The Iceberg

Students work on the one hand on mapping visible events related to a sustainability problem. On the other hand they reveal patterns, structures and mental models that are 'hidden' below the surface.

The iceberg is a teaching activity developed by Ana Vasques, Yijing Wang and Melodine Sommier for the honours course "Sustainability in an Intercultural Context".

Activity goal
Brainstorm | Exchange knowledge | Practice skills | Recap / Summarize | Reflect
In class
Hybrid | Offline | Online
< 60 minutes
Group size

Miroboard, whiteboard

Students work on a sustainability problem. Firstly they map the events and what is visibly happening; the tip of the iceberg. Then they will continue below the surface, looking at:

  • Patterns - what are the trends, how often does this event occur?
  • Structures - what influences the trends, what are the relationships between the different actors and/or infrastructures involved?
  • Mental models - what are the beliefs, values and assumptions that create the structures?

Step 1 

Divide the class into groups of 3 to 5 students and decide with which tools students need to work  (online in a Miro board, offline on a flip-over or whiteboard, etc). Also decide if you give each group their own event/problem or that you will have all groups working on the same one. 

Step 2

Pick an event  that poses a challenge related to a sustainability issue. That event and it's details will be at the top of the iceberg. You can let students look up the details of this event or you can provide them with the most salient details. An elaborate example can be found in the Variations, tips & tricks section below. 

Step 3

Then let students brainstorm with a mind map showing the connections between the event and its possible causes, effects and stakeholders involved

Step 4

After this, let students organise the mindmap in hierarchies of patterns for the second level of the Iceberg and then the structural causes in the third (and deepest) level of the Iceberg

Step 5

Now give each group the chance to present and reflect on the bigger context of issues (“look at the bigger picture") in plenary

Step 6

Finally, come to a conclusion about the root causes and possible solution of this persistent problem.

This teaching activity is the result of the CLI Fellowship from Ana Vasques (EUC), Yijing Wang (ESHCC) en Melodine Sommier (ESHCC) and is being used for the honours programme Communicating Sustainability in an Intercultural Context


Ana, Yijing and Melodine have been using this teaching activity already in their classes. Among others they used the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in one class. Students were assigned to apply The Iceberg to this event which resulted in this Miro board. 

Tip 1

To find appropriate events or challenges it helps to link your course to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals

Tip 2

Ana, Yijing en Melodine made an information sheet for lecturers explaining how you can include sustainability competencies in your courses. You can find this sheet in the download section below. 

Consider the tools and materials mentioned here as suggestions. In many cases it’s possible to use alternative tools. Please turn to the Learning & Innovation team of your faculty (EUR or Erasmus MC) first to see which online and offline tools are available and how to apply them. 

Online: MS Teams, Zoom, Miro

Offline: flipovers or whiteboards, sticky notes, markers.

Compare @count study programme

  • @title

    • Duration: @duration
Compare study programmes