How to Write a Reflective Essay

Teaching the Common Core Standards in Writing


Knowing how to write a reflective essay means understanding narrative essay guidelines and applying them to a personal experience.


Get five writing lesson plans with common core objectives, notes and instructions in a downloadable/printable pdf document. You can simply print it out, stick it in your lesson plan book and wait for administrative accolades.

Lessons include:

        1. “How to Write a Narrative/Reflexive Essay”
        2. “How to Write an Article Critique”
        3. “How to Write an Informational Article”
        4. “How to Write a Literary Analysis”
        5. “How to Write a Tall Tale.”
        6. “How to Write a Descriptive Essay”


The Problem

After reading the 37th essay on Disneyland, the 26th essay on summer vacation, and the 345th essay disguised as an incoherent rant, I decided to teach how to write a reflective essay. All you need to do to teach this is take the guidelines for a narrative essay and change a word or two. Guidelines for a narrative essay include the following:

Introduction: A narrative essay doesn’t necessarily have the same type of introduction as an expository or persuasive essay. The same principles, however, apply. A reflective essay should introduce the incident about which you are writing, including principal characters and setting.

Body: The body is the actual narrative part of the reflective essay. It recreates the incident with specific details. It must make the significance of the event clear.

Conclusion: The conclusion should reflect on the outcome of the incident and present the writer’s feelings.

ELA Common Core Standards

Teaching how to write a narrative or reflective essay satisfies the following common core standards.  This will impress your administrator, but bore your students.  I recommend simplifying the language when you write the objective(s) on the board.

Common Core Writing Standard 1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Common Core Writing Standard 2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
W.9-10.4  Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in W.9-10.1-3.)
W.9-10.5  Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of L.9-10.1-3.)

Standards for a Good Reflective Essay

A reflective essay should…

            • focus on a clearly defined and well-developed incident. The incident may consist of a series of closely related incidents.
            • provide background information.
            • include the elements of a narrative: plot, characters, setting, conflict.
            • organize events clearly. Chronological order works best. Skilled writers may want to incorporate flashbacks.
            • use dialogue, if appropriate.
            • include appropriate word choice.
            • explain the significance of the incident.
            • maintain a consistent point of view.

Choosing the Incident

The first step is choosing the incident. It can be something you experienced personally or something you witnessed but did not participate in. For ideas, brainstorm significant people, places, and things or writing “I remember when…” on the top of your paper and finishing it with as many things you can think of. Once you have chosen an incident, do the following:

Test the topic. Make sure you remember the incident well enough to write about it, understand the significance of it, your willingness to share it, and your ability to express the incident’s impact.

Consider your audience and purpose. Tailor the subject matter and the writing level to those who are most likely to read it.

List key events. This will help you establish a foundation for the narrative. Don’t get hung up on facts. In most cases, inventing or changing characters, words, or setting is acceptable.

Drafting and Revising

Theoretically, you have chosen a memory that has personal significance. If you find yourself losing interest as you write, you probably chose the wring memory. Remember the following as you draft:

            • Use the elements of a story and include necessary background information.
            • Include dialogue.
            • Use sensory details.

When revising make sure the following is clear:

            • The significance of the event
            • What actually happened

Types of Essays

Step-by-step instructions for writing different types of essays can be accessed by the following links.

        1. Problem-Solution Essay
        2. Persuasive Essay
        3. Narrative Essay
        4. Instructional Article
        5. Literary Analysis
        6. How to Write a Tall-Tale
        7. How to Write an Article Critique
        8. Cause and Effect Essay
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