Study Skills Reflective Essay Ideas

Types of reflective writing assignments

Journal: requires you to write weekly entries throughout a semester. May require you to base your reflection on course content.

Learning diary: similar to a journal, but may require group participation. The diary then becomes a place for you to communicate in writing with other group members.

Log book: often used in disciplines based on experimental work, such as science. You note down or 'log' what you have done. A log gives you an accurate record of a process and helps you reflect on past actions and make better decisions for future actions.

Reflective note: often used in law. A reflective note encourages you to think about your personal reaction to a legal issue raised in a course.

Essay diary: can take the form of an annotated bibliography (where you examine sources of evidence you might include in your essay) and a critique (where you reflect on your own writing and research processes).

Peer review: usually involves students showing their work to their peers for feedback.

Self-assessment: requires you to to comment on your own work.

Some examples of reflective writing

Social Science fieldwork report (methods section)

The field notes were written by hand on lined paper. They consisted of jotted notes and mental triggers (personal notes that would remind me of specific things when it came to writing the notes up). I took some direct observational notes recording what I saw where this was relevant to the research questions and, as I was aiming to get a sense of the culture and working environment, I also made researcher inference notes  [1]  [2] .

 [3]  I found the notetaking process itself helpful, as it ensured that I listened carefully and decoded information. Not all the information I recorded was relevant, but noting what I found informative contributed to my ability to form an overview on re-reading. However, the reliability of jotted notes alone can be questionable. For example, the notes were not a direct transcription of what the subjects said but consisted of pertinent or interesting information.

Rarely did I have time to transcribe a direct quotation, so relied on my own fairly rapid paraphrasing, which risks changing the meaning. Some technical information was difficult to note down accurately  [3] . A tape recorder would have been a better, more accurate method. However, one student brought a tape recorder and was asked to switch it off by a participant who was uneasy about her comments being directly recorded. It seems that subjects feel differently about being recorded or photographed (as opposed to observers taking notes), so specific consent should be sought before using these technologies  [4] .

 1.  Description/ explanation of method.

 

 2.  Includes discipline-specific language

 

 3.  Critical evaluation of method

 

 4.  Conclusion and recommendation based on the writer's experience

Engineering Design Report

Question: Discuss at least two things you learnt or discovered – for example about design, or working in groups or the physical world – through participating in the Impromptu Design activities.

Firstly, the most obvious thing that I discovered was the advantage of working as part of a group  [1] . I learned that good teamwork is the key to success in design activities when time and resources are limited. As everyone had their own point of view, many different ideas could be produced and I found the energy of group participation made me feel more energetic about contributing something  [2] .

Secondly I discovered that even the simplest things on earth could be turned into something amazing if we put enough creativity and effort into working on them  [1] . With the Impromptu Design activities  [3]  we used some simple materials such as straws, string, and balloons, but were still able to create some 'cool stuff'  [4] . I learned that every design has its weaknesses and strengths and working with a group can help discover what they are. We challenged each other's preconceptions about what would and would not work. We could also see the reality of the way changing a design actually affected its performance.

 1.  Addresses the assignment question

 2.  Reflects on direct experiences

 3.  Direct reference to the course activity

 4.  The style is relatively informal, yet still uses full sentences.

 5.  Relating what was learnt.

Learning Journal (weekly reflection)

Last week's lecture presented the idea that science is the most powerful form of evidence  [1] . My position as a student studying both physics and law makes this an important issue for me  [2]  and one I was thinking about while watching the 'The New Inventors' television program last Tuesday  [3] . The two 'inventors' (an odd name considering that, as Smith (2002) says, nobody thinks of things in a vacuum) were accompanied by their marketing people. The conversations were quite contrived, but also funny and enlightening. I realised that the marketing people used a certain form of evidence to persuade the viewers (us?) of the value of the inventions  [4] . To them, this value was determined solely by whether something could be bought or sold—in other words, whether something was 'marketable'. In contrast, the inventors seemed quite shy and reluctant to use anything more than technical language, almost as if this was the only evidence required – as if no further explanation was needed.

 

This difference forced me to reflect on the aims of this course—how communication skills are not generic, but differ according to time and place. Like in the 'Research Methodology' textbook discussed in the first lecture, these communication skills are the result of a form of triangulation,  [5]  which I have made into the following diagram:

...

