This activity deals with culture. How many cultures do we belong to and what makes the difference between them? Students explore these questions by means of the “iceberg-concept” of culture.
- to deepen an understanding about the term “culture”
- to explore different cultures through the “iceberg-concept” of culture
- to understand how prejudices and stereotypes are being created and how to overcome them
It is useful to familiarise yourself with the “Iceberg Model of Culture” (see further tips). Check out the interactive digital version of this method.
On a flipchart prepare a drawing of a large iceberg with one line at 10% and one at 30% below the top.
Step by step description
- Ask your students what they know about icebergs. For this activity it is important to note, that most of what you see is just the tip of the iceberg, while the majority is invisible under water. Explain that there are aspects of culture which are clearly visible and others that are not. Some are just below the surface and might be glimpsed but are not well known. Others are way below the surface and are only known to members of that culture. (10 min.)
- Divide the group into teams of 4 to 5 people. Within the teams they are asked to collect as many aspects of culture as possible and write them down on post-it notes. If necessary give some hints such as art, food, music, dance, politics, religious beliefs, family, values, facial expressions, religious rituals, literature, child-raising beliefs, gestures, world view, ideas of personal space, rules of social etiquette, dress, festivals, games, eating habits (how you eat, what you eat), ideas about courtesy, concept of time, nonverbal communication, body language, touching, eye contact, handling emotions, notions of modesty, notions of leadership, tempo of work, tone of voice, concept of cleanliness, patterns of group decision-making, preference for competition or cooperation, definition of obscenity, roles in relation to age, sex, class, occupation, kinship. (15 min.)
- Come together in the plenary and ask the first team to place their post-it notes on the iceberg either above the waterline (clearly visible aspects), just below the surface (hardly known aspects) or below the second line (aspects that are only known to members of that culture). Allow some discussion before you call the second team etc. (30min)
- Indicate once again that the pieces which are below the water are the ones that are most meaningful for people. Ask your students:
- What are some potential consequences of having many important aspects of culture being largely invisible?
- What are some examples within your culture that may not be understood to an outsider looking in?
- Can you perceive any stereotypes?
Reflection with the students / questions for debriefing
- How did you like the activity?
- Which aspects were surprising to you?
- What did you learn about prejudices?
- Have you found out anything that you didn’t know before?
Suggestions for adaptations and variations
- You could simplify the exercise by dividing the iceberg only into two parts, with the surface 10% above the waterline for the visible aspects and the remaining 90% below for all other aspects.
- If you have an internet connection offer your students the interactive digital version of the activity.
Suggestions for follow-up activities:
- Let the students make some research about the culture of national minorities in the country.
- Talk about different cultures in the rest of the world.
Further methods in the aces toolbox to work on:
Reference / original source of the method
This activity was facilitated by Peter Hofmann during his workshop " – YOU – WE: My culture – your culture – our culture" at the aces Kick-Off Meeting 2008 in Salzburg, Austria.
Original source: Gary Weaver (1986); Jerome Hanley (nd)
Communication across cultures for the workplace. Facilitator’s Guide. An open access workshop presented by: The Diversity Program, Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society
Further tips and resources
The Iceberg Model of Culture:
The idea behind this model is that culture can be pictured as an iceberg: only a very small portion of the iceberg can be seen above the water line. This top of the iceberg is supported by the much larger part of the iceberg, underneath the water line and therefore invisible. Nonetheless, this lower part of the iceberg is the powerful foundation.
Intercultural Learning T-kit (see page 19 for a figure of the iceberg-concept)