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.

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