The Nutcracker Project: Unit Outline

4 Min Read  •  Planning

The Nutcracker Project Ballet for Third Graders

Last week, I shared how I try to embrace the month of December with my third graders by exploring and performing The Nutcracker project Ballet.

Find it here:

This arts-integrated unit spans across December during my language arts class. I have a strict curriculum guide, and a relatively strict pacing guide. But, it is still possible to bring this arts integrated project to life. Although the guides are strict, I am fortunate to be able to be flexible with my resources.

My curriculum guides were based on the PA Core standards. During the month of December, there are 24 concepts and skills that I’m required to teach and/or review in the categories of phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension during my language arts block, which does not include writing instruction.

I have an anthology for my students and supplementary resources to use to teach these concepts and skills. However, I find that the students are more engaged (and, therefore, learning/retaining at a deeper level) when I work all of these concepts through the lens of my arts topic. In this case, that topic is The Nutcracker project. I still use my anthology to assist in teaching certain skills, but most of my materials now center on topics related to this story.

Where to Find More,

Should you be interested in replicating this unit with The Nutcracker project or any other book, or piece of art or music, this is the general outline of my lessons. They are divided into the three main components: Language Arts, the Arts (mainly dance), and Informational Writing. All three components occur simultaneously at different parts of the school day. These components will be split between this week and next. I will explain these materials in depth, as well as share the student choreography, in a breakout session during the STEAM & Arts Integration Conference ( on February 6th.

Note: This is geared toward third-grade enrichment students, but could be modified or adapted for other grade levels. It a rough, broad outline- some topics require multiple mini-lessons which weave the components together. 

Language Arts Portion of the Project:

Step 1:

Read aloud a version of The Nutcracker, or have all students partner read the same version of the story. (I don’t have a class set of Nutcracker project books, so I opt for the read aloud.) This provides an anchor story to use when discussing elements of the storyline.

Step 2:

Have students choose a version of the Nutcracker to read on their own. This version should be different than the read aloud. I find multiple versions in our school library and have found many more at used bookstores and garage sales.

Step 3:

Have students analyze their version of the story to determine if they think it is a fairy tale. (See worksheet: analyzegridNutcracker.) Extension: When opinion writing was a part of our curriculum at this time in the year, I had students develop this into a persuasive piece, using evidence from the story to argue for or against The Nutcracker being a fairy tale.

Step 4:

Have students complete a story map based on their version of The Nutcracker. I like this story map:, but any story map graphic organizer will do. I do this after teaching mini-lessons on plot, specifically matching problems and solutions, since my students seem to struggle with this.

Step 5:

Demonstrate how to compare and contrast a topic with a Top Hat graphic organizer, which is similar to a Venn Diagram. (Find this here: TopHatGraphicOrganizerCompareContrast1). Have students meet with a peer who read a different version of the story. Instruct students to base their comparisons on the evidence they cited on their story map.

Step 6:

After students work with their partners, debrief to discuss surprises. Students are always amazed to learn of the drastic differences from text to text. Extension: have students write a comparison piece comparing and contrasting the versions they analyzed, citing evidence from each text.

Step 7:

Students usually have strong opinions about the different versions after comparing them. Capitalize upon this by having students choose criteria for a quality book, then rate their book for quality. (See sample: NutcrackerEvaluatingtheQuality. Note: This was created by students. I recommend having your students create their own rubric.)

Step 8:

Have students score their Top Hat comparisons using the following rubric: TopHatRubric.

Workshop Time,

During workshop time, students work on their fluency by reading aloud their parts of our Nutcracker script. (We use narration to fill in the parts of the ballet we don’t perform). I also add test taking/comprehension strategies by incorporating passages such as ReadWork’s “The Symphony Orchestra” and “Is It Marie or Clara?, which I adapt from the following guide:

Next week, I will outline the Arts and informational writing portions of the project.