Defining Groups in the Classroom

The term group is a word that is used all the time in day-to-day conversation. In this post, we will look at what groups are along with various terms related to them.

Terms Related to Groups

A group involves at least two people who interact in some sort of meaningful way. Examples of a group can include a family, colleagues in a department, neighbors, etc. Keeping in mind that just because people are in the same place does not imply they are members of a group. For example, if people are at a mall, it is doubtful that they are members of one group. Rather, this is called an aggregate in that they are in the same place but not necessarily “together.”


Another term is “category.” A category is a group of people who share characteristics but do not interact with each other. An example would be the freshman class at a high school. They are all about the same age, but they probably do not know each other or work together.

Primary & Secondary Groups

Groups can also be defined in terms of primary and secondary, with the difference being in terms of the intimacy of the members’ relationships. A primary group is usually small and has a high degree of closeness and intimacy, such as in a family. A primary group might be a clique of friends that is especially common at the high school level in the classroom.

A secondary group is larger and not as intimate. The function of a secondary group is primarily instrumental or in terms of getting something done or achieved. Many groups formed at work are secondary in nature. In school, a secondary group might be a group formed to complete assignments. Generally, these students do not socialize or work together, but for the sake of the assignment, they do work together.

However, these definitions are superficial, and it is common for a group to perhaps serve in both roles and for people to move back and forth between these two groups over time. Another point is that if there are problems with these groups, there could be problems with the teacher’s performance and /or behavior.

In & Out Groups

Groups also are highly aware of who is in the group and not in the group. The in-group are members of the same group, while the out-group is essentially everyone else. At times this can be positive or negative. For example, members of a sports team may have negative attitudes towards other teams. Or, members of one race may have negative attitudes towards other races. However, teachers may have a sense of duty to help others as a member of the teaching profession.

Students are highly sensitive to including and excluding people at times. There is also pressure to be a part of some sort of group since out-group members can be bullied by members of in-groups. Sometimes the out-group members almost become a sort of “other,” which can be detrimental for both groups in terms of behavior.

A reference group is a group that a person compares themselves to. All ages, from teenager to adult, compare themselves with peers of the same age. This comparison helps people to determine what is and what is not acceptable behavior.


Groups are a part of everyone’s life. We all have to work and live in groups and deal with the challenges of dealing with people. As such, the intro to groups here provides some insights into the underlying characteristics of groups.

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