Focusing on Student Reflection

          Image by Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

Do you encourage and provide opportunities for learner self-reflection in your classes? When and how often?   

I like to give students opportunities during the term (and of course PBLA prescribes it).  But it always seems especially pertinent as the year closes out – whether it is the end of the school year or the end of the calendar year. So, as 2021 comes to a close, I thought I’d share some self-reflection activities that I have used and that you might like to try in your classes. These are good for upper-intermediate and higher levels, including EAP. 

Ideas to encourage self-reflection in learners

  1. At the end of a module, unit, or term, provide time in class for students to write a few paragraphs to themselves in which they reflect on their learning. You can offer two or three questions to get them started.  Tell them that you are not going to look at this, but they should keep it in their portfolio or class binder. This is an authentic self-reflection practice that is not performed for anyone else.  Check out this tool: The 40 Reflection Questions   
  2. Stephen Brookfield (2013; 2015) offers some great ideas on how to help students take ownership of their learning. Similar to idea #1 above, his activity, “Letter to a Second Self” provides an end of term activity. Ask the students to try to imagine giving advice to themselves on the best way to approach a new learning effort.  The objective is for students to better understand their own learning preferences and habits based on the course they have taken. Brookfield gives some prompts to help students get started including: 
    1. The things you should watch out for are… 
    2. The things most likely to be most helpful to you are… 
    3. When you feel stuck you might want to try… 
    4. What’s probably going to work best for you is… 
    5. Make sure you… 
    6. When you feel down or demoralized you should… 
    7. Don’t try to…
  3. For a more interactive reflective activity try adapting the SWOT analysis. Have you heard of SWOT? Although designed with businesses in mind, I have used this tool quite effectively in an upper-intermediate level class. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats  and is designed to help companies (or students) identify what they are doing well, what they need to improve upon, and what they can do to minimize impediments to success while identifying opportunities. In my class, I made it into a group activity using a dice in which 1 & 6 means pass a turn, 2 stands for S, 3 stands for W, etc. Students take turns throwing the dice and wherever it lands, the student shares their own reflections on this aspect of their learning progress.   Then the next student takes a turn and so on.  The other students can offer encouragement, advice, or commiseration as they share with one another. The activity is over once someone has covered all 4 points – or once everyone has had a chance to share.  

Finally, if you are looking for something to jump-start your student self-reflection activities in the new year, here is a link to a previous blog post by Cecilia Apponte De-Hanna: Cans, Wants, and Wills. I can see this idea being incorporated into a weekly learning journal in which students reflect on their learning at the end of each week.  

I hope you find these ideas helpful.  Please share down below some activities you like to use.  


Brookfield, S. (2013). Powerful Techniques for Teaching Adults. Jossey-Bass 

Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. Jossey-Bass

Hello TESL O members. I'm Beth Beardall. I manage the TESL O Blog website along and work alongside an amazing team of editors and bloggers. I truly enjoy working with the TESL Ontario Blog Admin Team and have been volunteering with the TESL O Blog since 2016. I am OCELT certified and have a master's degree in Adult Education. I work in the LINC/ESL program with adult learners. I enjoy learning from others, teaching or tutoring ESL and getting to know people from around the world, and, of course, copy editing and proofreading.


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