How to Implement the Iceberg Diagrams Teaching Strategy in Your Classroom


The iceberg diagrams teaching method helps learners gain awareness of the numerous underlying causes that give rise to an event. It’s often difficult for learners to see these causes because they rest beneath the surface. The visual image of an iceberg helps learners remember the importance of looking more in-depth than the surface to understand events in the past or present better. This method can be used as a way for learners to organize their notes as they learn about a period in history, as a way to review material, or as an assessment tool.


  1. Select an Event: Select an event that learners are exploring in class. The event can be from literature, history, or recent news. Learners must already be familiar with this event.
  2. Introduce the Iceberg Visual: Ask learners to list three things about icebergs, or you can show them a photo of an iceberg. You want students to understand that what we see above the water is only the tip of the iceberg; the broader foundation rests below the surface. Then ask learners to draw an iceberg on a piece of paper or in their journals, making sure that there is a tip, a water line, and a more substantial area below the surface. Their drawings must be big enough so that learners can take notes inside the iceberg, or you can distribute the iceberg template located in the handout section.
  3. The Tip of the Iceberg: Ask learners to list everything they know about the facts of a selected event in the “tip” area of the iceberg. Questions they must answer include: What happened? What choices were made in this situation? By whom? Who was affected? When did it happen? Where did it happen?
  4. Beneath the Surface: Ask learners to think about what causes this event. In the bottom part of the iceberg, they must answer the following question: “What variables may have influenced the decisions made by the people and groups who were in this event?” These variables may include events from the past or parts of human nature or behavior such as fear, conformity, or opportunism.
  5. Debrief: Prompts you may utilize to guide journal writing, or class discussion includes:
    • What did you learn from finishing your iceberg?
    • Which one or two of the causes listed at the bottom of your iceberg you think are most significant?
    • What more would you need to know to understand better why this event occurred?
    • What could have been done to stop this event from occurring?
    • What have you learned concerning how to prevent events such as this one from occurring in the future?
    • How did this activity help you better understand the world we live in today?


  1. An Assessment Tool: As a final test for a unit, you could have learners complete iceberg diagrams for a particular event they have studied. You may have learners write a companion essay explaining the ideas they included in the bottom part of the iceberg.
  2. Comparing Events: Have learners complete iceberg templates for events as you study them during the year. Periodically, ask learners to compare these templates, recognizing similarities and differences among the factors that give rise to particular events. This exercise can help learners notice historical patterns while also appreciating the specific context that makes each event unique.
  3. A Note-Taking Template: Rather than having learners complete their iceberg as one class learning activity or a homework assignment, you can have learners complete the diagrams more continuously as you learn about a period in history. Consider posting a class version of the iceberg on the classroom wall. As learners learn new information, they can add it to this classroom iceberg.
  4. Tree Diagram: A similar method helps learners analyze events by utilizing a diagram of a tree instead of an iceberg. In this variation, learners record basic facts about the event in the trunk of the tree. The different people involved in the event are listed in the branches of the tree. Sometimes, instructors, have learners draw a line connecting individual or group to a choice they made related to this event. Lastly, the causes of the event are listed in the “roots” section.
  5. Current Events: Utilize the iceberg diagrams method as a way to help learners explore current events. Ask learners to bring in a story from a newspaper or online source. Working in small groups, learners can complete an iceberg diagram for this event, recording details about what happened and then ideas about what they think caused the event. Finally, learners can present their iceberg diagrams to the class.
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