English Lessons Online: What is a Rainbow?

Free Online English

Listening level: 5
Audio file: 2:16 min
Story length: 306 words


Here is the listening file for this lesson.


What is a Rainbow?

A rainbow is a beautiful act of nature. It looks like magic, but really, it can be understood with basic science. Rainbows appear in the sky when three events happen at the same time.

First, there are millions of water drops in the atmosphere. That’s why rainbows are visible during or right after a rain shower.

Second, the sun is behind your back. If you’re facing the wrong direction, you can’t see a rainbow.

Third, the sun is low in the sky. That’s why rainbows are usually seen in the early morning or late afternoon.

When these three conditions are present, light enters the drops, bends, changes direction and comes out at different angles. As light the bends, it breaks into seven colors. This is the interesting part: white light enters a drop and seven colors come out.

All of the colors are shooting off into the sky in random directions. However, only a small amount of those colors can be seen by people.

The tiny portion of color which we see, and call a rainbow, leaves the drops at very specific angles. We see just the line of light moving straight towards us. For that reason, we see only one color from each drop.

Now imagine a rainbow. The outside layer appears red because red is the only color of light travelling on a straight and precise path to our eyes.

Now think about violet, which is the color of the inner ring. Violet appears on the inside because that is the only color of light moving from those drops towards our eyes.

In conclusion, the seven layers of color and round shape of a rainbow are not actually real. It’s a remarkable visual trick created by light that is reflecting off a large concentration of water drops and moving in a variety of directions.

More Practice

Here’s a gap fill exercise. Download the What is a Rainbow? printable worksheet (pdf file). Listen to the story and fill in the blanks.

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1 thought on “English Lessons Online: What is a Rainbow?”

  1. As light the bends, it breaks into seven colors.

    I would like to know how to translate the sentence?
    “as light the bends” what does that mean?


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