Peter and the Wolf: A Unit Study

Peter and the Wolf: A Unit Study
Peter and the Wolf: A Unit Study

Sergei Prokofiev was born on April 23, 1891, in a small village in Ukraine. He was a child prodigy composing his first pieces on piano at the age of 5. After studying music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory he traveled widely, but his homeland was where his heart was, and the Soviet Union was where he finally settled in 1936. It was at this time that he wrote “Peter and the Wolf” for Russia’s Central Children’s Theatre in a space of about two weeks — finishing the composition in four days and the orchestration in about a week.

“Peter and the Wolf” is a folk story told with instruments of the orchestra. Young Peter has been warned by his grandfather to stay out of the meadow because if a wolf were to come out of the forest he would be in danger. Sure enough, Peter watches as a gray wolf does come out of the forest and begins harassing a duck, bird, and cat Peter befriended earlier. Wasting no time, Peter comes up with a plan to save the creatures from the wolf. His plan works. Two hunters who were tracking the wolf help Peter take the wolf to the zoo.

In the composition, each character in the story is represented by a different instrument:

  • Peter — strings.
  • Duck — oboe.
  • Bird — flute.
  • Cat — clarinet.
  • Grandfather — bassoon.
  • Wolf — French horns.
  • Hunters — timpani.

In the spring of 1936, I started a symphonic tale for children titled ‘Peter and the Wolf,’ Op. 67, to a text of my own. Every character in the story had its own motif played each time by the same instrument…. Before each performance, the instruments were shown to the children and the themes played for them; during the performance, the children heard the themes repeated several times and learned to recognize the timbres of the different instruments. The text was read during the pauses in the music, which was disproportionately longer than the text — for me, the story was important only as a means of inducing the children to listen to the music.

Sergei Prokofiev’s diary

Recorded dozens and dozens of times by symphonies and orchestras all over the world, the story of “Peter and the Wolf” remains an innovative way to introduce children to the orchestra.

Additional Resources

Peter and the Wolf
A short summary to read before listening to the composition.

Peter and the Wolf Turns 75
NPR look at Prokofiev and the composition.


“Peter and the Wolf”
All American Orchestra with Basil Rathbone narrator.

“Peter and the Wolf”
Boston Symphony Orchestra with Eleanor Roosevelt narrator.


Sergei Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf
Classics for Kids show explaining the composition.

Sergei Prokofiev
Activity sheet from Classics for Kids.

Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra

Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra {Featured Site}
Another wonderful introduction to the orchestra.

Books & Media
Peter and the Wolf: A Unit Study

Peter and the Wolf
Performed by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and narrated by Boris Karloff.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

The Character of Instruments
Lesson plan from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Music Can Tell a Story
Also from the DSO.

Peter and the Wolf: A Musical Story
Great site for understanding the storyline and how the characters are represented. Also includes writing prompt.

Peter and the Wolf
Wonderful 24-page download from the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

Peter and the Wolf Listening Map
Great printout tying what you hear to what is happening.

Peter and the Wolf
Lesson plans from the West Virginia Symphony.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Free 18-Page Composer Notebooking Set
Great set from

Drawing & Writing Notebooking Paper {Free Download}
Room at the top for illustrating and room at the bottom explaining what is going on while listening.