Essay Types - How to Write a Reflective Essay

Writing a reflective essay is easy. Just follow these steps. A reflective essay can be assigned in any type of class, but is typically assigned in social science classes such as education, history, sociology, anthropology or psychology. Your job is to show that you have thought about the subject matter deeply and can relate it to your own life. The challenge is to apply the principles from the class to your own experience.


A reflective essay may be one of the few essay types where a thesis might not be made clear in the opening paragraph. When I was an education student, we had to write weekly reflections on our experience of the week. What I usually tried to do was choose something I had learned or observed over the week and delve into the implications more deeply. I often tried to reflect on how I would balance my values with the imposed curriculum and the diverse student population I would be working with. So my thesis might be something like "in the discussion on racism this week, I came to see that it's not sufficient for a teacher to pretend to be colorblind; they must actively pursue racial integration and equality in the classroom."

In other kinds of courses, you might be reflecting on the meaning of a poem, on the ethics of a psychology experiment, or on your reaction to a political event. This means stating your opinion and reaction to the topic. As always in a thesis paragraph, you need to make clear where you are starting from and give some idea to the reader what direction you intend to head.


The body of the reflective essay can be less structured than some other essays. I used to write mine without an outline. Often this meant that I would be writing my thoughts down before I had really understood the importance. The value of the reflective essay as a teaching tool is exactly this. As you write things down, you should be thinking about their significance. As a result, you may be coming to new conclusions as you go along. Editing is especially important in a reflective essay because you may be coming to new understandings as you write. Therefore, you will need to review the structure of the essay to ensure that your final thoughts are clear.

You should be demonstrating a deep understanding of the content you are reflecting on. This means analyzing, comparing and evaluating. Quote from your textbook, if you have one, or try to find some expert's opinion and then agree or disagree. An important part of the relflective essay is showing that you are thinking about the topic in relation to the content of the course.

What you need to avoid as you write is to be writing unrelated random sentences. If you are like me and do not like to prepare an outline first, then you must be prepared to edit. Try classifying sentences into types like: observation, reflection, discussion, conclusion. You observe something in your reading, course discussion, or practice. Next you say why it is sigificant. What questions does it arise in you? How does it relate to something else you might have learned or done? What changes in your future actions might it imply? You may or may not come to a conclusion on each observation, but notice that you have the potential for a nice paragraph on a single observation.

Often reflective essays are short, so you might only have three or four paragraphs to write.


It is important to draw some conclusions from your reflections. You should have had some conclusions in the individual paragraphs for each point you discuss. Overall, often in a reflective essay your conclusion could be vague. Again, in my education program, the emphasis was to develop us as professionals who would be undertaking a reflective practice. This means as teachers we are constantly thinking about what we are doing and why, and therefore making changes based on these reflections. So it is possible to conclude that you have realized that something is worth thinking about more. Otherwise, you should show that you have at least come to a deeper understanding of the topic you are reflecting on.

What are markers looking for?

This really depends on your teacher and class. Unfortunately some teachers always emphasize grammar over content. Teachers should be clear on what the learning outcomes are that they are aiming for and mark accordingly. Nonetheless, grammar is important. Assuming you have good grammar, then you should be demonstrating a good understanding of the content you are reflecting on. Make judgements. Few teachers will mark you down for disagreeing with them or experts, if you have good reasons. Remember, reasons have to be based in logic, not feelings.

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