This is one of my FAVORITE units to teach. The story, the music, the activities are all so exciting for the kids...and me, too! I have traditionally taught this unit in second grade, but it is easily adapted to other grade levels as well.
First, we learn about ballet. What is it? A story told through movement, without words. Then we learn some basic terms and a few simple steps. We plie, passe, pirouette, and chasse around the music room!
After the introduction to ballet, I introduce Peter Tchaikovsky, and how he did not like The Nutcracker Suite when he completed it. The kids are always surprised to learn that famous composers were regular people with regular quirks (see Lives of the Musicians: Good times, Bad times, and what the neighbors thought).
Finally, we get to learn the story. I read the story of The Nutcracker Ballet, right up to the point when the Nutcracker turns into a live prince and invites Clara to visit his kingdom....."Do you think she'll go?" I ask the class. They don't all agree on their answer. But darn, we're out of time! We'll have to find out next week! (Hee hee! I love leaving them with a cliffhanger!)
Next week, we'll act out the party scene as we identify the form of the Overture: ABAB with coda. They're gonna LOVE it!