We Didn’t Start the Fire

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Lesson Plan

In 1989, Billy Joel released the song We Didn’t Start the Fire.  I created a lesson sequence in which students analyse the song’s interpretations of the past, and and wrote an article about it in December 2009’s edition of Teaching History for the Historical Association.  The learning really comes in when we consider why Billy Joel decided to include the events that he did.  You can read my sequence overview below, or you can click to download the full We Didn’t Start the Fire article, in which I also discuss how the lesson sequence has been implemented in the UK and Egypt.
In order to teach the sequence outlined below, you will firstly need a copy of the music video I produced for the song, which you can download here.

  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.
  2. 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”.
  3. 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”. You may find the syllable grid a useful resource to give to students to help them with this activity. As annoying as it is to hear the song over and over again, the students usually like to have the song played on repeat so they can practise their lyrics. Click here for a karaoke version you could use.
  4. 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.

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, download the article here.

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Video Download

Many people have created videos to accompany the song, but I felt that I should have a go at developing my own.  The version of this video I placed on TeacherTube is in the Top 10 most viewed videos of all time and has received over 900,000 views.  You can watch it in the video player below or can download a high resolution version to save to your computer:

Syllable Grid

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Syllable Grid

The third stage of the We Didn’t Start the Fire the lesson sequence requires students to write an updated verse for the song.  Some students struggle with the division of syllables and beats, so I devised this simple grid to help them structure their verses to fit the original song pattern. The original lyrics follow a particular song structure and so, by having a visual reference that demonstrates how the lyrics were made to fit the verse, students may find it easier to make their own versions fit with the original.

Download here – We Didn’t Start the Fire – Syllable grid for lyrics (portrait version)

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Backing Track

The third part of the We Didn’t Start the Fire lesson sequence involves students writing their own verse to ‘update’ the song.  As annoying as it is to hear the song over and over again, the students usually like to have the song played on repeat so they can practise their lyrics. The media file below is a karaoke version of the song that you could play.