Founder of ESL Reads
EAL Teacher and Curriculum Writer (Secondary)   

6 Ways to Prompt Student Reflection in an EAL Classroom

December 11, 2022 by Lauren Piovesan

As we know, reflection is such an important part of learning. As a busy year closes, it can be difficult to find the time to design authentic reflection tasks that give students time to process the learning, and give you some valuable data for future teaching.  With EAL/D students, this can be more challenging as the students with low literacy can struggle to remember their learning, articulate a response or expand on it.

At the end of each term, I would religiously hand out feedback forms and conduct reflective discussions with my students. Sometimes they were insightful, but many times they were disappointing as my students would give short and uninformative replies. 

Another factor is the cognitive load that these metacognitive activities could unwillingly place on a student.  Not only was I asking students from traumatic backgrounds to recall everything they had done in the last 8 weeks, I was getting them to analyse, express an opinion on it, explain their opinion, give examples and all this in their second, third or fourth language! This could cause frustration for both student and teacher!

Designing these reflection experiences for our low literacy learners can be certainly be a challenging task yet it is a worthwhile one! So, without further ado, I would like to share 6 ways I would conduct end of term reflections.

1. Brainstorm and Flip Through

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Before starting any individual reflections, I would ask the class to spend a few minutes flipping through the work in their books and folders. This was to provide them with a visual there to jog their memories about their learning that term. 
Without the flip through, I used to get this:

  • Me: What did you learn this term?
  • Student: I don’t know. I can’t remember.
  • Me: Well, what things did we do or work on in the class?
  • Student: Kahoot quizzes.
  • Me: Face palm!

Or students would only talk about the  last assessment task or project that was fresh in their minds – as though the last 7 weeks prior had never happened! After the flip through, we would brainstorm everything that we had worked on that term as a whole class. Once one student shared an idea, it got the rest of the students thinking and contributing.

2. Emojis

Image courtesy of: Beverly Derewianka -

Emojis were used frequently for reflection. Students would stand in a circle and the emojis would be in the centre of the circle. I would ask a question and students would pick up the emoji that reflected their answer.  Students would then explain to a partner why they chose this emoji before sharing their response back to the group.

It was an easy communication tool, especially for those who might have lower literacy levels or limited speaking confidence. You can use different kinds of visuals, and I have experimented with many. I found that some visuals can be a bit abstract and at times, can add to the cognitive load of the task, so choose wisely!

3. Feedback Forms & Surveys

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years creating and tweaking feedback forms for students. I have used both hard copy and digital forms – Google forms and Microsoft forms. I have experimented with all types of question types from scales to box ticking to short answer and everything in between. 

My takeaways:

  • Use digital forms (if your students are up for it) because it automatically packages the data so nicely and visually!
  • Use a combination of box ticking with limited options (I use 3) and short answer (if your students can manage it).
  • Think carefully about the information you want back from the students and narrow your focus. 
  • Follow it up in a conversation with the student to really understand the meaning behind it. The form is important because it gives you a starting point for the conversation, and gives students an element of anonymity.

4. Peer Interviews

Image courtesy of: Mt Gravatt Library - Brisbane City Council

In an attempt to get students to talk about their learning with each other, I would set up speed dating or video reflections. Each student would get 5-8 reflection questions to respond to with their partner. After modelling this for the students, students would video their reflection (only if they are confident or if you are trying to work on speaking confidence) or do some speed dating (so the same questions with at least 3 different partners). I think this is effective because students can make connections with each other, add to each other’s responses and agree/disagree. It also gives them ideas for their own responses.

5. Student-Teacher Interviews

Image courtesy of: Beverly Derewianka -

This can be tricky to organise depending on your setting, but it is incredibly worthwhile. If you have time to use an interpreter (I often used phone interpreters), that is even better. Having student-teacher interviews allows you time to go through your student’s feedback form, choose some key reflection questions, talk about progress and pump your student up! This can be an amazing confidence boost for students when you focus on the positives and growth for that term! If it was a more challenging term for some students, it can be a good opportunity to re-iterate expectations and set some goals for next term.

6. Reflection Fridays!

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Image courtesy of: Beverly Derewianka -

Regular daily or weekly reflections are a great way to develop your student’s metacognitive skills and be better prepared for the larger end of term reflections. I used to use Friday as a time for running the emoji circle reflections and I would use similar types of questions so students could expand on their responses over time. For students who had low self-esteem or low literacy levels, I would provide visual options for what they could say e.g. Learnt a new word.

In future, I would love to trial a learning journal where students could make short 1 sentence or 1 word reflections daily. This could also serve as a reminder and concrete piece of evidence for students that they are progressing – something that can be so hard for our older learners as they are often on longer, slower educational journeys. 

I would love to know if you have used any of these 6 methods and what has worked well (or not so well) for you. I’m also eager to learn about how you run reflections with your students and how you develop their metacognitive skills in your classes. Please share it in a comment below!

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