ETAS learning technologies

ETAS learning technologies blog

Cultural awareness in the classroom – a fun activity

Posted by ckwok2013 on 20 August 2013

icebergHi there,

I would like to share with you how language trainers can incorporate cultural awareness training in the classroom and describe an activity that is easy to carry out without too much prior preparation.  

The Iceberg Model of Cultural Differences 

There are many metaphors used to explain the concept of cultural differences such as a salad bowl, a melting pot, a tree, mental software, a mosaic of different shapes, sizes, colors, and finally the iceberg metaphor which is often used in the intercultural classroom, being the most popular one. The iceberg draws our attention to the aspects of ‘hidden culture’ or the world of assumptions, habits and beliefs that are not consciously articulated. It implies the danger of thinking one ‘knows it all’ and the need for having a skilled captain or cultural expert to navigate this potential minefield as there is much more to culture than meets the eye.

melting pottreemixed saladmosaic Aim: To help learners identify features that all cultures have in common, those aspects that are visible and those that are not.

Activity: Draw a large iceberg floating in the sea. Ask the class what they know about icebergs. Elicit the fact that most of the iceberg is hidden from view.

Referring to the list of  ‘Features of Culture’ attached, explain that the list shows some of the features all cultures have in common. You might like to have pictures of people doing everyday activities in various parts of the world to illustrate this.

Ask learners to identify those features from the list that they can see in the behaviour of people and those that are invisible. As they share their ideas, record them above or below the waterline on your drawing.

Point out that there is a connection between those items above and below the waterline. In most cases the invisible aspects of culture influence or cause the visible aspects, for example religious beliefs are ‘seen’ in certain holiday customs; ideas of modesty influence styles of dress.

Find other examples of this connection between the visible and the invisible aspects of culture.

You could end the lesson here and move straight to evaluation or you could extend the lesson to look at issues of sectarianism and religious prejudice using well known or recent news events around the world.

Ask the class to consider whether fear of difference – of different religions, the way we believe – creates cultures of fear, prejudice and so on. If so, how can we address this?

Ask the class to consider steps needed to create cultures of peace, tolerance, harmony and respect. This could well be an educational topic if dealing with young learners.

Debriefingbrain cogs

Ask: • Does it make sense to compare culture to an iceberg? Can they think of other metaphors to describe the different ways of thinking about culture? • In some cultures people smile at each other even though they may not like that person. In other cultures this kind of smiling may be regarded as insincere. What does this tell you about the visible and invisible features of culture? • Does it help to explain why people from different cultures sometimes misunderstand each other?

Looking forward to some feedback from you all.


Features of Culture (handout)

 Some of the features that all cultures have in common:

1. Facial expressions

2. Religious beliefs

3. Religious rituals

4. Importance of time

5. Paintings

6. Values

7. Literature

8. Child-raising beliefs

9. Ideas about leadership

10. Gestures

11. Holiday customs

12. Ideas about fairness

13. Ideas about friendship

14. Ideas about modesty

15. Foods

16. Eating habits

17. Understanding of the natural world

18. Concept of self

19. Importance of work

20. Concept of beauty

21. Music

22. Styles of dress

23. General world view

24. Concept of personal space

25. Rules of social etiquette

26. Housing


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