Who Started the Fire? History through the Lens of Poetry

Presented by: Ciro Scardina

Subject Area(s):

Grade Level(s):


This lesson is designed for high school students and combines a fun Web Quest and a study of metaphor as a poetic device. Songs are basically poems set to a beat; the beat helps to convey a message. To unfurl all the messages that this song puts forth, students will watch a flash movie containing an image of the historical term sung, thus providing a visual connection. Groups will then take part in a Web Quest to research specific time periods from 1949 to the 1980's. Their research will culminate in a talk show inspired presentation to be discussed later.

Goals & Objectives:

IM-PACT Lesson Planning Guide




Instructional Goals:

Students will be able to:


Learning Objectives: 

Students will:


Motivational Goals:


  1. Teacher laptop unit
  2. Digital projector
  3. Smartboard (if available)
  4. Class laptops
  5. http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~yeli23/Flash/Fire.html


Introduction (Day1)

  1. The introduction of this lesson takes some acting ability.  Stand before the class with a fastidious air about yourself. 
  2. Question them on their interest in poetry, etc. 
  3. You might want to say something like, “I love to analyze Norse ballads from the 14th century!” (or something equally obscure) In other words, put them on pins and needles as to what might happen next!
  4. As you approach the computer to begin the Flash movie, introduce it as “A journey through a century in ballad form” They should be amply hyped to some degree by now!
  5. Encourage group singing of the bridge (We didn’t start the fire…).
  6. Return with a look of relaxation on your face.  “Like I said, this poem is a journey through a century in ballad form.”

Body (Day 1)

7.       Explain that this will be completed over a few days in group.  The group's task in this assignment is to research a section of the song and then present to the class in news show format and an analysis of that section.  The individual’s task in this assignment is to answer a series of questions following the class presentations.

  1. Assign teams of 4-5 students.  Each team will be given certain years from the song to research.  Each member of the team will assume one of the following roles:

Culture Reporter

Your job is to research and analyze those items within your years that apply to culture.  This would include sports, entertainment, literature or any other topic that is not politically-oriented.

Political Reporter

Your job is to research and analyze those items within 

your years that apply to politics and government.  This
would include leaders of countries, wars, political events or any other topic that is politically-oriented.

Geography  Reporter

Your job is to plot on a map the items from your groups' years.  Your role is similar to a weather reporter, but you just give locations of events, people, etc.  During the presentation you will use an overhead transparency of a world map, but to do your preliminary plotting, you can print this world map .

Fire Tracker

Your job is to decide why Billy Joel chose to include each item as a contributor to the "fire."  You must analyze the facts your group has gathered about your items and determine what makes them significant, especially to our lives today.

9.       Have groups choose their roles and have a preliminary discussion with each other to thrash out their game plan.  Also distribute a hard copy of the rubric (attached) for the Web Quest and presentation.

Day 2

10.   Connect yesterday’s lesson to today’s by explaining that now that they are grouped and have had a discussion and know what to expect, it is time to begin their research.  The following links in the lyrics of the song will function as research starting points (see attached linked document).

Days 3 & 4

11.   Students continue and conclude their research on the fourth day. 

12.   Maintain motivation by applauding their research ability and connect it with how their interest in poetry is increasing.

Day 5

  1. Now that research is compiled, teams will begin working on the presentation.  They will have two days to work on your presentation.  They will need to present their information in the style of a television news show.  During the presentation, you will follow the order that is listed in the role descriptions. The presentation will need to be 10-15 minutes long.  Use visual aids.  Your group can do a video on your own time to then show the class; however, this is not required, nor will it affect your grade.

Days 6 & 7

14.   Students continue and conclude their preparation for their presentation.

15.   Maintain motivation by helping groups to act out parts or demonstrating effective use of facial expression, body language, etc.


Day 8—Culminating Event

16. Each group will present their news show.  Students in the ‘audience’ will (briefly) take notes after each presentation to facilitate rich answers on their concluding questions to be completed individually outside of class (see attached).


Learning Assessment Method(s):

• Students will be assessed on their ability to locate and navigate the resources on the provided websites as well as their skill in synthesizing information cooperatively.

• Observations will indicate student interest in the project and comprehension of the task.

• Students will be assessed on their ability to integrate their knowledge into planning a news show.

• Students will be assessed on their concluding responses to the response activity.

Supporting Files: