Reflection is an integral component of any Service-Learning activity. The objective of reflection is to capture students’ feelings and thoughts about the Service-Learning activity, to utilize and enhance critical thinking skills, and to deepen the connection between the activity and the learning objectives. Reflection exercises should ideally be completed before, during, and after the service experience. While connecting these experiences to course content, reflections can also challenge pre-conceived notions, biases, and stereotypes, and reveal new perspectives.

There are many avenues to choose regarding reflection. A few of these are outlined below.

Social Media

A Facebook page, blogging website, or other social media platform can be established to allow students to post reflections and interact with each other online regarding their service activity. Pictures can be posted showing student efforts. This allows for accessibility and can be a creative way to promote student interaction.

Informal Discussions and Discussion Groups

Directed reflection discussions can occur in the classroom as well as on site, and can include community partner representatives, other community members, and direct beneficiaries. 

Formal, In-Class Presentations

In class presentations help students to synthesize what they have learned at the service site with the content from the course, to present their findings from the service activity, and to allow for broader classroom interaction. In-class presentations could include PowerPoint, Prezi, video, or other multi-media platform. 

Experiential Research Papers

Experiential research papers require students to research and analyze a particular issue they may have encountered during the service experience. Based on their research and combined with consultation with community partners, students then provide a recommended course of action. These also can be used in a formal, in-class presentation.


There are a number of different kinds of journaling that can capture the Service-Learning experience.


Types of Reflective Journals


(Excerpt from Bringle and Hatcher, 1999)

Key Phrase Journal: Students are asked to integrate an identified list of terms and key phrases into their journal entries as they describe and discuss their community service activities. Students may be asked to underline or highlight the key phrases in order to identify their use.

Double Entry Journal: On the left side of the journal students describe their service experiences, personal thoughts, and reactions to their service activities. On the right side of the journal, they discuss how the first set of entries relates to key concepts, class presentations, and readings. Students may be asked to draw arrows indicating the relationships between their personal experiences and the formal course conduct.

Critical Incident Journal: Students focus on a specific event that occurred at the service site. Students are then asked to respond to prompts designed to explore their thoughts, reactions, future action, and information from the course that might be relevant to the incident. For example,

Describe an incident or situation that created a dilemmas for you because you did not know how to act or what to say.

Why was it such a confusing event?

How did you, or others around the event, feel about it?

What did you do, or what was the first thing that you considered doing?

List three actions that you might have taken, and evaluate each one.

How does the course material relate to his issue, help you analyze the choices, and suggest a course of action that might be advisable?

Three Part Journal: Students are asked to respond to three separate issues in each of their journal entries: (a) Describe what happened in the service experience, including what you accomplished, some of the events that puzzled or confused you, interactions you had, decisions you made, and plans you developed. (b) Analyze how the course content relates to the service experience, including key concepts that can be used to understand events and guide future behavior. (c) Apply the course material and the service experience to you and your personal life, including your goals, values, attitudes, beliefs, and philosophy.

Directed Writings: Students are asked to consider how a particular aspect of course content from the readings or class presentations, including theories, concepts, quotes, statistics, and research findings, relate to their service experiences. Students write a journal entry based on key issues encountered at the service site.


Bringle, Robert, and Hatcher, Julie. (1999). “Reflections in Service-Learning: Making Meaning of Experience.” Educational Horizons. Summer 1999.

Campus Compact. (2003). Introduction to Service-Learning Toolkit. Providence, RI: Campus Compact.

Howard, Jeffrey. (Ed.). (2001). Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning: Service-Learning Course Design Workbook. University of Michigan: OCSL Press.

Jacoby, Barbara. (Ed). (1996). Service-Learning in Higher Education: Concepts and Practices. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Gottlieb, Karla and Robinson, Gail. (Ed.). (2002). A Practical Guide for Integrating Civic Responsibility in the Curriculum. Washington, DC: American Association of Community Colleges.

Watkins, Maria, and Braun, Linda. (2005). Service Learning: From Classroom to Community to Career. Indianapolis, IN: JIST Life.