We Didn't Start the Fire

I've produced a lesson sequence structured around Billy Joel's 1989 song We Didn't Start the Fire, and have written an article about it in December 2009's edition of Teaching History for the Historical Association.

The song lists a number of events in American history between 1945 and 1989.  Many people have created videos to accompany the video, but I felt that I should have a go at developing my own, which you can watch in the YouTube player below.  You can also download low or high resolution versions to your computer using the links to the right.


The version of this video I placed on TeacherTube is in the Top 10 most viewed videos of all time with and has so far received over 900,000 views.
It's all well and good having a snazzy looking video to a catchy song, but the learning really comes in when we consider why Billy Joel decided to include these particular events.  My lesson overview is below.  For full details, including how the lesson sequence has been implemented in the UK and Egypt, check out the article in Teaching History.

  1. Introduce song and its events.  Students choose an event and begin to research it (check out www.teacheroz.com/fire.htm as a great starting point) - focus on significance.  Give an overview of the event/person/etc. but also think about why Billy Joel chose to include it.  What was special/significant about it?  Students to prepare a presentation to present next week.

  1. Finish presentation preparation and watch.  As students present their findings, brainstorm the different definitions of what makes an event significant.  Discuss the range of possible explanations for what makes something "significant".

  1. Brainstorm events/people/developments of the years since the song was released (1989 onwards).  Discuss which of these are significant and why - link back to the definitions of significance from last week.  Do different people have different ideas of what is significant in our lifetime?  In pairs/small groups students to look at their significant events and write their own verse for "We Didn't Start the Fire".  It's 
          usually a good idea to play the song on repeat (there's a karaoke version) for the students to fit their lyrics to.
  1. Finish writing verses; students to perform them in class.  You may pick out individual events they've sung about and ask students to explain their significance.

  1. Students to use Audacity (freeware audio software) to record them singing their own verse over the karaoke track.  When this is complete, students should export the finished MP3 file to Windows Movie Maker and use Google Images to find pictures to create a video to accompany their song.

  1. The completed videos are perfect examples of ICT being used to access high quality historical thinking skills.  "Significance" is often a challenging key element to plan for, but I hope this overview helps you to include it in a lesson sequence.

    For details of the full lesson sequence, read the article at www.history.org.uk.
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