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Students write a parody of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” covering the last year or decade in this poetry lesson


Language Arts, Social Studies  


7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12  

Title – ” We Didn’t Start the Fire ” Poetry
By – Jennifer Blake
Primary Subject – Language Arts
Secondary Subjects – Social Studies
Grade Level – 7-12

Introductory Note:

    I’ve presented this poetry lesson for 9 years, now. Every year the kids love it, and they completely impress me.


  • Distribute a printout of Billy Joel’s ” We Didn’t Start the Fire ” (see below). The lyrics of this song refer to 21st century headline events between 1949 to 1989.
  • Tell students that as they listen to the song, they need to circle the events or people they recognize.
  • When the song is over, go through it and see what the students know (this usually includes some mini-history lessons (see links below).
  • Then ask, “What would people sing about for these last 10 years? What’s been going on in society that’s noteworthy?” Make a list of their ideas on the board to help everyone get started (Terrorist Osama/President Obama…).
  • Assignment:
    Billy Joel’s ” We Didn’t Start the Fire ” Poetry Assignment
    • Write at least two verses of your own version of Billy Joel’s ” We Didn’t Start the Fire ” about the last ten years.
    • It must follow the rhythm and rhyme scheme of the original song.
    • It is due tomorrow.
  • Let them listen to the song several more times during the class period so they can make sure they have the rhythm down.
  • Give students a day to write it and let them perform them the next day.

Concluding Note:

    It’s amazing what your students will come up with! By the end of the second day, everyone in the school is singing the song, and my other classes that have done the assignment usually request to listen to the song “just once.”


Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”
Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I,” and “The Catcher in the Rye”

Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Josef Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock Around the Clock”

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
“Davy Crockett,” “Peter Pan,” Elvis Presley, Disneyland

Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Khrushchev
Princess Grace, “Peyton Place,” trouble in the Suez


Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”

Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball,
Starkweather homicide, children of thalidomide

Buddy Holly, “Ben Hur,” space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go

U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, “Psycho,” Belgians in the Congo


Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs Invasion

“Lawrence of Arabia,” British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
J.F.K. blown away, what else do I have to say

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock

Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

“Wheel of Fortune,” Sally Ride, heavy metal suicide
Foreign debts, homeless Vets, AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz

Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and Roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning since the world’s been turning.
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
It will still burn on, and on, and on, and on…




LPP Suggested Links:

Additional Ideas from LPP:

  • This lesson might make a good New Year’s lesson about the events of the previous year or decade.
  • Students might have fun writing their own version of what happened in their school this year or during their junior high or high school years, if they are graduating, and then performing them in the last week of school or at a talent show fundraiser.
  • Social Studies classes could attempt this lesson for any time period they are studying or students could make their own photo story to the lyrics.

E-Mail Jennifer Blake !

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