 1.  Description of topic encountered in the course

 2.  The author's voice is clear

 3.  Introduces 'everyday' life experience

 4.  The style is relatively informal, yet still uses full sentences

 5.  Makes an explicit link between 'everyday' life and the topic

References

Brookfield, S 1987, Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting, Open University Press, Milton Keynes.

Mezirow, J 1990, Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: a guide to transformative and emancipatory learning, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Schön, DA 1987, Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

The Learning Centre thanks the students who permitted us to feature examples of their writing.

Prepared by The Learning Centre, The University of New South Wales © 2008. This guide may be distributed or adapted for educational purposes. Full and proper acknowledgement is required. Email: learningcentre@unsw.edu.au

 

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When we are young, when faced with a writing a reflective essay, we may feel that we really don’t have much to reflect on. This is when you have to sit back and think about your short life and pull memories out like teeth.

You may have more memories than you think, but you are so busy living life that you never really reflected on them as having any importance once those times had passed.

Remember when you would come back to school after summer vacation and the first thing your English teacher always wanted was not only my math homework help that you had from a friend, but a story about what you did this past summer, well it is much like that when writing a reflective essay for your college English Professor.

The hardest part is selecting a reflective essay topic, but once you have found a good one your words will fly from your fingers onto the page with no problem. They are your personal memories and no one else can write them like you can.

Research and Gathering Info

  • Finding the Perfect Reflective Topic Ideas

The use of your research skills are what you will need to begin your search for reflective essay ideas.

After gathering your own thoughts, the next step you can take is interviewing your parents, friends, and relatives for more information. They are the people that can help you with this trip down memory lane.

This is a perfect time to call your parents, you know that you should have before this but that is okay, they will be glad to hear from you.

Were you active at your church, community center, or sit on activity councils at your school? Did you do an internship while in High School, or maybe volunteer at your local hospital. Get in touch with all of the people that you have worked with over the years and before you know it you will be compiling a list of topics and gathering ideas to choose from.

Many students have kept a journal throughout their time in elementary school right through to high school. If this is your case, there is so much info in them for you to glean from now to help you with your reflective essay topic.

Get your journals out and spend an afternoon slowly reading them. As you read them think of where you were then and where you are now.

If any of your entries make you laugh, write them down into an outline, also if there are any that bring tears to your eyes, put them in the outline also.

Another great resource for memories are any greeting cards that you have received over the years from your parents, aunts/ uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers. It’s amazing the feelings that come over you when taking this type of walk down memory lane.

Your Outline

Now that you have gathered the information you need for your reflective essay, now you need to get it all in order. This type of essay is not one that you just put down on paper, it has to have reasons for actions, and explanations of outcomes in your story.

In order to do this, you must organize your thoughts in an outline. This will put your paper in sections that are easily read. Writing an essay should always begin with research and then an outline so that you are not jumping all over the place with your ideas.

The one thing that many students fail to do when writing an essay is to reflect back on the previous paragraph while writing the next one. Cultivating this habit will give your writing the effect of seamless thought, and keep your reader engaged.

Use the following layout for organizing your research:

  • An Introduction- Begin with telling your audience about your topic and cultivate your thesis. Your thesis is one-two sentences introducing what your paper is about. It should include some back-story to get the reader interested.

  1. Use a compelling incident

  2. Use an amusing story

  3. Express with full description a surprising or intriguing fact followed by a dramatic question.

Keep in mind that what you lead with has to be in synch with the material that follows. If you lead with a sobering statement, you cannot follow with outrageous emotion. Do not become instantly lighthearted and comical if you start off with a serious theme.

Tone in your introduction sets the stage for the rest of your paper, your audience is being set up in your introduction.

  • The body consist of a few paragraphs-

Paragraph I: The experience you are writing about and how it affected you

Paragraph II: Tell about how this experience made a difference to others around you

Paragraph III: What did you learn from the experience or get out of it

  • Your Conclusion: A conclusion is the claim that is already said in the body of your paragraphs, repeating some of the sentences here in the conclusion wraps everything up nicely. It usually goes something like this:

  1. Summarize your points

  2. Connect them

  3. Tie major points of the story together

  4. Reveal your points the way they appeared in your paper

  5. Finish dramatically

Conclusions are read last, so this is the paragraph that your readers will remember the most. If it does not tie together you will leave them confused, in this case your professor, and you will see statements on your paper like “unclear” , or, “how does this tie in to your story”

Preparing this outline first before writing your paper will help you write a cohesive set of thoughts that flows smoothly when read by your professor. Help for creating an outline can also be found by visiting online writing services.

