toolbox world wide web


Name of the tool

The onion of diversity

Links to the keystones
attitudes, awareness, knowledge

Aim of tool/ Brief overall description
To work out identity elements

Brief overall description
Intercultural learning and teaching deals with very deep processes and changes of attitudes and behaviors. It means to deal with the good part of invisible forces and elements of our culture, of our inner self.  Many things beneath the “water surface” are unconscious and cannot be expressed clearly. To discover and realize invisible aspects of culture influences therefore us personally and it contains some risks. It implies tensions with which we have to deal. The best way to avoid tensions is to look at the world through the prism of humor.

Main methods

Pair work
Frontal discussion



Description of the process and the possible stepping stones

1. Participants are asked to form an inner and an outer circle (standing for the onion layers); people face each other in couples.
2. Each couple has to find (very fast: for example 2 min) one thing (habit, aspect, background, attitude etc.) they have in common and find one form of expression for it (you can leave the form of expression free or indicate every time a different one: “Sing a song”, “make a short mime”, “create a poem in two lines”, “express it with noises”, “express it with a symbol”...).
3. Couples express found common aspect to the rest of group members, who try to guess what similarity they had seen.
4. Once this is done, the outer onionskin moves to the right and each new couple has to find a similarity and express it. You can as well give indications for the type of similarity (favorite food, what I disliked in school, family, music, habit, attitude, political statement...), going every time a bit “deeper” in our onions.
5. The couples can change several times, till the circle is finished (depending on group size).
Variation. A more difficult variation would be to search for differences in the couple and to express their complementarities (or find an expression / situation integrating both), but this is not the case in Estonia. We have to concentrate to similarities.

Reflection and evaluation
Moderator should not to interrupt pairs during discussion, but tries to reinforce the idea that every couple has to find consensus. Moderator observes the process and makes notes for further discussion by asking questions like: Which similarities/differences amazed us? Where do they stem from? How far can our differences be complementary?


Requirements Big free space in a room


Intercultural Learning T-kit (2000). Council of Europe Publishing: Strasbourg, Cedex.


Inge Timoštšuk
Mai Normak