First Day Jitters Activities Help Students Overcome Anxiety

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It’s the first day of school and Sarah Hartwell doesn’t want to go! Sarah feels overwhelmed about meeting new people. In addition, the idea of school simply seems hard. However Mr. Hartwell helps convince her that school can be enjoyable. With funny illustrations, a clever plot and a surprise ending, First Day Jitters is engaging for students.

What’s Going to Happen: A Prediction

Before reading the book to students, have them make a prediction. Tell them a prediction is an informed guess about what will happen next. Next, do a picture walk and show students several of pictures. Finally, students will write down a prediction about what the story is about. The prediction should be about two sentences.

How Are You Feeling?

Ask students what are some feelings a kid can have on the first day of school? These can be good feelings or bad feelings. Start students off with a few common inklings: shy, nervous, scared and excited. Ask children to add to the list. Next, kids can make a picture that illustrates these feelings.

Vivid Verbs

First Day Jitters has plenty of vivid verbs. Here are a few from the book:

“She stumbled into the bathroom.”

“She tunneled down to the end of her bed.”

“She trudged into the kitchen.”

After writing these sentences on the board, ask students to identify the action verbs in the sentence. Then, have students write a few sentences using active verbs like the ones above. The sentences should be related to the first day of school. Another option is to have students write one sentence and illustrate it.

What Was the Book About? Comprehension

After reading the story aloud, teach students how to make an inference. Show students the first picture of the book and ask, “How is Sarah feeling here?” A possible answer may be: She feels unmotivated. Next ask, how do you know? She won’t get out of bed. Tell students that answer was an inference or a conclusion reached after looking at evidence. Then, give students the following inference questions. These questions require a little deeper thinking. In addition, students will need to give evidence from the story to support their answers.

  1. Why does Sarah “hate” her new school?
  2. How would you describe Mr. Hartwell?
  3. What clues in the story reveal that Sarah might be a teacher?

Here are some possible answers to the above questions:

  1. Sarah hates her knew school because she doesn’t know anybody.
  2. Mr. Hartwell is nice but firm. For instance, he makes Sarah breakfast. However, he also makes her come down for breakfast and go to school.
  3. She is wearing grown-up clothes and looks older in the pictures.

You’re the Teacher

Tell kids to pretend they are a teacher. Write a first person account of what you would do on the first day of school. How do you think you would feel? What would you say to the kids? What kinds of activities would you have your students complete?

Jitters Acrostic

Have students think about what the word jitters means to them. Next, they should write the word Jitters vertically down the side of a piece of paper. Next, they need to think of a word or phrase that starts with each letter of the word “Jitters.” This acrostic poem should be about the first day of school and all of those first day jitters. Here is an example:

Jelly Legs

It’s a little scary

Tense Moments

Trembling Hands

Excited to Start

Ready to Learn

Settling Down

Students can go over the poem with pens, make a border and illustrations around the poem.

Jitter’s Scavenger Hunt

Utilizing the word Jitters, hide several sets of foam letters around the room. Students will be given a bag and five minutes to find as many letters as possible. During the activity, students must walk and use good manners. The person with the most letters could get a copy of the book to take home.

Time Capsule

At the end of the day, have students write a letter to next year’s class. In the letter, they should tell students what to expect on the first day of school. In addition, they should write about any fears they had and how they conquered these anxieties. Finally, give one piece of advice and one thing to look forward to. Students will put these in envelopes with the year on the front and some graphics. Then, have students put them into a box, capsule or treasure chest. Tell students these letters will be given to next year’s class.

These first day jitters activities will help erase any qualms your new class may have. Before students know it, the second day of school will be there.


  • Author’s personal classroom experience
  • Danneberg, Julie.  First Day Jitters. Charlesbridge Publishing: Massachusetts, 2000.