Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.
Describe an experience, event, conversation, or moment in time.
Explain the meaning of that experience or what you learned.
6 Writing Tips for Reflective Essays
- Look at the list of topics and pick one that brings up a vivid memory.
- Start by describing that experience so that someone else feels they were there.
- Your thesis will be the meaning of that experience.
- Answer one or more of the "Questions to Help You Develop Your Essay" (scroll down towards the end of this article to find that list) to write the body of your paper.
- Conclude by stating what you have learned or what you think the main meaning of this experience is, or by using an analogy.
- See my other article, How to Write a Reflective Essay, for step-by-step instructions as well as sample essays.
Relationships are where we often feel the strongest emotions, which make this topic easy to write about and describe. Moreover, reflective writing about relationships can help us understand and sometimes resolve our feelings.
- A conversation when you became very angry.
- A time when you were afraid.
- A time when you were lonely.
- A memory of when you were misunderstood.
- A time when you were disappointed or discouraged by something someone said.
- A decision that you made which someone else disagreed with.
- When someone showed you that they were proud of you.
- A moment when you knew you were in love.
- When you first met a new family member.
- The birth of a child, or the adoption of a child or sibling.
- Watching an elderly loved one lose memory through dementia.
- When you told someone that you were sorry.
- A time you were embarrassed.
- When you lied and tried to hide your lie, or were confronted with it.
- A time you wanted something that belonged to someone else.
- A confrontation with a teacher, boss, or another person in authority.
- When your parents punished you unfairly.
- A time when you cried and someone comforted you, or you comforted someone else.
- Playing with friends when you were a child.
- A time you most felt like you were a sister or a brother.
- When you helped someone else or you were helped.
- A family reunion, or when you met relatives you did not know.
- A special trip you shared with someone else.
- A moment when you laughed with someone and couldn't stop.
- When you knew your parent (or grandparent, or coach) was not perfect.
- When you spoke in front of a group of people, or read something you wrote out loud.
- A time you spent with friends without parental supervision.
- When you shared a secret with someone, or when someone told you a secret.
- When someone made you scared.
Often, moments in nature startle us into an experience of life as something deeper and more meaningful. An experience in nature can be an actual memory, or it can be an imaginary placing of yourself in a setting you have only dreamed about or seen in pictures.
- Watching the ocean with your feet buried in the sand.
- Looking at a sunset.
- Sitting at the top of a hill, looking down over a valley.
- Watching a bird flying in the sky.
- Smelling a flower.
- Picking berries.
- Walking in a forest.
- Climbing up a mountain.
- Playing in the sand at the seashore.
- Swimming in a lake.
- Crossing a bridge and looking out over the water.
- Skiing down a hill with the wind blowing in your face.
- Running outdoors.
- Hiking along a trail.
- Playing in mud.
- Walking in the rain.
- Walking through sand dunes.
- Hiking through a desert.
- Backpacking in the mountains.
- Rock climbing.
- Walking through an historic battlefield.
- Sitting or walking through a field of wildflowers.
- Watching birds build a nest.
- Seeing a snake, spider, or other insect.
- Encountering a deer or other wild animal.
- Watching animals at a zoo.
- Playing with your dog, cat, or other pet.
- Watching a coming storm, hurricane, or tornado.
- Experiencing an earthquake or another natural disaster.
Sometimes a place evokes strong emotions and memories. Here are some places that can make good topics:
- Your room growing up, or your bedroom now.
- The town where you grew up.
- A school you attended or a particular classroom, lunch spot, or place you hung out with friends.
- The mall or your favorite store.
- A place that you have worked, or work now.
- Your grandparents' house or the house of a neighbor or friend.
- A bookstore or coffee shop.
- Your car, a bus, subway, ferry, or train. Or maybe your bike or skateboard.
- An amusement park.
- A playground, ballpark, or another place you've played sports.
- A skating or ice skating rink.
- Your favorite restaurant, or a restaurant where you had a memorable experience.
- A vacation spot that you remember in particular.
- Where you work or a place where you do work at home, like an office or garage.
- Your online spaces like social media sites, web pages, or blogs.
Reflective Essay Poll
Both ordinary and special events can make good reflection paper topics. Sometimes, it can be very helpful to reflect on an event that happens regularly (like a birthday) to think about that event's meaning in your life. On the other hand, once-in-a-lifetime events (like a special vacation or a wedding) can also be turning points that make good essays.
- Holidays like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentines, 4th of July, Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo, or St. Patrick's Day.
- Visiting a museum or zoo.
- Ordinary daily events like getting ready in the morning, doing laundry, studying with friends, walking the dog, or making dinner.
- A birthday party for you or someone else.
- Remodeling of your house, apartment, or street.