Everyone gets behind sometimes and these services can help when the time you have to finish your paper has reached a critical point. No matter how much time you have with your urgent term paper, you should always place high attention to the conclusions page, as it might make the main impact of your paper.

Topics That Work

If you cannot find your own topics or are in a crunch for time, these may jog your memory and get you started on getting that reflective essay done.

  • A stormy night: The lights went out and everyone was gathered in the same room hoping that a tree would not fall through the roof, then the lights went out.

  • Moving away: You could not believe that your family was moving away from the only home you ever knew.

  • Your first love: Everyone said it was puppy love but you knew you would be with your first love the rest of your life, then you broke up. He dumped you or you dumped him?

  • First time speaking in public: You are up on that stage and all you see is spinning lights, what happened?

  • You lied to your best friend: They asked you a question about something that would hurt their feelings if you told the truth, so you lied.

  • A death: No matter who it was, someone close to you passed away. What happened in the ensuing days after you found out? What changed in your life due to this persons passing?

  • First job: You got the job, and on the first day you were nervous and made lots of mistakes. How did your coworkers act towards you/your new boss/how did you feel?

  • Your first road trip without your parents: Where did you go and with who? What did you see that you had not intended to see on the trip? How much convincing did it take to get your parents to let you go?

  • You had to write an essay to get a scholarship: Did you get help with the essay? Did you get the scholarship? How did you react/ your family react when finding out you won the scholarship?

  • You got drunk for the first time in your life: What led to the drinking? Were you of age? How did you feel the day after? Were you with friends and did you all drink? Did you play it safe by not driving or did you get in trouble with the law?

  • You got locked up: Why? Did you have to stay in jail or did your family bail you out? What happened while you were there? How did it feel to have to call your family and tell them you were in jail?

  • Weight loss or gain: Since growing up have you gained weight, lost weight? What about your weight is unhealthy and were you teased?

  • Bullying story: Were you bullied at school? Were you or a friend bullied and how did you deal with it.

  • Town conspiracy: Has something happened in your town that made headline news across the nation? Did a local politician cause the township shame?

  • Local kid makes good: Did someone from your high school make it big? Were you friends with this person? Were you jealous or happy for them?

  • You meet your favorite star: Did you get their autograph? Were you in a photo with them? Were you invited backstage to a concert of your favorite singer? Did you get a chance to visit a set where they were filming?

  • You had to admit you were wrong: How did it feel? What led up to admitting a wrong, and to whom? Do you have trouble being wrong about anything?

  • Your team won the championship: What sport was being played? What part did you play in getting your team to the championship? Was your team always winners/losers?

  • What child are you: Are you the oldest, middle or youngest child and what kind of relationship do you have with your siblings due to the place you hold in that hierarchy.

  • Adoption: Are you adopted and if so have you met your birth parents? How did you find out you were adopted? Do you feel you are adopted? (could be a funny story with this last one)

  • Only child: Were you the only child for many years and then your parents surprised you with the fact that you were going to have a brother of sister? How did it make you feel, were you excited, or you wanted to scream no, no, no!

  • Fistfight: Were you ever in a fistfight? Get a black-eye? What was it about and how old were you when it happened? Do you think you won the fight? Was the altercation over when the fight was over, or did it lead to hard feelings with that person up to this day?

  • Cooking: Do you remember the first thing you were allowed to cook? What was it and how did it turn out? Do people tend to love your cooking or run from it when you are in the kitchen.

Titles

This section was saved till last because if you try to create a title in the beginning of your paper, it will change before you are done.

Titles may not seem as important a part of organizing your reflective essay as the rest, but it can be.  A proper title tells your audience what your paper is about. They can be provocative but their main goal is to let the reader know what they are about to read.

The title for your personal reflective essay will set the tone for your introduction, it can sometimes make or break your paper, so think carefully about your title and save it for last. (Remember when writing, it is okay to kill your little darlings, meaning to revise, revise, revise.

Go Deep

To cap it all off, this essay is about an experience that you have had in your life, only you and those that shared the story with you can enhance or downplay the experience. Go in deep, and don’t hold anything back.

It is the one type of paper that you can cut loose on the writing, but keep in mind the grammar making sure it is solid and correct. If dialog is used to describe banter between you and someone in your story, make sure you study how to write dialog within a paper.

Good luck with your reflective essay, you may even be able to sell it if done properly.

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