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Bridging the Gap Between Young and Old - How to Write a Reflective Essay With Example

Back in the Day . . . .

Heading off to work at McDonald's!

Heading off to work at McDonald's!

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.

Old man's hand and empty cup of coffee

Old man's hand and empty cup of coffee

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 wipe 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.

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 into the final paragraph.

Tips for Another Type of Essay

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 (20-80?) 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

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© 2014 Victoria Lynn


Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on August 20, 2017:

Barbara, I know what you mean about former students, too! Thanks for the comment!

Barbara Radisavljevic from Paso Robles, CA on February 17, 2017:

Glenn flipped this and I saw it on his board and came to visit. I relate to your added reflection about what might have happened after you lost touch with the old man. I have similar thoughts about some of my ex-students I wished I'd been able to keep in touch with.

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on November 23, 2015:

Glenn--that makes me feel so good that you could see the old man counting out his coins. Thanks for your input and understanding that "it matters." :-)

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on November 10, 2015:

This is a great hub with a wonderful example of an essay, with the old man in McDonald's. The way you wrote that, I felt like I was actually there observing the whole thing as he counted out the coins and how you had to wait without touching them. Your way of writing shows how an essay should be done.

And to explain the purpose in the last paragraph of the introduction, that makes sense. I have to remember to do that. It gives the reader the knowledge of what to expect.

In your example essay the purpose was clear - how one's perspective changes as they get to know someone.

Yeah, it matters.

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on December 15, 2014:

I will try, JL. It's a stressful time of the year!

James Bowden from Long Island, New York on December 15, 2014:

I know that feeling all too well Victoria. The Holidays are approaching fast and furious. Take a breather in between grading papers etc...etc...and I hope you sincerely enjoy your a Holidays with friends & family as well! See you around the community. (;

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on December 14, 2014:

Jim, I'm so busy right now to think about the holidays, but I'm trying to figure how to get everything done at the end of the semester with Christmas fast approaching! Enjoy your own holidays, as well! See you around the Hub!

James Bowden from Long Island, New York on December 12, 2014:


Yes similar schedule.myself. By the way I found that if you have an Amazon Prime Movie account. You can rent the movie - What dreams may come for $2.99. Not bad at all & enjoy the Holidays!


Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on December 11, 2014:

Yes, I've seen you a lot more, Jim! I hope to have more time to write after this semester and the holidays. See you!

James Bowden from Long Island, New York on December 09, 2014:

Victoria you're correct - I haven't been around the community that much. Mainly because of my own work, which is somewhat similar to yours as a teacher. And as a medical consultant, I educate a variety of physicians on medical products that my company markets for relief of acute and chronic pain.

But if you've noticed I've been a lot more active over the past month. Reading others articles and even writing a couple of new ones myself. It's a little slower for me during the winter months, so you will definitely hear more from me.. It's good to be active again & See you around the community. (;



Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on December 09, 2014:

Yes, Jim, compliments are nice now and then. You haven't been around much lately, have you? I haven't been writing much either. Too busy with teaching. I'm hoping to get back in the swing of writing hubs eventually. See you around!

James Bowden from Long Island, New York on December 08, 2014:

I can see that red glow all the way from Long Island...LoL. It feels good to get compliments once in awhile doesn't it? especially when they're true! (;

Look forward to reading some more of your articles, since the winter months are now upon us. I should be able to manage my time a bit better, so I can read more of other members articles. And Pen a few of my own. See you around the community.


Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on December 08, 2014:

Yes, Jim, I AM blushing! :-) Yes, I've received that Demi Moore comment before. I think it's a stretch, but I do love hearing it. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Yep, still blushing . . . . :-)

James Bowden from Long Island, New York on December 08, 2014:


Very nicely written hub about the reflective essay. I found it not only useful but very interesting as well. I like how you included the old 30/70 man, who frequented the McDonalds you worked in during your teenage years.

And I also couldn't help noticing that you are still just as cute as you were in that picture - Way back when? And I believe Fpher is right on the money. You looked A lot like a young Demi-Moore! (Do I see someone blushing a bit?). All kidding aside real nice job on this article.


Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on June 30, 2014:

annart--That's a great idea! I'm going to go back to my old writing to look for more hub material, too. Let's do it! Glad you found the hub helpful!

Ann Carr from SW England on June 29, 2014:

It's great to have different ways to approach essay-writing, especially from the teacher's point of view. Not only does it improve writing but it makes people think carefully about different attitudes, different possibilities and so on.

I have some old writing from school and should go back to look at it; I think it would provide a few hubs!

Really useful and fascinating article. Ann

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on June 03, 2014:

Maggie.L--I'm glad this is helpful for your daughter. There are so many reflections/memories that could be turned into essays.

Maggie.L from UK on May 29, 2014:

This is really useful information here. My daughter will find it really useful as she is working on reflective essays at high school just now. Great hub.

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on April 30, 2014:

Sherry--Thanks for saying that. Glad you appreciated it!

Sherry Hewins from Sierra Foothills, CA on April 27, 2014:

Thanks for giving such a clear example of a reflective essay. Sometimes I forget about the structure of a piece of writing, it's good to be mindful of these things.

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on April 23, 2014:

Aw, thanks, Audrey!

Audrey Howitt from California on April 22, 2014:

Wonderful example--and touching story

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on April 20, 2014:

CraftytotheCore--That is the best compliment--that you can see it! Thanks so much!

