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Graham Burton ELT grammar: what is it and where does it come from?

Almost all EFL teachers have experience of teaching ‘grammar’. But who came up with the familiar list of grammar items (tenses, conditionals, articles, relatives clauses etc.) that are in use in ELT? Who decided the order in which these grammar items should be taught? Why do all coursebooks teach the same grammar? And can we be sure that we’re actually teaching the right things?

Based on my nearly completed PhD research, this talk attempts to answer these questions by taking a brief tour of teaching materials from the early 20th century to modern coursebook series, by examining interview data with ELT professionals – primarily coursebook authors and editors – and comparing existing practices with empirical evidence on learner grammar use in the form of the English Grammar Profile. I will attempt to show that the tradition of ELT grammar evolved in a somewhat haphazard and unplanned way, with the current consensus on what should be included in grammar syllabuses only really becoming settled in the last decades of the twentieth century, and sustained primarily through market forces and user expectations. I will also briefly outline some examples of where we might want to revisit the consensus.

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