- When the electricity or water was not working.
- A bad snowstorm, flood, or other bad weather events.
- A neighborhood party or a time you spent time talking with neighbors.
- An award ceremony, a concert, or a play.
- Taking food or offering help to someone who is sick or who has lost a relative.
- Going to church or another place of worship.
- Going on a trip or vacation.
- Moving to a new city.
- Starting a new job, or going to a new school.
- Getting your first car, your first paycheck, or your first job.
- Getting engaged or married.
- A time when you were lost.
- Something you made that you were proud of.
- A sporting event you took part in or watched.
- Going out on a special date.
- A surprise that you gave to someone else or that other people gave to you.
- A gift that was not what you expected.
- Eating something that you did not like.
- Being sick, going to the hospital, or a doctor's or dentist's visit that was unpleasant.
- A memorable dream or nightmare you had.
- When your computer crashed or you lost something you valued.
- A time when you were robbed, or when you were victimized in some way.
- A time when you stood up for the rights of someone else.
- When you had a day off from school or work, or when you played "hooky" and didn't do your regular responsibilities.
- A time that you ran for an office, or when you voted the first time.
- A time a song pulled on your emotions and helped you understand how you felt.
- A dream that haunted you and what you did about that.
Questions to Help You Develop Your Essay
Develop the reflective aspects of your essay by answering one or more of the following questions. The answer can be your thesis. Use the follow-up questions to help you give details to fill out your paragraph.
- What emotions did I feel? Why?
- What did I especially notice? What made me see that?
- What is the meaning of this experience? How do I know this?
- Was there something that surprised me? What caused this?
- What did I learn from this? Are there some changes I need to make?
- What past experiences are similar to this one? How is this experience the same or different from previous times?
- How does this make me think about the future?
- Have I changed because of this? How? Is this good or bad?
- In what way was this a turning point for me?
- What could I have done differently?
- Is this an analogy for something else? What metaphors or similes occur to me?
- How can I use this experience to help someone else?
- What really happened? Is that different from what I thought was happening at the time?
- How can I apply what I've learned to my life or career?
- What skills did I learn through this?
- What questions did this make me ask?
- In what way was I challenged to think differently about social class, race, gender, or faith?
- How has this changed the way I think?
How is Reflective Writing Used?
Reflections essays can be written about real experiences or imaginary ones. They help you to learn and apply experiences to your life. Here are some examples:
- In English class, you may be asked to write a reflection essay about a novel, poem, or movie so that you will understand how that piece of literature interacts with your own experiences, or to show what you've learned from it.
- In a history class, you may be asked to write reflectively about the meaning of a historical event.
- Medical students and nursing students may write about their experiences with patients so that they can learn how to be more sensitive to the needs of the people they treat.
- In a psychology or religion class, you may write a reflective essay to help you grow personally in your understanding of yourself and your beliefs.
- Journal writing, whether it is done in a class or on your own, is often a kind of reflective writing if it both records what has happened along with what you think about those events.
Questions & Answers
Question: How do I write a reflective essay on the topic "What many old people don't understand?"
Answer: Start with a story about a situation when you were misunderstood by an older person. Then your thesis will be "What many people don't understand is...." The rest of your reflection will explain why the older people don't understand and your meaning will be to explain how your generation is different or how it is actually the same as the older generation but acting in different circumstances. For example, perhaps your story is about a grandmother criticising your use of texting and social media to contact friends. You can then talk about how this use of technology has helped or hurt one or more of your friendships. You could even include a comparison with how your friendships and your grandmother's friendships with people at your age are either the same or different (or talk about both similarities and differences). Then your conclusion could be what you learned about yourself and your friendships by thinking about these similarities and differences. You might conclude that your grandmother and her friends had better friendships, or perhaps you will conclude that your friendships are similar but just use a different method of communication.
Question: How do I write a reflective essay highlighting my cultural identity?
Answer: The "meaning" part of the essay would be about how this memory or experience helped you to understand your cultural background.
Question: Is this a good reflective essay topic: is there a time when you wanted something that belonged to someone else?
Answer: You have a good idea for a reflective essay because lots of times we envy other people for their things, their personality traits, their talents, or their looks.
Question: How do I write an essay about my wife's heart attack?
Answer: Get the reader's attention by starting in the middle of the moment she has a heart attack and what you are thinking and feeling. Then go back and talk about your relationship with your wife and how this moment helped you to understand something new, or renew your feelings for one another.
Question: Can you write a reflective essay about reading experience?
Answer: Absolutely, although most of the time this is called a summary response essay. If you are doing this assignment for a class, you should probably talk to your instructor about whether they would allow this kind of experience to count. I have several articles which explain how to do that kind of essay. You can look at my profile or search for Summary Response with my name and find them.
