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Rainbow in the Room

Author(s): Nancy P. Moreno, PhD, Barbara Z. Tharp, MS, and Judith Dresden, MS.

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In this activity, students will observe a rainbow, and will learn that white light is separated into colors as it passes through water in a plastic container, and will predict whether every rainbow has the same colors, and whether the colors always appear in the same order. Students will make their own rainbow drawings that incorporate the sequence of colors observed in the classroom rainbow. 

  1. Conduct this activity as a discovery lesson with the entire class. Ask students to observe as you place a water-filled plastic container on the lighted stage of an overhead projector. Turn out the lights and have students observe the circular rainbow being projected around the classroom. Allow a few minutes for students to observe the rainbow. Then ask, Have you ever seen anything like this before? Follow by asking, Do you think the colors are the same in every rainbow?

  2. After students have shared their predictions, place another, smaller container or cup filled with water on the overhead. Have students observe the sequence of colors in the rainbow produced by the second cup and compare that rainbow to the one produced by the first, larger container. Once again, ask, Do you think the colors are the same in every rainbow? Make sure that students understand the sequence of colors in a rainbow always follows the same predictable pattern. When teaching older students, explain that the colors of light represent energy of different wavelengths.

  3. Have students identify the source of light for the rainbow (white light from the overhead projector). Have all students draw their own rainbows that incorporate the sequence of colors they observed in the classroom rainbow. Display the rainbow drawings in the classroom. 


Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932


Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education