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The iceberg of culture


Group 2 – non subject-specific activities


pupils from 14 to 18


  • To understand the concept of culture
  • To become aware of one’s own culture and recognize its influence on one’s behaviour and attitude
  • To learn and understand about the institutions, customs, traditions, practices and current issues in a specific country
  • To be able to discuss cultures without stereotyping or making judgmental statements


1 period


  • flipchart sheets and markers
  • picture and theory of the cultural iceberg and description (see: appendix 1)
  • objects and pictures brought by the students


  • Ask students to bring an object or picture that represent their culture and have each one explain how they think it represents their culture.
  • Draw the image of an iceberg on a flipchart and place it on a table. Add all the objects or pictures on the tip above the water.
  • Explain the iceberg model of culture: what is easily visible only represents 10% of the culture.
  • Ask the students to relocate the different features of culture that are listed below (see: appendix 2), either below or above the waterline. Remember that what is above and visible is considered observable behaviours and artefacts whilst beneath the line appear the invisible beliefs, values and taboos that are transmitted through culture.
  • Facilitate the discussion on the relationship between the visible and invisible aspects of culture. For example, religious beliefs are clearly manifests in certain holiday customs and on the other hand, notions of modesty can affect styles of dress.
  • Facilitate a discussion to figure out how the objects brought represent the values and beliefs that are not visible (the 90% part of the iceberg) and write them in the iceberg below water (or link them together if some have already been mentioned in the list).
  • Think of how different behaviours might be caused by the same value. For example, how do cultures show respect for age? By giving one’s seat in the bus? Lifting the groceries? Helping to cross the street? Having the elderly come and live at one’s place? Having the elderly people live in a retirement place?
  • Likewise, think of similar behaviours that might be caused by different (opposite?) values: someone working extra hours. Are ambition and career their priority? Is it their family’s welfare?
  • Conclusion: When meeting another culture, we tend to interpret the behaviour observed with our own iceberg, our own set of values and beliefs, which may be the cause for culture shock. It is important to keep in mind that the behaviour demonstrated is rooted in values that are not clearly visible.


This conclusion naturally leads to an activity involving suspending judgment.


AFS Student Learning Journey Curriculum, Culture Matters (The Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Workbook)

The iceberg of culture, appendix 1

The iceberg of culture, appendix 2

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