An essay is considered reflective when the writer looks back on a particular experience and discusses what they learned or better understand because of it. Many teachers have students write reflective essays at the end of major projects or units, hoping they will consider their own understanding of the material before the class moves on to the next topic.
Examples of reflective essays can be found online, but because these reflections are both personal in nature and based on a specific type of project, it can be difficult for students to determine what is expected for their own essay based on found samples. Even so, students who have never written a reflective essay might gain a better idea of how to begin by reading a couple of examples.
The DePaul University Center for Writing-based Learning points out features that most reflective essays have in common. These include a statement or introduction to establish context, a brief summary of what the student did, a self-evaluation of how the student feels about his accomplishments, and some considerations of what was learned and how this knowledge might be used in the future. This final step is usually seen as the most important part because it encourages students to think about how they are growing over time. The purpose of reflective essay writing is to help students learn by making them consider their own learning process and how to improve it.