Culture Is Like an Iceberg

Students will examine features of culture to determine which are visible and which are invisible, and how the invisible affect the visible.


  • Students will be able to distinguish between the visible and invisible aspects of culture.
  • Students will be able to explain how the invisible aspects of culture influence the visible ones.



Before beginning this lesson, remind students that

  1. Explain that metaphors often help us understand big ideas by relating something we don't know to something we do know. A useful metaphor for culture is an iceberg. Ask students what they know about the size and shape of icebergs. How much of an iceberg is above the water? How much is underwater?
  2. Make the point that only about one-eighth of an iceberg is visible above the water. The rest is below. Culture is very similar to an iceberg. It has some aspects that are visible and many others that can only be suspected, guessed, or learned as understanding of the culture grows. Like an iceberg, the visible part of culture is only a small part of a much larger whole.
  3. Ask students to look back at Worksheet #1, Features of Culture. Review with students that the numbered items on the list are all features of culture. If students haven't completed the worksheet, make sure that they understand all the features on the list. Ask them for examples, or provide examples if needed.
  4. Provide students with a copy of an outline drawing of an iceberg with a clear line delineating the part of the iceberg that is above the water's surface and the larger part that is below the surface.
  5. Divide students into groups of four. Ask them to bring the Features of Culture worksheet with them. Have them discuss in their groups which features of culture they think are visible and which are invisible.
  6. Ask students to look at both their outline drawing of the iceberg and their Features of Culture worksheet. Have them review the features one by one and decide as a group if a particular feature belongs above the line (i.e., is "visible") or below the line (i.e., is "invisible"). Have students write above the water line the numbers of those features of culture that they, as a group, consider to be observable features. They should write the numbers of the "invisible" features below the water line. Do the first few features with them. Provide examples, e.g., values cannot be directly observed; holiday customs are visible.
  7. After students have had time to work in groups on the remaining features, have each group pair with another group and compare their placement of features. Students must be prepared to say why they placed a particular feature where they did. (Note: In the list of features, the numbers that should appear below the water line are #3, #4, #6, #8, #9, #10, #16–18, #22–24, #26–30.)
  8. Ask students whether they see any item below the water line that might influence or determine any item above (e.g., ideas about modesty might affect styles of dress; religious beliefs might influence holiday celebrations, painting, and music).

Related Lessons

View All
Read More
Read More
Read More