Students are naturally idealistic and attracted to persons of greatness. Encourage them to research the lives of great athletes, musicians, statesmen, artists and scientists. You might provide them with brief sketches of the lives of heroes and heroines. Most will identify with someone they read about. That's the person to whom they should write an ode.
Here is an ode written by a British student who took my creative writing classes in 2004-2006. His family came originally from Ghana. Ransford Laryea's poem was first published in A Celebration of Young Poets (2005) and was judged one of the Top Ten poems written by students living in the Appalachian region.
Ode to Marian Anderson
Ransford Laryea, Grade 11
She was a little lady with dreams scarred
by those who hated her black skin,
by signs that said "Whites Only"
by slow moving tears down black cheeks,
by memories of black men hand-cuffed in backseats,
by a trail of savage slavery.
But happiness was her destiny on the stage
and 75,000 hearts soared
as her voice rang out
with proud Lincoln unyielding behind her
and her people free, free at last
from the harvest of pain
they were enslaved to reap.