Metacognitive Reflection Essay Writing - Using Essay Tasks to Build Metacognitive Knowledge

This article explores the use of the metacognitive cycle in improving the essay writing skills of secondary school students and the use of reflective essay writing tasks to foster metacognitive knowledge.

We've recently released a 'Reflective Essay Writing Toolkit' for teachers working with students aged 11-16 which you can ordered and download by clicking here. Alternatively, membership plan holders can download this new resource from the Members Area. Use the slider-arrow to view the different preview images of this new metacognition teaching resource:


Saemah's (2010) research indicates that there is a lack of metacognitive knowledge namely declarative knowledge, conditional knowledge and procedural knowledge in writing tasks. Moreover, Surat and colleagues (2014) emphasise need for teachers to develop metacognitive knowledge namely declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge and conditional knowledge in essay writing; their article 'The Use of Metacognitive Knowledge in Essay Writing among High School Students' points to the significance of metacognition and metacognitive reflection in the essay-writing process.

Negretti (2012) suggests a link between task perception and students‘ conditional metacognitive awareness: their understanding of how to adapt writing strategies to specific rhetorical requirements of the task (and why) and their ability to evaluate their performance. According to Negretti’s research: metacognitive awareness also seems to have a reciprocal relationship with self-regulation and the development of students’ individual writing approaches.

We’ve recently released a new metacognition teaching resource focused on reflective essay writing, the aims of the resource are to:

  • teach students how to use the metacognitive cycle (planning, monitoring, evaluating and regulating) in relation to essay-writing: developing essay-writing skills

  • use essay-writing tasks as a way to encourage metacognitive reflection and help students gain metacognitive knowledge: developing metacognitive and self-regulated learning skills

Based on Surat et al (2014) research we designed this resource to focus on metacognitive knowledge in relation to essay-writing tasks: the sessions enabled by the resource guide students through the metacognitive-cycle (of planning, monitoring, evaluating and regulating work) and, by virtue of the essay-topics, lead students towards metacognitive knowledge. Informed by their research, the resource helps students to plan, draft, revise or edit the essay writing process. Using metacognitive strategies in essay-writing is an example of procedural knowledge being made manifest; students using metacognitive strategies for essay writing might ask:

(i) how can I use the information properly?

(ii) how can I present this information?

(iii) what are the steps I need to use in completing the task?

The resource features learning sessions that guide students through the essay writing process and dedicate time to planning, monitoring, evaluating and regulating the essay writing process. Twelve metacognitive/ self-regulated learning reflection topics are provided with hints as to what students might want to include in their essays. The topics are:

  1. Building On My Strengths & Weaknesses in This Subject

  2. Effective Revision & Exam Preparation Strategies

  3. How To Learn More During Lessons

  4. How My Behaviour Impacts My Learning & My Rate of Progress

  5. How Do My Emotions, Moods & Attitudes Impact My Learning?

  6. Metacognition, Self-Regulation & Independent Learning in This Subject

  7. What Could I Do Differently In Order to Maximise Learning?

  8. How To Boost My Learning Power

  9. The Ideal State of Mind for Learning & How I Can Cultivate It

  10. My Obstacles to Learning & How I Plan To Overcome Them

  11. Factors That Influence My Ability to Learn and Remember Learning

  12. What Approach to Learning Works Best For Me

Essay topics 1-6 are subject-specific and can be used by teachers of any subject to foster metacognition and lead students towards metacognitive knowledge their particular school subject whilst essay topics 6-12 are general metacognitive reflection rubrics. The download also includes a template that allows teachers to set their own reflection questions (perhaps, for example, referring more directly to the essay writing process itself!).

Aside from metacognition and self-regulated learning, we hope to work with educators towards building greater levels of learner autonomy in students: to this end the essay-writing session instructions also guide students towards developing their own assessment criteria that they (at the end of each session) will use to evaluate their own work. This approach ties in neatly with the ‘planning’ stage of the metacognitive cycle and helps students to consider the task requirements before engaging with it.

Further, this metacognition instructional material design builds on work by Conner (2007) who investigated the use of metacognitive monitoring cues during the essay-writing process: we’ve incorporated monitoring cues into the resource – students are prompted to, for example, check that they are sticking to the question, check that they are using their plan effectively, and check that they are writing their essay in a way that coheres with the assessment criteria they, themselves, have created.

Teacher instructions are included (integrated into the PowerPoint file), the general lesson plan when using this tool is as follows:

  • Introduction/Lesson Objectives

  • Assessment Criteria Creation

  • Essay Planning Stage

  • Essay Writing Task (With Monitoring Break)

  • Evaluation Stage

  • Regulation & Target Setting Stage

The resource will help students to cultivate essay-writing skills whilst fostering metacognitive reflection: steering students towards metacognitive knowledge about their own learning processes and how to improve them.

If you would like to read more about using metacognition for writing exercises; we recommend reading this article from The University of Michigan’s Sweetland Center for Writing: we found it to be very insightful and a source of much inspiration when designing our new ‘Reflective Essay Writing Toolkit’. It also includes further example of metacognitive strategies you might wish to use with students in the essay-writing process.


Download Our New Metacognitive Reflection Essay Writing Toolkit

If you are a site member and have an active subscription plan, you can download this resource and all our (40+) metacognition and self-regulated learning teaching resources in the Members Area - click here to login and access the Members Area if you are a plan holder!

If you would like to register a membership plan and access our complete range of resources: click here!



Conner, L.N. Cueing Metacognition to Improve Researching and Essay Writing in a Final Year High School Biology Class. Res Sci Educ 37, 1–16 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-004-3952-x

Negretti, R. (2012) "Metacognition in student academic writing: A longitudinal study of metacognitive awareness and its relation to task perception and evaluation of performance.". Written Communication, vol. 29(2), pp. 142-179.

Saemah, R., Zuria, M., Siti, F. M. Y., Ruslin, A., & Khadijah, W. I. (2010). The development of expert learners in the classroom. Contemporary Issues in Educational Research, 3(6), 1-8.

Surat, Dr & Rahman, Saemah & Mahamod, Zamri & Kummin, Saadiah. (2014). The Use of Metacognitive Knowledge in Essay Writing among High School Students. International Education Studies. 7. 10.5539/ies.v7n13p212.