The Iceberg Diagrams teaching strategy helps students gain awareness of the numerous underlying causes that give rise to an event. It’s often difficult for students to see these causes because they rest “beneath the surface.” The visual image of an iceberg helps students remember the importance of looking deeper than the surface in order to better understand events in the past or present. This strategy can be used as a way for students to organize their notes as they learn about a period in history, as a way to review material, or as an assessment tool.
An Evaluation Tool: As a final test for a unit, you could have students complete iceberg diagrams for a particular event you have studied. You might have students write a companion essay explaining the ideas they included in the bottom part of the iceberg.
Comparing Events: Have students complete iceberg templates for events as you study them throughout the year. Periodically, ask students to compare these templates, recognizing similarities and differences among the factors that give rise to particular events. This exercise can help students notice historical patterns while also appreciating the particular context that makes each event unique.
A Note-Taking Template: Rather than having students complete their iceberg as one class lesson or homework assignment, you can have students complete the diagrams in a more continuous way as you study a period in history. You can even post a class version of the iceberg on the classroom wall. As students learn new information, they can add it to this classroom iceberg.
Tree Diagram: A similar strategy helps students analyze events by using a diagram of a tree instead of an iceberg. In this variation, students record basic facts about the event in the trunk of the tree (name of event, when it happened, where). The different people involved in the event (bystanders, perpetrators, victims, upstanders) are listed in the branches of the tree. Sometimes teachers have students draw a line connecting each person or group to a choice he/she/they made related to this event. Finally, the causes of the event are listed in the “roots” section.
Current Events: Use the Iceberg Diagrams strategy as a way to help students explore current events. Have them bring in a story from a newspaper or online source. Working in small groups, students can complete an iceberg diagram for this event, recording details about what happened and then ideas about what they think caused the event. Finally, students can present their iceberg diagrams to the larger class.
Students explore decision-making by reading a contemporary story about bullying and a historical story about a night of state-sanctioned violence against Jews.