We reflect in order to learn something, or we learn as a result of reflecting

Moon, 1994.

I wrote this post earlier this month and I promised I’d share some reflection activities (for teachers and trainers) that I have encountered in my reading. That’s 8 books, 5 articles, 2 blogs, 1 online course and 1 webinar so far! 📚📓💻

Here are 15 options to choose from! I hope you find something you can use!

First of all:

Choose one or two key events of the lesson you’d like to reflect on.

(start, end, setting up a task, specific tasks, critical incidents)

Recall what happened

(Wallace, 1991:63)

  • Personal recall: Just try to remember!
  • Documented recall: written account, field notes
  • Electronic recall: audio and video
  • Transcript: Verbatim account of interaction

Choose: individual or collaborative?

Personal recall

1. Follow a framework which leads from initial to deeper reflection, such as Gibbs’ six-stage model.
  • What happened?
  • Who was present?
  • What did you and the other people do?
  • What was the outcome of the situation?
  • What did you want to happen?
  • What were you thinking and feeling during the situation?
  • What do you think other people were thinking and feeling about the situation?
  • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?
  • What do you think about the situation now?
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What did you and other people contribute to the situation (positively or negatively)?
  • Why did things go well?
  • Why didn’t it go well?
  • What sense can you make of the situation?
  • What knowledge – your own or others (for example academic literature) can help you understand the situation?
  • What did you learn from this situation?
  • How could this have been a more positive situation for everyone involved?
  • What skills do you need to develop for me to handle a situation like this better?
Action plan
  • How will you develop the required skills you need?
  • How can you make sure that you can act differently next time?
2. A shorter version (Inspired by Mann and Walsh, 2017)
  • Stand back from the event.
  • Describe the facts.
  • Recall how you felt.
  • Recall your learners’ reactions and responses.
  • Ask yourself questions. Engage in an internal dialogue.
  • What prior experience and thoughts informed your reactions?
  • What’s your current emotional state?
  • What have you learned from this experience?

3. General questions for an internal dialogue. (Farrell, 2013)
  • What are your particular classroom routines when you are teaching/training?
  • Do you start/end a class/session in the same way all the time?
  • Do you think routine is necessary for teachers/students?
  • Do you ever reflect on your teacher/trainer beliefs?
  • Have you ever reflected on your teacher/trainer roles?
  • Do you ever change your teaching personality to meet your students’ needs?
  • What is your comfort zone as a teacher/trainer and do you ever try to move out of it?
  • How do you evaluate your teaching?

Moon (1994) suggests a more imaginative approach to reflection, such as drawing, doodling, creating diagrams, or any other form of depiction to cater for different preferences. Here are two ideas:

4. Sketch and reflect

I read the Reflect and sketch idea in this post. I’ve changed its name, as I’d rather sketch first and interpret what I see! Here’s how I’d do it:

Recall a specific stage/moment of the lesson and sketch it. What do you see?

Optional extension: Show it to a colleague. What do they see?

What do you see in Stephanie’s sketches (2)? ⬇️ Feel free to leave a comment!

5. Scatter plots – borrowed from Vicky Margari’s post Scatter Plots for ELT

As simple as drawing two lines and 3-4 emojis. Then writing your class activities somewhere in the diagram, depending on students’ response. Reflect on the highs and lows and how you can engage students more.

Jamboard fans can go to Vicki’s post and grab her templates!


6. Learning paragraph.

This is a low complexity technique, perfect for those who are new to reflection.

You can do it on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, depending on your schedule. You only need to answer one question and you only need to write one paragraph.

The teacher who introduced this technique, said she asks her students this question: How does the material you studied today relate to your everyday life?

I’ve thought of two ways to use the learning paragraph:

  • Focusing on received knowledge. Question: What did I learn this week (from my reading, webinars, etc) that I can implement in my classes?
  • Focusing on experiential knowledge. Question: What was the most difficult moment today and what did I learn from this experience?

I read about the learning paragraph on this course: The CATAPULT Project’s LSP MOOC. Thank you Vicky Margari for recommending it!

7. Stemming the reflection- a journal writing exercise inspired by Moon (2004).

Moon (2004) states that when writing a reflective journal, moving from description to a more profound analysis is essential. However, reflection is a thinking process and can’t always be tidy or follow a chronological order. Here are some sentence stems that I’ve found very useful:

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Today/Yesterday / last week….

It made me think …

I felt…

Initially I…

Then I began to…

I talked with..about it…

He/ she said that…

Now, I can see how…

8. Start a reflective portfolio. (Richards, 2005)

Save your reflections. You can revisit them and reflect on whether you see things differently, when your feelings have cooled down.

What might not have been obvious when written or recorded may later become apparent

(Richards and Lockhart, 1994)

There are many ways to do that:

  • You can save them in a good old binder/folder.
  • Type them and save digital copies to your computer.
  • Start a blog! Many of my colleagues always talk about starting a blog and haven’t got round to it yet. And they have SO much to share. No better time than the present!
  • Set up a school blog where teachers can share critical incidents or just reflect on their classes. Enable commenting so that they can reply to each other’s posts and/or ask questions.
  • Flipgrid: Set up a grid for your teachers/colleagues. They can upload video reflections and respond to each other’s videos.
9. Excavating activities (Wright and Bolitho, 2007)

Why do you use the activities you do?

In order to uncover the principles behind activities, use a grid to structure your reflection.

