The Rainbow Serpent

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the rainbow serpent

Best suited to:

K – Year 6

KLAs covered:

English, indigenous perspectives

Learning:

  • how do Aboriginal people understand the creation of the world, the animals and features such as mountains and lagoons?
  • people tell different stories about how the world – and the things in it – came to be the way they are;
  • Aboriginal people have a deep connection to the country on which they live and a rich understanding of its history;
  • the Dreamtime, the Dreaming and Dreaming Stories;

Need to know:

  • a traditional Aboriginal story about how the world was created; 
  • the Rainbow Serpent is viewed as a creator god and is an important feature of Aboriginal art and religion;
  • there are many names and many stories associated with the Rainbow Serpent;
  • for Aboriginal people, the Rainbow Serpent is a symbol of fertility, peace and unity;
  • The Rainbow Serpent is sometimes called the Rainbow Snake, Wagyl or Wuagyl; 
  • the Rainbow Serpent is named because the shape of a snake suggests the shape of a rainbow;
  • ​when a rainbow is seen in the sky, it is said to be the Rainbow Serpent moving from one waterhole to another; 

Discussion Questions (before reading):

  • what do you think this book will be about? What do you see that makes you think that?
  • what do you see, think and wonder when you look at the cover?
  • what is a serpent? (discuss title);
  • what do you know about Australia’s Aboriginal people/First Peoples/Indigenous people?
  • have you ever heard of Dreaming stories or the Dreamtime? What do you know about them? (write ideas and responses on the class whiteboard);
  • tell children Aboriginal people call this a Dreaming Story;
  • write words or phrases from the text which might be new to the children on the whiteboard (eg different tongue, journeyed north, granite, head-dress, pandanus armbands, humpies). Discuss their meaning and have them visible as you read the book;

Discussion Questions (after reading):

  • ask the children if there were any unknown words in the story. Write them on the class whiteboard and discuss their meaning;
  • is this a true story? How do you know?
  • when did the story happen? How do you know?
  • where does the story take place?
  • who are the main characters? (write responses on the class whiteboard)
  • what happened in the story? (write responses on the class whiteboard)
  • how are Dreaming stories structured?
  • what do Dreaming stories teach us?
  • how do the Dreaming stories connect the land to its people and animals?
  • other cultures also tell stories about how things came to be. Do you know of any?
  • what are you wondering about after hearing the story? What does the story make you want to find out more about?
  • tell children paintings of the Rainbow Serpent first appeared in Arnhem Land rock art more than 6,000 years ago;
  • tell children ATSI people all over Australia have their own versions of the Rainbow Serpent story in their own languages;

Activities

K – Year 1

  • children write a sentence or two about the story and illustrate it;
  • art: show the children an illustration of the Rainbow Serpent from the book. Discuss the colours and design they see on the snake. The children draw their own Rainbow Serpent;
  • craft: children make a Rainbow Serpent using coloured paper or a collage Rainbow Serpent;

 

Years 2 – 3

  • children write a response to the text: why do they think the story is important to Aboriginal people?
  • children re-tell the story in their own words;
  • in small groups or in pairs, children create story cards for each of the main characters and use the cards to re-tell the story;
  • art: children make an individual or collaborative art work depicting the Rainbow Serpent;

 

Years 4 – 6

Enhancing children’s understanding of the Rainbow Serpent story

Watch this short clip (6 mins) about the story of the Rainbow Serpent:

  • note that the narrator calls the story a myth. It’s important to tell children that the story is not a myth but a very real story for ATSI people;
  • after watching the clip, lead a discussion about how the video added to the children’s understanding of the story of the Rainbow Serpent;
  • how does the clip help us to understand ATSI people’s thinking about how the world was made?

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/rainbow-serpent/

Watch this short clip (2:45mins) which shows an Indigenous man from Tamworth talking about Gariya, the name his people give to the Rainbow Serpent:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZRFL-aEmz4

After watching both clips, children write about the Rainbow Serpent story:

  • how do they think the story came into being?
  • what does the story tell us about the way ATSI peoples thought about and understood the world?

Researching Rainbow Serpent Art (requires computers and internet access)

In pairs or individually: children choose a topic to research and write a paragraph about it in their own words:

  • historical and sacred sites in the Northern Territory;
  • Arnhem Land;
  • rock art in Arnhem Land;

Websites for research:
https://www.aapant.org.au/sacred-sites
https://northernterritory.com/arnhem-land/region-guide

Exploring Character (requires card, cut into quarters)

In pairs or small groups: children discuss and record facts and their thoughts about characters in the text (Goorialla, Rainbow Lorikeet brothers, Tree Goanna brothers):

  • children use post-it notes to move and group their ideas as they work;
  • they use the information to create story cards (trading cards) for the characters, with information on one side and an illustration on the other;
  • invite groups to retell the story of the Rainbow Serpent to the class using their story cards;
do not forget australia
a flamboyance of flamingos
alfreds war
bee & me
lest we forget
newton and me