What Causes Rainbows?

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In this activity, learners explore how and why rainbows form by creating rainbows in a variety of ways using simple materials. Learners create rainbows indoors and outdoors. They also measure the angle of rainbows.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per student

Age Range:
Ages 6 - 11

Resource Type:


Materials List (per student)

  • A water glass
  • A flashlight, or other directed beam of light
  • A round-bottomed flask, or some spherical glass container (a round fishbowl would work)
  • A small piece of cardboard or poster-board that fits over the head of the flashlight
  • A 10 inch by 14 inch piece of white poster-board
  • Garden hose, sprinkler, and water spout (optional)


  • Life Sciences
    • Human Senses and Perception
      • Vision
  • Mathematics
    • Geometry
      • Plane Geometry
    • Measurement
      • Circles
  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Light and Optics
    • Light and Optics
      • Electromagnetic Spectrum
      • Reflection and Refraction
      • Sunlight and Color
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment
  • Outdoor Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, Optical Society of America, 2008