Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Nutcracker

I know, I know, I know... Winter break is just around the corner, and it is way too late to get started on a unit about the holiday classic, The Nutcracker.  I am writing this blog to simply share some of the great interactive Nutcracker resources that are out there either because I used them, or because I'm like you and just found them, too!

1. Classics for Kids

Classics for Kids is a great music history website with tons of great resources.  They have short, kid-friendly biographies on many composers.  Lots of the biographies also have podcast episodes that are available.  Each podcast is approximately six minutes long, has lots of great information, and have very high quality audio examples.  I highly recommend subscribing to their podcast.  Click here for a link to their podcast on the iTunes Store.

There are five Tchaikovsky podcast episodes.  The first is a biography on Tchaikovsky, the second is a quick history on ballet, the third focuses on The Nutcracker, the fourth gives examples of classical Christmas music, and the fifth is a history of Carnegie Hall.  Each set of podcast episodes comes with an activity sheet, but I have never been a fan of these sheets so I  simply make my own.

Free Worksheets: Click here to see an example of a set of worksheets I made to go with the Tchaikovsky and Nutcracker set of podcast episodes.  This year I used episodes one and three, but created quizzes for the others for future use.

2. Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Music Game has a many great computer games that works really well on interactive whiteboards.  Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Music Game is an award winning program where students collect keys by completing games.  Many of the games involve identifying either one of the Nutcracker songs or identifying instrument timbre, but there are a few quizzes as well.  The software along costs $29.95, and there is a 3-disc package with the CD-ROM, DVD of the ballet, and CD with the London Symphony Orchestra which is $49.95.  My students are broken hearted when they learn that this game is not available on my website!

3. Spotlight on Music Interactive Listening Map

My school district uses the textbook series from McGraw-Hill, Spotlight on Music, and in my first year of teaching, I found it very easy to use their materials.  I was never really thrilled with their "interactive" materials until this year when they came out with their new Interactive Listening Maps.  Each grade level (K-8) has 20 listening maps that are animated with many that are interactive.  There are four listening maps feature The Nutcracker:

Grade 1 features the "Waltz of the Flowers."  Its objectives have students conduct a 3/4 song in one (keeping a steady beat,) identifying instrument tone colors, and identifying a form in ABABA with a coda.  The brass and strings sit atop flowers, and if you look closely, you will see that the woodwinds have sprouted wings to become butterflies!

Grade 2 features the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," and focuses on identifying orchestral tone colors, following an ABA form, and performing a steady beat.  You can have your students move with the ballerina for a little extra fun.  In second grade, even the boys will try dancing without much of a fuss!

Grade 4 features the "Dance of the Merlitons," and focuses on major and minor tonalities, and orchestral tone colors.  It uses sunshine for the major tonality, and a thunderstorm of the minor.  You can discuss music careers by describing how a set designer often has to coordinate the backdrops to match the mood of the music.

Finally, Grade 6 features the "Trepak" aka "The Russian Dance."  It focuses on conducting a steady beat in a common time signature, and following an ABA form with a bridge and coda.  Get your students up and moving with this one!  Try kicking the steady beat and jumping on the accents.  Clap the beat on the B section, and make fun poses on each accent of the bridge.  Your students will be out of breath from their workout!

These listening maps are quite expensive, but well worth the money if you have an interactive whiteboard.  Go to the McGraw-Hill Education Store and do a keyword search for "interactive listening map" to find the product.

4. Interactive Timelines

The San Francisco Symphony's Keeping Score and the Ballet Austin websites each have very well made interactive timelines.  The Ballet Austin site has less on it and may be easier for a quick overview.  I like it because it focuses specifically on the timeline of The Nutcracker.

The Keeping Score site features Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony, but has a very detailed timeline including pictures and paragraphs about his personal life and his works.  It also shows and describes other famous composers, politicians, inventors, and people of importance of his time.

5. Interactive Storybooks

If you are teaching the story of the Nutcracker to younger students, an easy way to share it with them is through a story.  There are many great children books that feature the story of the Nutcracker or of the Nutcracker ballet.  Personally, I like using an actual book, but there are a couple of interactive storybooks available.

The first is from the BBC CBeebies Series.  It is animated, narrated, and is broken into sections so you can pause to review characters, plot, etc.  It also features the music of the ballet.

The second is from the New York City Ballet. Although this version is not animated, narrated, nor features any music, it does have nice pictures from an actual production of the ballet.  The story is also well told, and is large enough for students to read along.

6. Video Clips

Video clips can be a fun way for students to not only hear, but see what they learn.  The Kennedy Center has a short video discussing the Overture and Trepak from The Nutcracker Suite.  It shows the orchestra and conductor very nicely.

Of course, YouTube has some great example of the ballet.  I will let you do the searching for what you like, but here is one example that I personally like:

The History of The Nutcracker Ballet:

Final Thoughts
The Nutcracker is a great piece for all ages.  The wonder and fantasy of the story is great for younger students, but the music and history is so rich, that it works great for older students as well.  Although an interactive whiteboard makes it easier to share this beautiful music, nothing is more interactive than getting to see the actual ballet.  If you can't take a class field trip, try adding a link to your local ballet company on your class website.  Show the link to your students, and I guarantee that some of them will show their parents. 

I hope you have found these resources helpful.  Please feel free to share any of your favorite Nutcracker resources in the comments section below.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!


  1. Cool to see you post the positive comments about the ILMs for Spotlight. Look forward to reading many more great things here at your blog. I've also added a link to your blog on my blog. :)

  2. I have used The Nutcracker Interactive Games for YEARS! And, now, my new technology want play a CD ROM:(:(:( I've used those games so long, I don't know what to do anymore:(