Mayo's Clinics

Oct 19, 2017, 23:55
Reflection, Reaction and Term Paper Writing Assignments

Reflection, Reaction and Term Paper Writing Assignments

Reflection, reaction and term papers – giving them ample thought from an instructor’s point of view.

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT

Last month, we discussed ways to make unusual assignments. This month, we will discuss different writing assignments. I feel clear writing reflects clear thinking and fuzzy writing indicates fuzzy thinking. Do you agree? We should encourage students to write in various formats to push their critical thinking, reasoning and evaluating skills. And, writing as a form of communication is critical to professionals in our industry.

Reaction Papers and Reflection Papers
Although we often confuse these two approaches or use them without thinking, both of these assignments can promote the process of ruminating on an activity, event, field trip, guest speaker or shadow assignment. Assigning a short – and they are often more successful if they are short in length – reaction paper can be a good way to encourage students to focus on their emotional responses. It forces students to practice being articulate about the range of feelings and insights triggered by something you asked them to focus on.

The topic can be a reaction to a guest speaker, an assignment, an industry event, a trend, or something from class. You may want to structure the assignment so students provide one or two paragraphs describing the event, activity, field trip, interview, or guest speaker and then one or two paragraphs explaining how they felt about it and what it triggered inside them.

 A reflection paper, on the other hand, asks for a more thoughtful response to a particular event, activity or guest speaker. It requires more meditation on the topic and careful thinking – as well as editing – in order to produce a logically constructed paper with a beginning, middle and end. Assigning a reflection paper can be a wonderful strategy to promote student thinking about what they just learned or what the implications of the event or activity or trend might be. The assignment might focus on describing the speaker, field trip, article, or activity followed by a section articulating their thoughts and then the implications or consequences of the paper’s subject.

Research Papers
The most commonly used writing assignment is a research or term paper. Although it is an assignment we often give, sometimes we are not as thoughtful about what the final paper should include.

If you expect students to make a point and defend it with evidence – statistics, quotes, examples and other research – then indicate that strategy to them when making the assignment. If you require a thesis statement in the introductory paragraph, then tell them in the assignment. If you think papers should include a certain number of pages, or sources, then also indicate that information when making the assignment. You will help students understand the scope of the paper and the range of research you expect.

Don’t forget to require students to include an annotated bibliography – the citation, a paragraph summarizing the article, and a paragraph evaluating the merits of each item – with each paper. It encourages them to read their sources critically and practice writing paragraphs.

Often we forget to provide thorough details to help them succeed since we know what we mean when making the assignment. However, often students do not know what we mean by the assignment and clarity on your part can help them focus and not guess what they should do. It will also yield better papers that are more interesting to read.

Editing Others Work
Another interesting assignment is to have students write a paper and then bring two copies to class. The students share them with two other class mates who are expected to edit the paper, comment on it, and return it to the writer. Then he or she has a chance to revise the paper before submitting it as an assignment.

The value of this activity is everyone reads other papers and sees how logical and well organized – or illogical and confusing – other students’ papers can be. It is a great way to promote multiple levels of learning with a single writing assignment. Sometimes, this editing assignment can help international students who may not have a good command of English diction and choose a slightly incorrect or very wrong word.

Try these assignments and others you might think of and see if they make a difference in helping students grow in their thinking and writing abilities. Next month, we will talk about the ways to evaluate their writing, which is another teaching challenge.

If you have suggestions for other topics or teaching practices you want to share, send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I will include them in future Mayo Clinics.

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide. 

Related items