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Group dynamics – how group size affects function

It is vital when dealing with any size or composition of group that the teacher is aware of the ways in which groups may interact. 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.

Size

Task function

Affective functions

Individuals

Personal reflection:

- generating personal data

Personal focus increases ‘safety’:

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

Pairs/threes

Generating data:

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

Builds sense of safety:

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

Fours/tens

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, 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 maintainng 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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