After weeks of work, learning how to write a five-paragraph essay, my class celebrated their completed essays! For our celebration we invite parents and everyone read his/her essay, either to the whole group or in a smaller group. Then the kids man the essay museum where they explain the essay process and show the stages of their work. I didn't think this up - it's from Lucy Calkins.
Our celebration was great. The kids were proud and the parents were pleased. I talked briefly about how every child had grown as a writer, though each was at a different point in the writing process.
Every child chose his or her topic, though I gave some guidance on topics that I didn't think were going to work. Nevertheless, one boy wrote his essay on "we should not have school every day." In spite of my discussions with him about the big fact that we DON'T have school every day, he really wanted that thesis and he made it work. Many of the topics were quite serious and reflected injustices and problems that the young writers feel strongly about -- puppy mills, pollution, chemicals in foods, and even one on terrorism from a very mature 4th grader.
The museum part of the celebration is a lot of fun. It's unstructured after sitting and listening to essays, and the parents are always so willing to talk to all the kids and ask them questions. Though the parents see their children doing homework, coming to a celebration of writing helps them realize how much their children are learning and how far they have come. I'm always a bit worried about whether we'll pull it off -- two students were still finishing their essays an hour before parents arrived! -- but once the party starts, it's the kids' show and they step up to the task. I can just bask in the glow.