About this Daily Classroom Special
We Didn't Start the Fire was written by Nancy Dorton Thoma,
middle school language arts teacher and
reading specialist at Morton Middle School, Lexington, KY. E-mail
We Didn't Start the
Subjects: language arts, social studies, music,
AMOUNT OF TIME:
- Begin ONE month prior to start date (I prefer the Spring
of the year.)
- Allow approximately 12 to 14 days.
- Students will produce a research project and put together a timeline of the events referenced in Billy Joel's tune, "We Didn't Start the
Fire." Topics span from Postwar America 1946 to the mid 1980's or '90s.
- Computer Lab/ Library Computer Lab and/or wireless lab reserved to accommodate entire class to include enough days for students to complete
- Music CD or tape of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire"
- Printed lyrics of the same with topics numbered (one copy per student)
- 5x7 Index Cards for timeline information
- Long Hallway with free wall space to place timeline
- Title for Display made by Teacher or students
- Timeline marking off every 5th year starting with 1940 through 1990
ONE MONTH PRIOR: to provide curiosity of the subject matter, and a purpose in writing and research, and "prior knowledge", the teacher will
tell her students: "And the answer is...I didn't start the fire!" and then have the students repeat this. Ask the question, "Did you start
the fire?" over the next month in class about every other day. Students will begin to become curious after you ask this question time and again.
Day 1: Ask the question: Did you start the fire? When they say No, we didn't start the fire,
introduce the musician and music. Allow students to listen to the tape several times until they are hearing the different
historical events and names within.
Ask students to list on a sheet of paper as many of the people, places
and events that are named within the song. Discuss these, and see just how much students really know about these
DAY 2: Present the printed lyrics with the audio of the music, thus
students are seeing a relationship between language, poetry, music,
- Explain that the events are actual happenings from Post WWII to approx
1990. (a 50 year span of history)
- In a basket, have all topics printed on separate slips of paper.
Students will then select at random their topic. Let student write
his/her name by topic number, to keep track.
- Directions for research - information should cover the who, what,
when, where, why, and how of the topic. The 5x7 card will have a
condensed version of the information, colorful, and with pictures,
drawings, etc to entice others to look at it. The name, event and date
will be larger in print than the other materials.
DAY 3-10: Allow students to research, and work and help with any
problems they have.
DAY 11-12: Presentation Day - students will be called upon in
chronological order of events. Research will be given, and cards
explained. Students will then hang their event cards (after being
laminated, if possible) on the teacher-made timeline.
After several days, the timeline will be completed, and if displayed in
the hallway or cafeteria, others can benefit from the information by
reading this historical timeline of the latter part of the 20th Century.
WE DIDN'T START THE FIRE, by Billy Joel
Copyrighted Maritime Music (1989)
The teacher can go to the web site:
to locate and print out a copy of the lyrics
PLEASE NOTE: EVEN THOUGH THERE IS A DIRECT SITE
(http://holt.org/thefire/fire1.html) which links all of the events to
this song, I do not give the students the basic link. The students use
their own searching/researching skills to come up with the needed
This project is very different from what would ordinarily be found in
the Language Arts classroom setting, for it integrates a variety of
curriculum areas that work well together, The combination of these
causes a real excitement for learning, and an authentic reason for
researching. It also provides a stimulus for real motivation for the
middle-schooler, by linking music and technology to subject areas that
seem boring, tedious, and unimportant to most 8th graders. In return,
it links to subject areas in which 8th graders need a much broader and