Tips to Create a Successful Reflection Session


Reflection is an extension of the volunteer experience.  It leads to learning and a stronger commitment to volunteering in the future.  Reflection can be done in many different formats such as writing, group discussion, questioning, crafts and even games.  It is always important to be prepared for each reflection.  Make sure to prepare all necessary materials for a reflection activity and/or questions for a group discussion.  Here are some tips for leading the ideal reflection. 

Timing is Everything 

Schedule an appropriate time for reflection.  After the service but before returning to campus can be a good time for reflection.  Make sure to allow adequate time for discussion. 

Create a Safe Space   

Ensure that students feel physically and emotionally safe sharing in the space.  It should be relatively quiet and comfortable.  Be sure to make eye contact with your participants and be supportive.  It is also a good idea to keep your reflection group small, with no larger than 25 participants. 

Set Ground Rules  

It helps to have students come up with shared ground rules, but make sure that all participants follow through on them.  Also, keep “challenge by choice” in mind.  This term simply means that how much participants want to challenge themselves is their choice.   

Remain Neutral 

Set the tone of the reflection activity with a calm voice, attitude, and relaxed body language.  Respond to participants without providing your own judgment or opinion.  This will help others feel comfortable sharing. 

Involve the Community Partner

If you want to enhance the volunteer experience further, talk to the contact person at your site.  Ask them if they have any specific information about the impact the students are making in your volunteer activity.  Sometimes community partners like to lead their own reflection as well.  Being flexible is key! However, be mindful that sometimes, students are uncomfortable with having the community partner present, and could potentially hold back from reflecting because of their presence (this is especially true if they had a negative experience). Try and gauge your volunteers’ comfort level and reflect accordingly. 

Types of Questions to Ask

One of the best ways to start a reflection conversation is to start with questions that address: 

What? (What volunteer experience did you have?  What happened?)  

So What? (What did this experience mean to you?  Why does it matter?)  

Now What? (What can we do in going forward?) 

  • Do not ask either/or questions or yes/no questions; ask open-ended questions but be sure that there are some simpler ones so that all participants can get in on the discussion at some point. 
  • When people pose “how to” questions (e.g. how can we lead the community through change?), listen for the “what” and “why” questions underneath (e.g. shat leads us to change? Why do we fear change?) 
  • Ask different types of questions: clarification, interpretation, and implication. 
Sample Reflection: What? So What? Now What?

What? (Reporting what happened, objectively). Without judgment or interpretation, participants describe in detail the facts and event(s) of the service experience.  

Questions include:   

  • What happened?  
  • What did you observe?   
  • What issue is being addressed or population is being served?  
  • What were the results of the project?  
  • What was of particular notice?  
  • How did you feel about that?  

So What? (What did you learn? What difference did the event make?) Participants discuss their feelings, ideas, and analysis of the service experience 

Questions include:   

  • In what ways did the group work well together?   
  • What does that suggest to you about the group?  
  • How might the group have accomplished its task more effectively? 
  • In what ways did others help you today? (and vice versa)  
  • How were decisions made?  
  • Were everybody’s ideas listened to? 

Now What? (How will they think or act in the future as a result of this experience?) Participants consider broader implications of the service experience and apply learning. Be aware to strike a balance between realistic, reachable goals and openness to spontaneity and change. 

Questions Include: 

  • What seem to be the root causes of the issue/problem addressed?  
  • What contributes to the success of projects like this?  
  • What hinders success?  
  • What would you like to learn more about, related to this project or issue?  
  • If you were in charge of the project, what would you do to improve it?   
  • If you could do the project again, what would you do differently?   
  • What would “complete” the service? 
How to Close the Reflection
  • End with an open-ended question; do not attempt to end it by tying a nice bow around the entire workshop (allow it to end encouraging exploration and reflection later); you want them to walk away thinking more about something. 
  • Request a closing statement from each participant about what they learned, what they plant to do next, etc. 
  • Provide participants with resources, such as written material and upcoming events, to encourage their continued involvement. 
  • Ask a question to think about; have participants write them on note cards and read them aloud for people to think about after the meeting.