Nutcracker Themed Lessons for K – 12

The Nutcracker story has become a staple of celebrating the holidays and therefore it is a perfect tale to bring into your K – 12 lessons. This would be most effectively explored as a collaboration between disciplines. Try introducing the general story in class and then let the “specials” add on explorations of ideas you introduce. 


One way that I love to celebrate this story is to start off with a good book. I like to read The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers because it has lovely illustrations and comes in a big, hardcover size that children will be able to see while you read to them.  For older students, you may have better luck starting out with a video summary, although it seems that teens are never too old to be read to. Bring a picture book to class, read them the stories (explaining as you go), and giggle along with them. This is an effective method for teaching any story, from Shakespeare to Dumas. 

Once I have read the story, I like to show and discuss clips of the Trepak dance from the Nutcracker. The first is by Alexander Kalinin and it is danced in traditional Russian outfits. The second dance that I show is from the ballet version which is danced by two dancers as a duet. If you would like a third version for comparison, I have also shown this one, and talked about variations in tempo and skill ability of the Kalinin dancers and those of the Cincinnati Ballet. Any age of student can compare and contrast the versions. Have older students discuss how the various interpretations might change the story or the perspective of the story.

Yet another way to show differences in interpretation is to show how the Nutcracker staging and choreography have changed and adapted.  To demonstrate this, I show students the hip-hop version of The Nutcracker. While I do not have the entire video, I show small excerpts on Youtube and discuss how this differs from the other versions of Nutcracker that they had seen previously. This alone would serve as a strong lesson in interpretation, perspective, and comparison for any classroom.

We’ve found some free templates and activities appropriate for preschool age here. Even young children can enjoy the videos and stories! Check out our Pinterest board for more ideas for all ages:

Dark-skinned nutcracker kingMUSIC:

After reading the story and showing my students excerpts of the music and dancing, I try to get my students involved in playing along with the music. The music to Trepak offers a variety of possibilities for different age groups of students as well as resources. This music has a boomwhacker, small percussion and handbell play along. Teachers can thus vary which grades play along with which version. I like to do small percussion for grades 1-3, boomwhackers for grades 4-5 and handbells for grades 6-8. The reason for this is that the boomwhacker and percussion versions cover the melody of the piece whereas the handbell version focuses on the harmony of this music. If I am doing the handheld percussion version, I use rhythm sticks, small drums, triangles, guiros, etc., and switch instruments so that the students can have a turn playing everything. As an added bonus for each version, I speed up the tempo slowly, which my students love, and this challenges them to stay focused and keep going.


Introduce students to the dance that goes along with Trepak. I found this wonderful video that offers creative movement possibilities to this music. While in the video students use scarves, you can do this without scarves as well. There is also an option to do a paper plate dance if you choose. This would make a great exercise after a particularly sugary celebration or as you near the end of December and students are restless.

Nutcracker wearing a sombrero and holding maracas next to a traditional nutcrackerART:

If you would like to combine lesson ideas with the art teacher, I would recommend the Deep Space Sparkle art project. On this website, the blogger doesn’t just provide a video for how to do the Nutcracker art activity but the art templates are free to download as well! 


A way to make this lesson cross-curricular with gym is to do a basketball routine to the music of Trepak. The strong downbeats of the music make this ideal for dribbling a basketball and can be a great way to get your students into the Christmas spirit! Here is a wonderful video of students doing this. To differentiate this for students who cannot stand or have other physical impairments, see this video which shows students seated and executing a slightly different routine to the same.

two tall and one short and round nutcrackersHIGH SCHOOL ELA:

For high school students studying Romanticism and Realism, take a look at this article that explores the origins of the Nutcracker story. Ask students if they think Hoffman would have enjoyed the ballet version of his story. Would he have been able to see value in the “lighter” version? 


Ask students to consider the idea of “keeping in touch with the child within us.” Have them write about what that might look like as they grow into high school age and beyond. Or have them write letters to  Clara telling her what Christmas is like now and how they stay in touch with the child within them. 

I hope that this article gives you ideas for how to bring the Christmas spirit into your classroom through the Nutcracker story and can be enjoyed by all students. If you come up with more ideas, please share them in the comments. We want this to be a resource for teachers to use year after year! 

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