Bridging the Gap Between Young and Old - How to Write a Reflective Essay with Example
Back in the Day . . . .
Learning to Reflect on the Past
After my senior year of high school, I was fortunate to be accepted into the summer program, A.E.G.I.S., or Academic Enrichment for the Gifted in the Summer. I felt really lucky to be included since I had already graduated. Groups were divided into drama, music, writing, and more. I happily joined the writing group, of course, with our theme for the summer being focused on bridging the gap with the elderly population.
We wrote a lot, sometimes in private journals, sharing our feelings and thoughts about what we observed (such as an early morning trip to Wal-mart to wait along with the older folks for the doors to open) and how we reacted. It’s interesting now for me to look back to see the thoughts of a girl just 18 years old. Sometimes I think of my oldest niece and wonder if she thinks in similar ways.
Recently, I looked back in my journal to see this special reflection of an elderly man I used to wait on when I worked at McDonald's during high school and maybe even during college when I came back to work there. Now, as a college English teacher, I realize that experiences such as this one are excellent topics for reflective essays.
Basics of a Reflective Essay
- Brainstorm details from experience.
- Explore feelings at the time of experience.
- Explore personal response to experience now.
- Attach significance of experience. (i.e. What did you learn?)
Example of Reflective Essay
There’s an old man named Earl who comes into McDonald’s every night. He is extremely hunchbacked. He walks up to the counter, drops his change on it (yeah, he literally drops it on the counter), and says “30-70.” Earl’s 30-70 is a 30% coffee and 70% water mixture, which is all his stomach can take. Earl can be difficult, but my perspective changes the more I am around him.
When I’m the one to wait on him, I stand patiently as he pulls the coins out of his pocket and drops them--clink, clank--on the stainless steel counter--and counts out the exact 34 cents in change. With the coins between us, he slowly pulls them with his thumb across the counter until he reaches the total for his order. I know to wait without saying anything as he gets mad if anybody tries to help. But we have to learn that. He likes the people who know what he wants, or the people who have worked there forever—like me. Since I was 15. I don’t know when he started coming in, but it goes back a while. And I know to stand and watch . . . and wait . . . and resist the temptation to grab the coins from the counter and drop them in the register.
For a while there he was really bitter—and mean. He would raise his voice and scare us if we reached out to touch the coins. His wife had just died. (I don't even remember how we knew that.) Now he seems better. I usually go out into the lobby, maybe to swipe a few tables while I'm there, but really to talk to him for a little while. He likes to talk, and I think it makes him happy.
I don’t know what he eats. He used to order a 50-50 coffee and water drink mixture. His stomach is worse now. I remember that he used to eat a Filet-o-Fish and get the tartar sauce all over his face. Sometimes he would eat a hot fried apple pie or French fries with no salt.
I feel sorry for him. He’s kind of mean, some of the workers at McDonald’s think, but you just have to know what he wants, be really nice to him, and put up with his moodiness.
Resource: Writing Essay
How to Write the Conclusion of a Reflective Essay
So that’s the beginning of a reflective essay. That's where my reflection ended. For full disclosure, I added in a few more details as I read over that writing from the teenage McDonald's employee that was me.
As a teacher now, what would I tell my students to add? When learning to write coherent essays, I ask my students to be clear about their purpose. Have a purpose in the reflection. For this sample essay, I added a clearer thesis statement--the last sentence--in the introductory paragraph, even though a thesis statement can be implied or even saved until the last paragraph. The best location, however, is generally the last sentence of the introductory paragraph, as the thesis frames the paper and moves it into the body paragraphs.
Some questions I would ask my students are as follows: What did you learn? How long ago was this? Where are you now? What is the significance of the experience you had? Answers to these types of questions can be revealed as the paper goes on and in the final paragraph.
Tips for Another Type of Essay
- How to Write an Observation Essay - Observation Paper Example
How to write an observation essay? Observation paper tips and sample essay. Take notes, group notes, outline. Write introduction and significant conclusion. See examples.
My Conclusion to Earl's Essay
That was nearly 30 years ago. I don’t remember if Earl stopped coming to McDonald’s before I left for college or if I saw him again during my summers of going back home to work there. I feel bad about that. I went on with my life—college, careers, boyfriends, nieces and nephews. We all get so busy with our own lives. We leave things--and people--behind. I haven't thought about Earl in years. Now I wonder what happened to him, how he died—if he was alone. And I wonder if he ever went lower than 30-70 and if someone was there to make the mixture just right for him. I hope that someone was there to fix his coffee and watch him count out his change. Somehow it matters.
More on How to Write a Reflective Essay
© 2014 Vicki L Hodges