Baby You’re a Firework

The inspiration for Katy Perry's firework

The inspiration for Katy Perry's firework

…..the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like the fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centrelight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’

This was the inspiration for Katy Perry to write her latest hit “Firework” after her husband Russell Brand had encouraged her to read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.

“It was a paragraph that he said I was like,” she says. “In the book he was talking about how he wanted to be around people who were buzzing, fizzing and making people go ‘Aww, like fireworks across the sky.’ I guess that’s my whole vibe. I want to make people go ‘Ahhh’ in so many different ways. I want to be a living firework.”

Barack Obama explains here how he was shocked and saddened at a growing number of young people who were bullied and taunted for being gay and ended up taking their own lives. It’s a powerful statement, the sentiments of which prompted Katy Perry to do what she did with her latest video. It is a strong, committed speech and it is a fitting introduction to this blogpost on 17th December, anti-bullying day.

I have spent the last three weeks working with the song “Firework” and the issues involved in it. Katy Perry has dedicated the video of the song to the “It gets Better” campaign which is against the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people.  This is Katy Perry talking about the Kerouac quote above as an inspiration for the writing of the song.

All of this is very rich teaching material especially due to the fact that Katy Perry has become so well known amongst young people the world over.  Popstars are role models, however much they may or may not be aware of it and it is important when somebody comes out so strongly on these issues.

In class I asked the students what LGBT meant and then asked when homosexuality was legalised in Hungary. Nobody knew, it was in 1962, five years before Britain.  I then asked what the seven countries in dark blue here had in common.


We established that Iceland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Norway and Sweden were the 7 countries in Europe where same-sex marriages were possible before then going on to discuss where civil partnerships were allowed. I then asked which 3 countries outside Europe allow same sex marriage which are Canada, South Africa and Argentina.

We then moved on the actual project which brought young people from eight different countries to Budapest to record the song, Firework, up in the castle district in Buda and almost in my back garden.


I showed the students what I put on facebook when I put up the song. As I was doing this I felt how important it is to teach processes, how things are created, cause and effect, what is behind a story or a song. It is a life skill which is transferable and valuable in all areas of life.


I hadn’t known the background to the project when I put up the song on facebook but when Emilija, who I’d met at the Macedonian ELTAM conference at the end of October, told me that Macedonian young people were involved I found out that there were actually young people from eight different countries who had been asked to send in a video of something special that they had done, an interesting thing in their lives or an example of their talent. It was on this basis that the 250 people were chosen to take part in the filming. About 38,000 applied. This video shows some of the stories of the people who travelled to Budapest. There were also Hungarians involved.

I then got in touch with the Macedonian girl, Ana Marija Radosavljevic, about her story, she had gone blind at the age of 5 and had to have an operation to restore her sight. She was very excited to meet Katy Perry and take part in the video. After a long exchange of emails I finally asked her in what way taking part in the making of the video had made her think more about sexual orientation.


Katy and Ana Marija

Katy and Ana Marija

We then looked at the lyrics of the song and focussed in particular on these lines.

You don’t have to feel like a waste of space
You’re original cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow

The next stage was discussing this cartoon before then reading about Judy Garland and how her death coincided with the Stonewall events in the USA.


“Of particular note is Garland’s status as a gay icon. A connection is frequently drawn between the timing of Garland’s death and funeral on June 27, 1969, and the Stonewall riots, the flashpoint of the modern Gay Liberation movement,which started in the early hours of June 28. Coincidental or not, the proximity of Garland’s death to Stonewall has become a part of LGBT history.”  We also watched “Somewhere over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz.

Finally we watched the video of the song itself and talked about the different story lines in the video including the girl who first does not want to jump into  the swimming pool and then finally does as well as the two guys kissing.  A number of students winced and laughed when they saw the two guys kissing and managing the ensuing discussion was  difficult but definitely worthwhile and hopefully memorable for those involved.

By the way, I work 2 minutes away from where Katy Perry is on the roof at the beginning of the video at Astoria in central Budapest at ELTE university.  The rest of the video is made up in the castle district, a great place to visit if you ever come to Budapest.

