We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience. -John Dewey

Reflection is a key component of service learning, and is that component which distinguishes service learning from volunteerism. Reflection provides faculty the means to assess the experiential learning that occurs when students participate in service activities outside the classroom. Reflection also allows students to synthesize the observed data gleaned from service activities and connect the new knowledge with the formal knowledge obtained from classroom activities and materials.

To reflect in service learning means to think critically about and analyze emotional responses to service activities in the context of course content and the learning objectives of a particular course or curriculum. It is important to incorporate structured reflection so that students develop a deeper understanding of course subject matter outside of the traditional classroom environment. Reflection can promote interpersonal communication, problem solving skills, self-awareness, a sense of civic responsibility, and a sense of belonging.

Effective reflection:

  • links service to course objectives and fosters civic responsibility
  • occurs throughout the course and not just at the end
  • is structured, guided, purposeful, with well-defined criteria for evaluation
  • challenges current realities, perhaps creating cognitive dissonance and/or conflict
  • goes beyond the descriptive nature of the experience and asks students to interpret and
    evaluate the relevance of their experience in relation to classroom knowledge with real-life service experience
  • asks students to apply new information to real-life problems and situations

Types of Reflection

The sample questions below are meant to give you an idea of how reflection may be structured in your classroom.

Group Discussions

Discussions can occur in several small groups or as one large group. NOTE: Should you have time, discussions held at placement sites are equally valuable.

Reflection questions for the beginning of the semester

Examples for the beginning of the semester (may be used in journaling assignments as well):

  • What is the identified problem/community need?
  • How is your community partner site addressing that need?
  • Why are you needed?
  • What are some of your perceptions or beliefs about the population you will be serving?
  • What do you hope to gain from this experience?

Reflection questions during the semester

  • How does your service-learning experience relate to the learning objectives of the course?
  • What did you do at your site since the last reflection discussion?
  • What did you observe?
  • What did you learn?
  • What has worked? What hasn't?
  • What do you think is (will be) the most valuable service you can offer at your site?
  • Is there something more you could do to contribute to the solution?

Reflection questions toward the end of the semester

  • What have you learned about yourself?
  • What have you learned about your community?
  • What have you contributed to the community site?
  • What values, opinions, beliefs have changed?
  • What was the most important lesson learned?
  • How have you been challenged?
  • What should others do about this issue?
  • What impact did you have on the community?


Journaling offers students an opportunity to practice writing, analyze and articulate their service experience and record and document their progress toward their learning objectives. Each of the questions above can also be incorporated into a journaling assignment.

Examples of a journaling assignment:

  • In small groups or individually have students conduct a community scan. A community scan allows students to describe the community where they will be working. Have students take a drive or walk around the community and describe what they see. For example, have the students take notes of the people (age, gender, ethnicity, etc), activities and problems (e.g., litter, pollution, graffiti, homelessness) and where it is located. Count the number of businesses, government agencies, housing units, churches, etc.

When the community scan is finished have students reflect on the following (can be done as an in-class discussion) recording their answers in their journals.

  • What are the best things you discovered about your community?
  • Do you have a different picture of your community than you had before you began your search?
  • What new questions do you have?
  • What would you like to change about your community?

Examples of journaling assignment questions:

  • Describe your service-learning project. Include a description of the agency or organization you will be working for (i.e. what is their purpose? How big are they? What is their history? What is their mission? What are their goals?).
  • How is your service-learning experience related to the readings, discussions, and lectures in class?
  • How does the service-learning experience connect to your long-term goals?
  • What new skills have you learned since beginning your service?
  • What have you done this week to make a difference?
  • What characteristics make a community successful?
  • Report a civic experience you have had in the past. Include comments about what type of difference you made to those you served. How did you feel about your service? What if any attitudes or beliefs changed for you as a result of your service?
  • Describe what you have learned about yourself as a result of your service.


A final paper or several small papers throughout the semester may be an alternative to journaling.

Example: Describe the community site where you served, including the site's mission and goals. What were your duties and responsibilities at the site? How has this experience changed your value and belief system? How has your service affected your own sense of civic responsibility? Explain why your service was important to you and the service-learning site.


This is a way to present a collection of information obtained throughout the semester. It may include portions of a journal, pictures, poems, community site information, brochures, etc. Portfolios can be presented formally or handed in at the end of the semester.


This medium can be used to showcase a community site and can be accomplished in a large group, several small groups, or individually.

Need More Reflection Ideas?

For more valuable reflection ideas and designs please click on the following links:

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