Once each year, I run my little truck to the local dollar store to buy a bulbous bouquet of balloons for my 18-year-old kiddos in British Lit. In many places, these treats are reserved for primary incentives or preschool parties, but in my classroom, a bunch of bright balloons means it's finally time to culminate our lesson on Percy Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." Can I just take a moment to express my love for this inspirational poem? As a teacher, my dearest dream is to make a difference much larger than myself, to leave a legacy behind me when I'm gone, and to inspire my students to do the same. If Shelley were alive today, I would give him a big hug and thank him for writing a poem that describes that dream absolutely perfectly.
Back to the balloons.
After we have read Shelley's poem, we discuss the metaphor of the leaves scattered in the wind. The students gradually realize (after a few blank stares, granted) that because Autumn often symbolizes death, Shelley is speaking about the end of his life. When he urges the wind to scatter his words like the autumn leaves, he is hoping and praying that the words he spoke and the poems he wrote will someday make a difference that he could never make in his lifetime. His hopes came true! We still read this poem and gain inspiration from its verses today.
Next comes the fun part. I announce that my students will have a chance to spread their words with the west wind, just as in Shelley's poem. They must think deeply about the legacy they want to leave, the advice they have to give, the experiences that have given them wisdom, and the opinions that they would like to share. Then they each write brief poems expressing these sentiments, and they place the poems in sealed envelopes. I punch one hole in each envelope with a hole-punch, give each student a balloon, let them tie the balloon string through the envelope's hole, and take the motley crew outside to the back field.
We read the last stanza of "Ode to the West Wind" once more, and I announce that it is time for the students to release their inspiration on the world. Eighteen-years-old or not, these students watch in rapture and amused merriment as the balloons soar into the air.
If you have tried a similar approach to teaching Romantic poets, or if you have any ideas regarding this activity, please leave a note below in the comment section.