I then showed this project to groups of teachers in teacher development sessions and as a result have so far had this comment back from a teacher in Budapest

“You know, the more I watch this material, the more potential I can see in it. There is a girl, Fanni in this group and she is very problematic. However, even after this short bit she came up to me and we talked more.”

On anti-bullying day it’s good to share this material and I’d be interested if anyone tries anything out in how they get on with it. Good teaching is about getting texts to talk to each other in memorable ways and how you sequence tasks and relate them to the people you are teaching. John McRae encouraged me a lot in doing this sort of thing when we did a summer course together at Lake Balaton in 1996. I think  putting together Barack Obama, Katy Perry, Jack Kerouac, Ann Marija’s story, working with the song lyrics and the watching of the actual video itself is  incredibly rich from many points of view  and I  have been energised enormously by putting this together over the last few weeks.


Everyone has a spark inside them and as teachers we just need to identify it, encourage it and nurture it and everybody should be able to enjoy and celebrate their sexuality in whatever way they choose. It is also our responsibility to side with anybody who is bullied and also to get help for the bully. Both aspects need attending to.

You just gotta ignite the light

And let it shine

Just own the night

Like the 4th of July

Cos baby you’re a firework

Come on show ’em what you’re worth

Fireworks in Budapest

Fireworks in Budapest

31 thoughts on “Baby You’re a Firework

    • thanks Andy. There’s so much that you can do with this…I loved putting it all together and taking it into the classroom.

    • Hi Lindsay,

      yeah I think that the topical aspect of it is important. This is something that is relevant now and for me in Hungary it is particularly interesting to engage people as it was all filmed here in Budapest. We talked about the importance of taking topical things into the classroom in Skopje when we looked through the stuff on the sludge disaster in Hungary. Being able to spontaneously respond to events in the world in the classroom regardless of the pre-planned syllabus is, I think, one of the keys to good teaching and to do it in a stimulating, thought provoking way which helps people to learn English and challenges them intellectually.

      And on the celebs……yeah we can look at them in sensible, sensitive and critical ways too….

    • thanks Simon, I love finding ways of assembling material on things that are going on now and taking it into the classroom and trying to find ways to connect with students in challenging ways. Not afraid either to take on more “controversial topics” Don’t mention the parsnip!

      Loved Luke Meddings’s article about this in the Guardian a few years ago

  1. One of the things I tend to belittle the most is “lesson planning” in the traditional positivist way. And one of the things I admire the most is when a teacher comes up with a brilliant lesson such as yours, where you can experience beyond language, where you are able to transcend curricular rigidness, and also culturally enrich the minds of the learners and yours as well.
    Congratulations for the beautiful demonstration that teachers with good will and openness to let be inspired can be ‘the hell of a firework’ 🙂

    • Hi Willy,

      yeah transcending curricular rigidness is such an important skill I’m always trying to develop in teachers who I’m involved in preparing for the school experience. We need to encourage much more of this sort of thing. Good will and openness are also two qualities to encourage.

  2. Love the opening quote! I have listened and sang along with this catchy song a 100 times probably and never realized what it was about. It’s on my playlist because I love the chorus but for some reason I always thought it was about a lover like most pop songs. Thank you for the post which is touching and inspiring on so many levels. Talking about homosexuality is tough and I have been brave enough to do it once this year with my adult students. With a lesson like this maybe I’ll be braver.

    • Hi Shelly,

      yeah it’s a fabulous quote, isn’t it? Who wouldn’t be inspired by that? It’s often the case that we sing along with songs without having a clue what they are about. And on being brave about doing this kind of thing in class, I think that these kind of materials and this kind of approach lends itself very well to doing it in a fun and engaging way but at the same time challenging people to think deeper and harder about things.