These ones were taken from the book Trainer Development :

Name of activityDescriptionAimStudent/teacher rolePlace in the teaching/training process
(Wright and Bolitho, 2010)
whathowwhy is it usefulwhat/who is it for
(Wright and Bolitho, 2010)

10. Talk to a critical friend

Farrell (2013) recommends teaming up with another teacher who you trust and helping each other develop your reflective ability. Based on the adage “two heads are better than one“.

To help each other you’ll need to:

  • be open
  • listen actively. Be here now, be there now (Heron, 2000)
  • Show empathy. Don’t evaluate or judge.

Ideally, you’ll need to decide on the type of interaction/intervention.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Will the friend just listen?

Will the friend ask any questions?

Will the friend listen, paraphrase and probe you to explore, clarify any issues in order to move things forward?

Will the friend prescribe a course for action?

Personally, I think balance is key.

Egan (2012)makes an interesting point in his book The Skilled helper, which I think is quite relevant here. He says:

You should be careful not to become an empathetic response machine, or an interrogator, constantly asking questions.

Egan, The skilled helper, 2012
11. A reflective group with a leader or facilitator (Farrell, 2013)

Teachers/trainers can meet (face to face or online) and discuss their classes/sessions. Farrell reminds us that collaborative reflection isn’t easy and can be stressful or trigger feelings such as vulnerability, or fear of face loss. Members should therefore ideally know each other and feel comfortable with each other; without trust, the process won’t be so effective.

They can decide on whether they want a leader; will it always be the same person or will they take turns? They can also decide on the role of the leader. To facilitate, to ask questions, to offer suggestions, etc.

Focus on successful moments as well!

Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay
  • Describe the success
  • How do you know you were successful?
  • Have you tried the activity before with different results?
  • What effect did the success have on the people involved?

(Taken from Martyn Clarke’s webinar: Reflective talk: making conversation a tool for learning)

12. Peer support/feedback

When giving feedback to a peer/ trainee, do it in a form that encourages reflection (Walsh and Mann, 2017).

  • You mentioned…Can we explore this some more?
  • Tell me how you viewed…
  • I’m interested in what you think about..
  • Think about what made the activity difficult..
  • How could you..next time?

Using documented recall or the transcript

13. Self-observation tasks

These ones are easier if you are recording your classes/sessions using an application such as Loom, which automatically creates a transcript. Read the transcript and reflect on your teacher/trainer talk. Here are some example activities:

a) Make a list of all the questions you asked your students/trainees. Are they display or referential questions? Put simply, are they questions that test your student’s knowledge or genuinely communicative questions, to which you don’t know the answer? Reflect on whether you over-rely on one type and what effect this might have on your classes.

b)Trainers: Record your sessions and focus on your trainer talk. List examples of advocatory and exploratory talk. Put simply, lecturing versus asking thinking questions and creating talking opportunities.

Electronic recall 📹

14. Using video as a stimulus for reflection (Orlova, 2009)

  • Record a class/session
  • View once for the first emotional response.
  • Choose a section and view again with a certain degree of detachment.
  • Ask yourself these 4 questions :

Last but not least..

15. Reflecting on reflection: (Leather and Popovic, 2008)

Look back at the reflection tasks you’ve done. Which one did you enjoy the most? Which ones would you use with your students or teachers? Which one helped you the most?

Some thoughts..

It is generally agreed that collaborative reflection is more likely to facilitate change as without external input from other people, we just see what we want to see.

However, I would argue that for certain people, this can be distracting. Individual reflection can be just as fruitful. Try both and decide which one works best for you. Ideally, engage in both types from time to time.

Farrell (2013) also highlights the importance of using a range of reflection types and tasks instead of over-relying on one. Which one(s) are you going to try? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

Thank you..

..Stephanie Valerio for these fabulous sketches! Stephanie is not only a teacher and materials writer but an artist, too!

..for reading such a long post! If you’ve reached the end, it means you found it interesting.. so why not go ahead and follow my blog? 🙂


Egan, G., 2012. The Skilled Helper. Mason, OH: Cengage.

Farrell, T., 2013. Reflective practice in ESL teacher development groups. 1st ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle | The University of Edinburgh

Heron, J., 2020. Helping the client. [Place of publication not identified]: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Leather, S. and Popovic, R., 2008. ETp. [online] ETp. Available at: <https://www.etprofessional.com/time-for-reflection&gt; [Accessed 26 May 2021].

Mann, S. & Walsh, S. (2017). Reflective practice in English language teaching: Research-based principles and practices. New York: Routledge

Moon, J., 2004. A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Orlova, N., 2009. Video Recording as a Stimulus for Reflection in Pre-Service EFL Teacher Training

Reflective talk: making conversation a tool for learning | TeachingEnglish | British Council | BBC

Reflective Teaching. Principles and Practices

Richards, J. and Lockhart, C., 1994. Reflective teaching in second language classrooms. Cambridge u.a.: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Reflective teaching and training -The TEFL Zone

Scatter Plots for ELT – Jump 4 English

TL Forum 2005: Richards – Activity-reflection e-portfolios: An approach to the problem of effectively integrating ICTs in teaching and learning (curtin.edu.au)

Wallace, M., 1991. Training foreign language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wright, T. and Bolitho, R., 2010. Trainer development. [La Vergne, Tenn.]: [Lulu].

image credits

by Anna Shvets from Pexels

People on a Video Call · Free Stock Photo (pexels.com)

Man in Blue Dress Shirt Writing on White Paper · Free Stock Photo (pexels.com)

Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay

Man in Blue Dress Shirt Writing on White Paper · Free Stock Photo (pexels.com)