Resources for Designing Service-Learning Reflection Exercises

When designing reflection exercises, consider the following:

  • What are students expected to learn from the service experience?
  • How is this service experience related to the wider context of the academic principles discussed in this course, experience or field of study?

Examples of service-learning reflection exercises:

Directed writings

These exercises ask students to explore the service experience writing the context of course content. In a directed writing assignment, the student connects his or her service work with a class reading or course material. The instructor creates a question for students to answer in 1-2 pages that asks students to respond to this class reading in light of their service experience.

Integrative papers

Similar to a directed writing assignment, these research papers integrate class discussion, readings and assignments, outside research and the service experience as sources for writing a final paper demonstrating understanding of a course concept. Integrative papers are over 5 pages in length and demonstrate a greater depth of critical thinking than is explored in the directed writing assignment described above.

Experiential research papers

In this assignment, students identify and research a social issue they have encountered at their service site. Based on the service experience and outside research, students discuss the issue and its local context and make recommendations to the agency for future action. Students are encouraged to make presentations to the class and agency representatives as a culmination of this work.

Critical incident journals

This type of journal activity asks students to describe an event or challenge they faced while working with the partnering agency. In this exercise the student will discuss how he or she applied a course concept or related skill in this instance.

Key-phrase journals

This journaling activity requires students to incorporate terms and phrases that are central to course concepts into journal entries. Students demonstrate learning by regular use of the term or phrase, and adequate understanding and application.

Double-entry journals

Students keep a journal of their service experience and divide the journal pages into a left and right side. On the left side of the journal, students describe their thoughts and reactions to the service experience. On the right side of the journal students write about course concepts from class readings, lecture or class discussion. Students may draw arrows indicating relationships between journal entries on the left side of the page to the course concepts listed on the right side of the page.

Team journals or Blogs

Through this exercise, students gain insight into the observations and perspectives of their classmates during the service experience. Students may take turns describing their experiences and responding to the observations of others in an electronic or hardcopy shared journal.


Class discussions in small or large groups allow students to share about their service experience. In structured discussion experiences, students are given questions to answer in the discussion group to encourage critical thinking about the course content and service experience.

Exit cards

In this reflection exercise, students briefly describe connections they see between their service work and current course topics. Students write their thoughts on note cards and submit the cards at the end of class. This is a great way to ensure that students are staying on track with their service commitment.

Case studies

These activities are a great way for students to prepare for a service experience. Published case studies or examples developed by instructors are helpful in encouraging students to think about and plan for their service work.


Students may share their service experience with the class and/or Community Partner staff members. Student presentations will include discussion of course concepts and theories.

These examples were adapted from:

Service learning tip sheets: A faculty resource guide, Hatcher, J.A., Ed. (1998)

Service-learning: using structured reflection to enhance learning from service,, retrieved March 15, 2007.