Question: How could I begin a reflective essay about the realization that friends and family drift apart over time?
Answer: Start with a description of the opposite. That can be from a movie, novel, or T.V. show or just your own imagination. By doing your expectations of family and friends staying close forever, you can then move into the real situation you have experienced. You will finish the essay by telling what this means in your life. You could have any of the following points:
1. I learned to rely mostly on myself.
2. I've realized that in order to stay close to people, I need to work harder to maintain those relationships.
3. I am sad about what I have lost and wonder if there is a way to change this pattern.
4. I've learned to be more independent and to make new friends that have my same interests and passions.
Question: How do I start a reflective essay about the topic of going to a new school?
Answer: A good way to start an essay about a new experience is to talk about your expectations beforehand. Describe what you were thinking, feeling, and expecting about this new school. Then your essay shows how either your expectations were fulfilled, or unfulfilled.
Question: How can I write a reflective essay about geological processes and hazards?
Answer: That is an unusual topic for a reflective essay because most reflective essays are about personal subjects. However, you could write and reflect on the way in which a geological process has changed the earth over time and talk about how that has affected the plants and animals as well as the landscape.
Question: How do I write a reflective essay on marriage?
Answer: Start by telling a story of an event in the marriage which sums up the main point you want to make about that marriage. Use that story to state your thesis, or what meaning you take from that relationship and then follow it up with examples and analysis which uses more incidents and reflection. Conclude with what you have learned from this marriage experience.
Question: How do I write a reflective essay about anxiety and depression?
Answer: Start with a story about a time when you have these issues and then explain:
How has this changed your life or actions?
What does this story mean in your lifie?
Question: How do I write a reflective essay about the birth of my daughter?
Answer: You can either start with a memory of spending time with her now and then flashing back to her birth, or start with a memory about anticipating the birth, then talking about that event, and then ending with a memory of her now.
Question: How do I write an essay about my own learning and progression towards mastery of a course I am doing?
Answer: Do an introduction which talks about where your learning was before you took this course, or explains your goals in taking this curriculum. Then the body of the essay should explain either your progress in the course over time or else the topics you have mastered.
Question: How do I write a reflective essay on the topic "This is why this person is so special to me?"
Answer: On a reflective essay, you will first describe something and then explain the meaning of that person or thing. So when you are writing a reflective essay about a person, you need to start by writing description and memories about that person. Picture the person vividly for the reader and make them understand what you think and feel about that person based on the details you choose to give. Often the best way to do this is to tell events and memories and then as you tell the story of the memory, add in descriptive details to show how you feel. The second part of your essay will be answering your question. You will explain to the reader why this person is so special. If you've already told memories that show this, you can then explain more in detail how you feel. For example, if you are describing your grandmother who had Alzheimer's and lived with you growing up, you could do an essay like this:
Introduction: A memory of a time when you were little when your grandmother comforted you and helped you overcome something hard.
Body: Tell the story of how your grandmother came to live with your family and two to four memories of that time and how she helped you even though you also had to help her.
Conclusion: What you learned from this relationship and why she is so special to you. In the conclusion, you can also talk about the current situation (if your grandmother has passed away, or if you don't see her as often because you are in school).
Question: How should I approach a reflective essay on the topic of my acne experience?
Answer: You would probably focus the attention on how your experience with acne affected your image about yourself and your interactions with other people. The meaning of the essay would be how you have come to learn what is really important in life, or maybe how you have learned to view others with some sort of health problem.
Question: How do I write a reflective essay about the topic of going to church or other places of worship?
Answer: In any reflective essay, you are going to be comparing your previous knowledge (gained through reading, personal experiences or general knowledge) of the topic (usually a person, place or experience) with the current experience. Often the easiest way to organize this is to use the introduction to tell about your expectations based on your previous knowledge. Your thesis statement will be the main impression you have of this church or place of worship after attending. That thesis will usually either confirm your previous experience or contrast with that experience. Here are some samples:
Contrast: Although I generally had thought of a church as a boring place to go, this church service was interesting, lively and left me with a feeling of peace and contentment.
Confirmation: My previous experiences in church had made me think of worship as something that calmed my soul and this experience confirmed that feeling.
The body of your paper will explain what happened when you attended and use rich sensory images to describe what you see, hear, feel, smell and think about this moment. The second part of the body section will explain the meaning of this experience in your life. A good conclusion would be to tell whether this experience makes you want to go back.
Question: How do I write a reflective essay on the topic "the secret of change is to focus your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new"?
Answer: Start by deciding which of the two options you agree with. Next, think of some examples from literature, movies, real life, or history that illustrate your answer. Then think about why you believe your answer and not the other side. After you have gathered those ideas, you can follow my instructions in How to Write a Reflective Essay: https://owlcation.com/humanities/How-to-Write-a-Re...
