story of survival.  Play the segment.

        4. After viewing the video segment the first time, ask the students where the interview with L.D. Cox takes place in the video.  Who else might ask Cox to retell his story of what happened on the Indy?  Family members?  Friends?  Fellow sailors?  Where could these recollections take place and why?  Discuss answers during a guided question and answer period, and make a list of possible settings and situations on a white board for all students to see.

        5. Distribute U.S.S. Indianapolis Organization chart.  Tell students that as they watch the video a second time to fill in the chart with details from the video that describe the events that occur.  In the last box, students should write details that will describe the events and provide more imagery to the story.

        6. After viewing, discuss the charts with students.  Ask them to share their details with the class during a teacher-guided question and answer session.  Students should add to their charts as needed.

        7. Distribute The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis Narrative Directions handout.  Tell students they will tell L.D. Cox’s story of surviving the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis using flashback.  They must determine who or what triggers his flashback and when and where it happens.  They must also remember to tell the story from L.D. Cox’s point of view.  Review the suggestions on the directions sheet and answer any questions the students may have.

        8. Distribute copies of the U.S.S. Indianapolis rubric. Discuss so students know the expectations for the story. 

         9. Students write rough drafts of their narratives using The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis Organization Chart, the flashback narrative directions and the rubric as a guide.  They may also consult with you as needed.

        10. Students complete the first draft for homework if needed.

        Part II: Assessment

        Day Two

        1. Students exchange story drafts with fellow students to peer-edit and discuss needed revisions and/or additions.

        2. After making needed revisions, students complete final versions of stories and hand in with the first drafts and rubrics for a grade.

        For students who need additional guidance:

        • Meet with students between lessons to support their understanding and utilization of flashback and writing skills.
        • If needed, arrange for students to watch video again.
        • Use listed websites to find additional details about the U.S.S. Indianapolis, as well as proofreading guidelines and rules for writing narratives on the writer’s websites.


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