How to Write a Reflective Essay
That Examines Your Personal Growth


Getting assigned a reflective essay means that you’ve been given an opportunity to think critically about your very own life. Unlike many other types of essays you may come across in school, reflective essays are not based on topics outside of yourself—like those found in history, science, literature, or current events.

Instead, writing a reflective essay is essentially like writing about a topic you know very well—you.

And just like mastering any other style of writing, learning how to write a good reflective essay comes from both the planning process itself and getting plenty of practice under your belt.

So to help you make the most of the reflective essay you’re being asked to write, we’ve put together this handy guide on how to write a reflective essay that examines your personal growth.


What is a Reflective Essay

The definition of a reflective essay is pretty straightforward. A reflective essay is a formal style of writing in which the author relates their personal life experiences to who they are now as a person. In other words, they discuss how the past has shaped them over time.

So, for example, if you were to begin writing a reflective essay now, you may choose to discuss one event from your past and explain how that event changed the way you feel about a certain topic—like the relationship you have with one of your parents or how you’ve looked at death and dying ever since you lost a loved one.

On the other hand, you could also choose to focus on how your personal development has been impacted by several things such as your childhood, your culture, your religion, or your education.

Whatever the case may be, the whole purpose behind writing a reflective essay is to look inward and to think critically about who you are and why you are the way you are. What are your thoughts and why do you have them? How do you feel about certain things and what has led you to feel this way? And what have you learned by going through specific things in the past?

A reflective essay is your chance to talk about yourself and what makes you tick, all while using concrete evidence to support your claim.

Requirements for a Reflective Essay

Familiarizing yourself with the requirements for a reflective essay is always a good idea. There are certain requirements for essays in general, for reflective essays themselves, and your teacher may have their own requirements as well.

If you have been given a rubric, be sure to follow it closely. If not, ask your teacher what they are looking for specifically on this assignment.

Then, ask yourself the following questions to make sure you are on the right path:

  • Have I looked at several reflective essay examples first?
  • Have I selected a reflective essay topic that I feel confident about?
  • Have I taken the time to create an outline of my essay?
  • Have I brainstormed what evidence I would like to include to support my claim?
  • Have I familiarized myself with the reflective essay structure?
  • Have I completed a rough draft?
  • Have I made the reflective essay very personal but also kept it formal?
  • Have I had at least one other person read my essay and give suggestions to improve it?
  • Have I reviewed the rubric or other requirements provided by the teacher?
  • Have I written a final draft?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, you’re off to a great start. Meeting all the requirements for your reflective essay assignment means that you’ve completed a formal piece of writing that effectively communicates to your reader.

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Topics for a Reflective Essay

Similar to other types of essays, there is no limit to the amount of interesting reflective essay topics out there. While your teacher will probably have a list of suggestions for you, there are also tons of great ideas on the internet that you can tweak to your liking. So, settling on just one reflective essay topic to focus on may, in fact, prove to be more difficult than simply finding one you like.

Some examples of reflective essay topics you may enjoy writing about include:

  • A vacation you took with your family
  • The first time you attended a sporting event
  • A unique holiday tradition you participate in each year
  • When you had a big disagreement with someone
  • The time you lost a friend
  • Your experience being bullied or bullying others
  • What you’ve learned about someone special in your life
  • Trying something new and hating or loving it
  • A dream you’ve never been able to forget
  • What it’s like to be different than others

Reflective essay topics can be either surface-level or profoundly deep based on your age, experience level, and personal preference. But in either situation, it is possible to draw parallels between an experience and how it has impacted you—whether momentarily or long-term. So, don’t be afraid to look closely, be honest, and express your general thoughts or feelings about the topic you’ve chosen.

Reflective Essay Structure

All essays follow a pretty standard structure and reflective essays are no exception. But the good news is that having a standard essay structure makes it that much easier to know what is expected of you and keep your thoughts organized while you write. And while the number of body paragraphs often varies based on your grade level and previous writing experience, essays typically have one introductory paragraph, three or more body paragraphs, and one concluding paragraph to be considered complete.

Here is how you should structure your reflective essay:

  • Start with an introductory paragraph. The first sentence of this paragraph should grab your reader’s attention. It’s called the hook. The middle sentences should clearly introduce the topic you will be discussing. And the final sentence in this paragraph is your thesis statement or claim.
  • The body paragraphs that follow should each begin with a topic sentence to let the reader know what that particular paragraph is about. Then, be sure to include plenty of details about the life experience you are discussing and how it has impacted you as a person.
  • The concluding paragraph is basically a summary of what has already been discussed in the reflective essay. This paragraph allows you to restate your claim and the evidence you used to support it in a new way. Plus, it gives the reader closure so that they know the essay has come to an end.

Keeping the reflective essay structure in mind is key to writing a successful essay. You may even find it helpful to number each paragraph or highlight each one in a different color to keep yourself organized.

How to Write a Reflective Essay

You’ve been given the assignment to write a reflective essay, now what do you do? Get started, of course!

If you’re wondering how to write a reflective essay for the first time, our best advice is to jump right in. There’s no better time than now to get practice and refine your formal writing skills. Plus, a reflective essay is a great opportunity to do this and delve deep into your personality at the very same time.

First, you want to spend some time planning it out. Think it through, gather evidence, and create an outline. If you get stuck at this stage, ask your teacher or a classmate for help.

Next, start writing. Even if you don’t know exactly what you say, when you actually begin writing, things you want to say will naturally come to mind.

Then, read through your first draft and work with your teacher or a peer to make it even better than before.

Lastly, rewrite your first draft by updating the mistakes you found, adding anything you forgot, and taking the suggestions given to you to heart.


Reflective Essay Examples

Looking at reflective essay examples can help you develop an idea of what a good reflective essay looks like as opposed to what a not-so-good reflective essay looks like. And seeing multiple samples side by side gives you a sense of what you want your own writing to look like—and not look like.

For example, you might notice that one reflective essay in the group provides several life experiences from the past and explains how they all relate to who that person has become while another reflective essay example fails to include any real-life evidence at all, leaving the reader unsure.

Here is a well-written reflective essay example for you to review:

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When you get assigned a reflective essay for the first time, you may be tempted to look at it like any old writing project. From start to finish, the process of reflective essay planning, evidence gathering, draft writing, and revision is, in fact, similar to other styles of essay writing.

But really, the difference is that a reflective essay is your chance to shine. It’s an opportunity to look at your own life and make those important connections between your personal experiences and how they have shaped you into who you are today—all while getting practice and honing skills through the formal writing process.

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