Reflection Activities

Decker, R. and Moffat, J. (2000). “Service-Learning Reflection for Engineering: A Faculty Guide” in Tsang, E. (Ed.). Projects that Matter: Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Engineering. Washington, D.C.: AAHE.

Reflection activities serve many purposes. You can use them to start discussions, to encourage creative thinking, and to facilitate communication among students. By using different activities during reflection sessions, you provide means of communication for students who are not comfortable with open discussion. Reflection activities can be especially helpful in accomplishing the transition from lecture format to discussion format in the classroom. I will describe a few reflection activities and how they can be used to help solve some problems that might arise as you discuss service experiences with your students. Many of these activities can be used for multiple purposes.

Taking Sides
Individuals stand in clusters according to the statement with which they concur. The clusters are asked to explain why they chose the answer they did, but no individual is coerced to talk. Remember that there are no right answers. Some fun warm-up questions might include questions about whether campus athletics should be funded with student fees or they might involve some current event. Once people are comfortable with this format, you can steer toward questions regarding your project.

You can modify this activity for limited space and mobility by having students use thumbs-ups or thumbs-down to express their opinions or by having students stand in a line to represent a spectrum of opinion. This activity is useful when students are tired or apathetic during discussion by creating a way for everyone to express some kind of opinion and, therefore, to be involved.

What is this?
Provide an object or a picture of an object, such as a tree, for students to look at. Ask the class what it is, what it is used for, why it is important. Then ask whether an architect would agree, or a lumberjack, or a teacher, or a child. Ask whether different opinions about the object affect the way people behave in regard to the object. This line of questioning can lead to a discussion of stereotypes and perspectives among different groups in society and why it is important to learn to work with different perspectives. Try to choose an object or objects that can be tied to the projects your students are working on. This activity is useful when students are having a hard time accepting different perspectives from others in the class or from the community members with whom they are working.

Wall Exercises
Post newspaper clippings, stories, quotes, etc. around the room with blank sheets of paper on which students can write their reactions to the materials you have posted. Be sure the materials pertain in some way to the topic you wish to discuss during reflection. Have students silently walk around the room, reading the material and sharing their opinions. When they are finished, select students to read the opinion papers aloud and discuss the articles as a class. Be sure that students understand that, even though opinions are anonymous, everyone must be respectful of other’s thoughts. This activity is useful when you suspect that students are too shy to express opinions, or when you have material you want your students to read but you do not want to assign more work for them.

Concentric Circles
Ask students to form two equal circles, one inside the other. The inner circle then turns to face the outer circle so that everyone is facing a partner. You then read a question or unfinished statement to the class. Partners introduce themselves and each person takes a minute to answer the question or complete the statement and explain his or her opinion about it. After students have responded, have one circle rotate so that everyone has a new partner. Continue the activity for several rounds, then turn the questioning into general discussion. This activity is useful for helping students become comfortable with expressing their opinions with one person so they will feel less intimidated with the whole class. It is also a good way for students to get to know each other.

Case Studies
Prepare case studies that outline dilemmas similar to those students might experience while working on their projects. Type the case studies in a few sentences and hand them out to groups of four or five students. Have students discuss the case studies and postulate what they would do. Then allow each group to read their case study to the class and explain the solutions they have come up with. You might modify this activity to have groups create their own case studies, perhaps based on their experience, and then swap them with other groups. This activity is useful for preparing students for their projects and discussing expectations. It is also a useful way to solve problems that students are experiencing by employing the creativity of everyone in the class!

In-class Journals
Have students respond to reflection questions by writing rather than talking. You can read a question aloud, write it on the board, or prepare a worksheet with questions for students to complete. This activity is useful for allowing more introverted students a way to reflect and collect their thoughts before or after a class discussion.