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on April 14, 2014:

True, midget38, so true! Thanks for sharing this, and thanks for the feedback. :-)

CraftytotheCore on April 14, 2014:

This is an excellent example of your writing and a reflective essay. So beautifully detailed, I feel like I'm in McDonalds watching the coffee transaction.

Michelle Liew from Singapore on April 14, 2014:

Good points to ponder when we are concluding our own articles.

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on April 02, 2014:

Thanks, DDE! Glad you appreciate it!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 02, 2014:

Lovely photo and a brilliantly put together hub. Voted up, interesting and useful.

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 30, 2014:

Thanks, Maria. That means a lot! I appreciate your comments so much.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on March 30, 2014:

Dear Victoria,

You have taught so much in this piece, while using a most personal and sensitive example from your younger days.

Beautiful work. Thank you. Voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 27, 2014:

epbooks--I'm so glad you could see him counting his change. That's a great compliment from a writer such as you! Thank you so much!

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on March 26, 2014:

Beautiful essay- it dragged me right in and felt like I was there watching him count his change. Great job!

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 24, 2014:

Effer--I heard that BK was having such a special--on Whoppers, too. Those fish sandwiches sound good, though. I wonder if they're as good as McDonald's Filet-o-Fish????

Suzie from Carson City on March 24, 2014:

Yeah! Andy McDowell too!...Hey, Vee.... BK has fish filets on a special deal right now.....2 for $5! Nothing like a little "Money Saving Tip" in your comment section. :)

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 24, 2014:

kerlund74 You're most welcome. I'm glad you appreciated this hub.

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 23, 2014:

Aw, janetwrites, you are so sweet. Thank you!

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 23, 2014:

Thanks, Eddy, as always. My weekend was good; how about yours?

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 23, 2014:

tsmog--You're welcome. Thank YOU for the nice comments. Yes, I think that journal entries are an opportunity to turn into something else. Take care!

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 23, 2014:

Ghealach, Maybe we all reflect more as we get older . . . . Your Irish memories sound awesome. Thanks for sharing that. And thanks for the compliment about the photos. You made my day. :-)

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 23, 2014:

Thanks FlourishAnyway. It was neat to be reminded of him again. I do wonder what happened to him.

kerlund74 from Sweden on March 22, 2014:

Wonderful essay and great hub that interlock this with how to write an essay. Thank you for sharing this!

Janet Giessl from Georgia country on March 22, 2014:

A very interesting hub about Reflective Essay writing and a beautifully written essay. You were so beautiful on this pictue and you still are. Thank you for sharing.

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 22, 2014:

Faith Reaper--Oh, thanks for saying such kind things and also or sharing your story. It's often scary and uncomfortable for kids growing up to know what to say, particularly in nursing home settings. That must have been a difficult experience! Thanks for sharing. Hope you're enjoying your weekend!

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 22, 2014:

Effer--Aw, shucks, you're too kind! People have often said I resemble Demi Moore. I used to be told I resemble Andi MacDowell--all the time. Not too bad. :-)

I had forgotten about Earl until I came across my old writing stuff from high school. Pretty cool.

Yeah, I love McD's Filet-o-fish and french fries! Yummy!

Eiddwen from Wales on March 22, 2014:

A great read which I vote up for sure. Here's wishing you a great weekend.


Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on March 22, 2014:

First thank you at least three times - sharing, reflecting, and actively teaching me this. I will be taking your words to heart, especially with journal entries. Opportunity!


Ghaelach on March 22, 2014:

Hi Vicki.

This is a lovely reflective article.

I do the same quite often, but I keep thinking that it's got something to do with old age. Old people tend to do that a lot.

When I'm in a reflective mood I usually stick YouTube on and find as much Irish music as I can for a few hours. That's when I can wander back 50 years or more to my time spent on my Grand fathers farm althrough the summer. As a young boy I met a lot of charachters, long since past away.

Thanks for sharing and have a nice weekend.


PS: There isn't a lot of difference between your profile photo and the one in the article.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 21, 2014:

I enjoyed your essay and the varied lessons you share, both about writing and life. I hope he was not alone either.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on March 21, 2014:

Beautiful reflective essay hub! Thank you for sharing about your experience as a teenager. You were and are beautiful and wise. I am glad you were kind to the old man. Reading this reminded me of when I was in the National Honor Society in high school and we would go on field trips. Once we went to a nursing home, and I will never forget it, but an elderly lady in a wheelchair started asking me if I was her granddaughter and I hesitated for a moment, and then I told her the truth that I was not her granddaughter. Then, much to my horror, she began shaking all over to the extent that they had to wheel her away. To this day, I wished I had thought to just say I was her granddaughter, but I did not want to lie. Bless her heart and it made me sad, as I thought that maybe her granddaughter did not visit her much. I do not know of course. After that, I never went back as it was so upsetting to me too.

Up and more and sharing

Have a great weekend,

Faith Reaper

Suzie from Carson City on March 21, 2014:

Awwww Vee, this is such a nice hub....sweet memories. No wonder you're so pretty now...You were gorgeous enough to be a model in HS.....To me you look exactly like a "young" Demi Moore!!

Earl must have taught you compassion and understanding. Bless you, GF...he sounds like an old coot!! LOL......UP+++

This hub made me hungry for fish & fries!!

Victoria Lynn (author) from Arkansas, USA on March 21, 2014:

Thanks, Bill! Those comments mean a lot to me. :-) Have a great weekend!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 21, 2014:

A wonderful piece of writing, Vicki, and it was cool to see a picture of you when you were younger. Nice work!

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