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Group dynamics, size and function

When dealing with any size or composition of group, the teacher needs to be aware of the different ways in which groups and individuals may behave. As well as the physical environment and seating arrangements, other factors such as the size of the group influence the group dynamics. The size of the group places limitations on the tasks and functions that it might be expected to perform. The table below indicates some of the constraints and positive functions relating to group size in terms of the tasks that are able to be achieved and the emotional aspects of group dynamics.



Task function

Affective functions


Personal reflection:

  • generating personal data

Personal focus increases ‘safety’:

  • personal focus means positive start
  • brings a sense of belonging and ownership


Generating data:

  • checking out data
  • sharing interpretations
  • good for basic communication skills practice (e.g. listening, questioning, clarifying)
  • good size for cooperative working

Builds sense of safety:

  • builds sense of confidence by active involvement (self-belief)
  • lays foundation for sharing and cooperating in bigger group
  • reticent members can still take part


Generating ideas:

  • criticising ideas
  • usually sufficient numbers to enable allocation of roles and responsibilities, therefore wide range of work can be tackled (e.g. project work, case or problem-based learning, syndicate exercises)

Decreasing safety for reticent members:

  • at lower end of the range still difficult for members to ‘hide’, this risk increases with size
  • strong can still enthuse the weak
  • size of group still small enough to avoid splintering
  • sufficient resources to enable creative support

More than ten

Holding on to a task focus becomes difficult:

  • size hinders discussion but workshop activities possible, e.g. using purposeful sub-groups to address some of the issues

Difficulties in maintaining supportive climate:

  • ‘hiding’ becomes common
  • ‘dominance’ temptation and leadership struggles a risk
  • divisive possibilities with spontaneous splintering into sub-groups


Understanding the way in which the size of a group impacts on function is useful if teachers are planning to break groups into sub-groups or if they only have a small number of learners with them.

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