  3. I appreciate this post very much. I know that many people throughout the world are under pressure for such reasons, and although I share a little stricter opinion regarding the LGBT issue, I will always be ready to give shelter to anyone being pursued. I like Obama’s words (planning to translate it for my mom), and I am still happy to see that there is someone here at the university who really gets the hang of the 21th century. Anyway, I am going to jump to the computer when ETR opens its gates at the beginning of the next semester in the hope of spending more time together.

    • thanks for contributing Zsombor. Let me know what your Mum thought of the speech! And on getting the hang of the 21st century, it’s important for teachers to be encouraged to embrace the world as it is and not just to stick with the world as it was. We live in the here and now and let’s engage with it and get the most out of it.

  4. This is a great lesson plan, a great idea, a great phrase to share with everyone! Right now thinking how I could use it in my class.

    • thanks Anna, so many different ways of doing it, so many ways of sequencing tasks and activities and of course it will depend on the class you’ve got, time of day, mood of the class etc etc. Whether to start with the kerouac text, the lyrics of the song itself, watching the video, Obama….so many possibilities. And of course project work getting the students to find out as much about Katy’s project as possible and then presenting different aspects of it, writing to the people on facebook about what it was like…….Good Luck!

  5. This was an inspiring and brilliantly researched post. I now understand what Katie Perry is singing about. I applaud you for writing such an informative and brave post. This should be read by as many people as possible…especially teachers, working with young people who may be suffering from bullying for many reasons. Well done and thank you for producing one of the blog posts of the year in my humble opinion.

    • thanks Malcolm, I really enjoyed researching it. I enjoy writing slightly longer posts than is normal in the blogosphere but ones which take more time and, like you say, involve more research.

      Like you I think that it provides a good entry point into what is a very important area for all schools and teachers.

      I also think it sits comfortably within ELT

    • thanks for the videos Susana, great that you work with things like this. And paying compiments is a whole topic in itself which I’m sure if done well would have a really positive influence on students. Hope you can find use of the firework stuff next year!

  6. Great post, great lesson plan :)! This should be the successful way to introduce this question to secondary school students. I was just wondering if you had got any negative feedback from anyone in class. Were there students who refused the idea and how could you handle a situation like that?

    I was happy to read about how teachers responded to it. Many complain that teacher development sessions are boring, now one like this should be heaven for them :).

    • Hi Ildi,

      thanks for this and let me know if you try it out with anybody! Sure there were students who were negative and the way I try to deal with it is to get them in groups where there are people who are positive about it and get them to discuss it in more detail amongst themselves.

      And yes I have only done this as a maximum 20 minute slot in a teacher development context but would love to turn into into a 90 minute workshop. Will try it out next year!

  7. Great post. I’ve been hearing the song on the radio and kind of got what it was about, but with the interviews and your blog it means so much more.

    I find it fascinating that a pop star, the President of the USA and some awkward teenagers are all fighting so hard for the same cause.

  8. Another beautiful and hopeful post from you Mark. Sorry it took me so long to comment. What can I add except that talking about these issues in the classroom is a responsibility that we have as teachers as well as spotting if anyone around us is being bullied – I would feel really proud to do your lesson in my classroom exactly as it is.
    Strength and solidarity for 2011
    The world is changing!

    • same to you Sara! And let’s be part of that change. We all need to see where we can go that extra mile is raising issues, challenging prejudice and standing up for the underdog. It’s the only way to live really….for me anyway and I know for you too! Happy New Year, it’s been great getting to know you this year and I hope there will be a chance to meet up somewhere other than online!

  9. Precious Mark, bunches of thanks for this post. I am an EFL gay teacher in Brazil, and I have always thought that responsible and humanistic teaching can save the world. Thanks for igniting the light. Love from Brazil.

  10. great insightful post, with much food for thought, as much as we generally tend to look at the people opposing homosexuals aswell as other group who are discriminated i think we must not forget, that people from any group who are feeling a sense of “bullying” should also be accountable that they are a equal individual and should not be treated in any special way just because they are (example) homosexual, straight, liberal, conservative etc etc…i think all sides needs to respect one another equally in order for us to progress in this life and the next. good post.


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