Question: How do I write a reflective essay about my experience in doing a community psychoeducation?
Answer: It might be a good idea to start the essay with your expectations about this experience. Then tell what happened and finish with whether your expectations were fulfilled or unfulfilled. Follow up with a conclusion that tells the meaning of this experience in your life and work.
Question: How do I write a reflective journal on Human Resource management?
Answer: That sort of reflective essay is common in a company situation. The point of this project is for you to think about what happened in a work situation and then evaluate whether your actions were effective or not. Generally, it begins with you explaining the situation and your thoughts as you reacted to the situation and other people in the situation. In the reflection, you would then tell whether you now (thinking back on the situation) believe you did the right thing (and why), or how you could have done it differently and better. Most of the time, you will probably have some things you think you did well and other things you could do better. Most employers are looking to see two things: does an employee have good insight into what happened, and can the employee identify areas where they need to learn and grow?
Question: How do I write a reflective essay about entrepreneurs?
Answer: Start with a story about the entrepreneur either getting the idea for the business, in the middle of a problem or after they have had success. Then go back to explain the full experience with lots of vivid detail and dialogue or description. End the essay with what the person learned and the meaning of this experience for that person.
Question: How do I start a reflective essay about my experience on having an abortion as a teenager?
Answer: The best way to start an essay on an emotional experience is to begin by getting the reader into the experience with you at the moment of greatest emotion, such as when you were making the decision or when you discovered you were pregnant. Do that by describing the moment vividly and including any thoughts or dialog. It can be very effective to start with a question. In this case, I can imagine you might have thought something like "Is this really happening to me?" or "What are my parents going to think?" Another way to do the opening is to do a conversation that you have with someone. The conversation can be a real one, or you can create a single conversation out of perhaps several ones you had with the same person or different people. Then after this introduction which gets the reader interested in your story and emotionally connected to the difficult feelings you had, you can backtrack to tell the full story. Conclude with your reflections on this experience and how you feel about the experience today.
Question: How do I write a reflective essay on the topic "some cries are absolutely our own?"
Answer: Start with a story which illustrates this idea of loneliness in your own life, or isolation from others in a time of crisis. Then end that first paragraph with the quote. Your thesis would be what that quote means to you or what these experiences have taught you in life. Then the Body of your essay will be either an extended story illustrating what has happened in your life that has made you come to the point that you identify with this quote or several short stories that illustrate moments you have felt this way and what this has taught you. The conclusion can be how these experiences have helped to make you the person that you are, or a reflection on the fact that this is a universal human experience.
Question: How do I write a reflective essay about "guys vs men"?
Answer: That question, about whether the best word to use is "guy" or "man" is not really a reflective essay topic. Reflective topics are about personal events that you describe and then explain the meaning of that event in your life. However, if a conversation or relationship you have involves the "guy vs. men" topic, you could explain that situation and then reflect on how this discussion about these terms has influenced your life.
Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on August 22, 2020:
thank you so much Virginia. It's of great help to me as I'm also a language teacher.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on June 10, 2020:
Sure, you can write a reflective essay about many life events that mandy other people experienced, such as 911, or the birth of a child.
John on June 10, 2020:
Can you write a reflective essay about what covid 19 means to you
Novin on April 14, 2020:
You are awesome, you help me a lot to understand how i can write my reflective story. Thank you.
lexi on June 13, 2018:
hi virginia thank you for these this was really helpful when it came to doing my essay
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on December 06, 2017:
Hi Jared--I taught 6th grade for five years and I'm glad to know this helps you in your writing!
Jared Self on December 06, 2017:
These are really helpfull for me and the whole 6 grade
nthabiseng on February 28, 2016:
Thanks for the heads up I'll keep this in mind
Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on April 23, 2014:
Had to reread this again. Amazing work. Thanks again.
Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on April 19, 2014:
This is a wonderful hub. A great read. Very helpful and informative. I voted up and away. I admimre your writing style and know that only good things will happen to you with works like this.
I am following you and left you some fan mail. I cordially invite you to check out my hubs and be a follower of mine. That would make my day.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on April 18, 2014:
Thanks simondixie! I'm glad to know that my articles are helpful to you. I've spend a lot of time tweaking the format and I'm always trying to remember to make sure I give practical ideas which hopefully spur a writer's or student's thoughts.
Nancy McLendon Scott from Georgia on April 17, 2014:
Wonderful ideas! Although I'm now retired from teaching college English (and reading) classes, I occasionally teach on a part-time basis. Finding good topics that work well for college freshmen is not easy! Your hubs are easy to understand, practical, and quite helpful. Thank you!