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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
9, 8, 7, 11, 12, 10
By – Jennifer Blake
Primary Subject – Language Arts
Secondary Subjects – Social Studies
Grade Level – 7-12
- 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…).
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.
- 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
Rosenbergs, H-Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Josef Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Khrushchev
Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball,
Buddy Holly, “Ben Hur,” space monkey, Mafia
U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
“Lawrence of Arabia,” British Beatlemania
Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
“Wheel of Fortune,” Sally Ride, heavy metal suicide
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
We didn’t start the fire
LPP Suggested Links:
- Background information about the song and its lyrics, and links to other parodies
- Lyric history arranged by years
- Lyrics with embedded links to their history
- Google video of song
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.
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