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The First Rainbow

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By Brenda Williams — Poet and Author

Brenda Williams has based this story on a North American folk tale describing how the first rainbow was made. The main character, Nanbozho, is bored of all the flowers being white and decides to paint them different colours. Two birds come along and spread the colours across the sky. The story has a good number of high frequency words and many sentences have a simple structure, making it a great read for Year 1 children.

The first rainbow - Guided reading leaflet

These teachers’ notes accompany the Guided reading leaflet in Literacy Time PLUS Ages 5 to 7 November 2008.


Before reading

  • What is a folk tale? Which other folk tales do the children know?
  • Review the reading strategies you have been focusing on. Remind the children about the ae phoneme and how it can be spelled in alternative ways – particularly ai, as this appears many times in paint and rainbow.

Previous learning

Children should be able to: listen to stories/respond with relevant comments/questions; read some HF words; read texts comparable with phonic knowledge; explore story elements; retell narratives; write for different purposes.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To retell stories, ordering events using story language;
  • To recognise an increasing number of HF words and apply phonic knowledge/skills to unfamiliar words;
  • To identify main events/characters in stories.

Reading the text

  • Tell the children how to pronounce the main character’s name (Nanbozho = nan-bow-zo). Look for his name in the text so that the children are familiar with it.
  • Read the first paragraph together. Stop and discuss the children’s predictions for the story. How might the paints and/or the waterfall and/or the way Nanbozho feels lead to the first rainbow being created?
  • Ask the children to read on independently, as you listen to them individually. Support the children as they read. Encourage them to raise their hand if they get stuck – but only after they have tried independent strategies to decode the text.


  • Ask the children to share the strategies they used to work out difficult words.
  • Talk about the story. Was the rainbow made as the children predicted it would be? Encourage the children to refer to the text to explain their answers.
  • Link this to learning in science about how real rainbows are made. (See Poster 2 for how to make a rainbow.)
  • Talk about how Nanbozho’s feelings change during the story.
  • Look at the opening of the story – ‘Once upon a time …’ Can the children think of a different story opening?

Further reading

The Thunder Giant by Brenda Williams (On-screen resource, Literacy Time PLUS Ages 5 to 7, Issue 35, March 2008.) Animated story inspired by the legend of Thor.

Raincloud by Margaret Nash (Group reading leaflet, Literacy Time PLUS Ages 5 to 7, Issue 34, January 2008). Retelling of a traditional Caribbean creation story, explaining how rain first began to fall.

The Tale Coat by Taffy Thomas (On-screen resource, Literacy Time PLUS Ages 7 to 9, Issue 55, September 2007). Hear Taffy tell three folk tales, including Coyote and the Fire Witch, which explains how the chipmunk got a black stripe down his back, why adult frogs don’t have a tail and how the robin got his red breast.

Folk Tales of the World series (Puffin). The series includes The Tiger Child, a folk tale from India, and the North American Indian folk tale How Rabbit Stole the Fire.

Follow-up to guided reading

  • Retell this story using props, such as puppets and strips of crêpe paper, for the rainbow colours. The children could make their own simple stick puppets or plate puppets. Perform it to the rest of the class or the school.
  • Go back through the text and highlight the words with the phoneme ae and its alternatives.
  • Ask the children to paint or use crayons to make a rainbow and to label the colours.
  • Read some more folk tales from other countries. How many try to explain things in nature, such as rainbows, rain or thunder?
  • Draw pictures of Nanbozho at the beginning, middle and end of the story, showing how he was feeling. (Link this with PSHE/SEAL work on feelings.)
  • Assess the children’s understanding using the activity sheet. Model how to find the answers in the text.

Using the activity sheet

Use the activity sheet below to make a story plan.

  • Less able children can use the headings as starting points for talking about the story, while an adult scribes their ideas.
  • Standard children can write appropriate words and sentences for each part of the story plan, relating it to the story of The First Rainbow.
  • More able children can be challenged by creating their own ‘First Rainbow’ story. Encourage them to think of a different setting, different characters, a different way to make a rainbow, or to make other changes to the story.



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