This is the latest in our series of previews of talks to be given at the upcoming ELTAM conference in Skopje, Macedonia, on 30 September, 2017. Here, Elena Ončevska Ager discusses film as an inspiration for materials writing. For more details about the event, click here.

In this talk I will discuss the process of writing materials on the topic of social justice for general English lessons at CEFR level C1. The lessons were inspired by Mary and Max, a 2009 claymation feature film about an unusual (pen) friendship between two social misfits: Mary, a lonely eight year old from Australia and Max, a 44-year-old New Yorker with Asperger syndrome.

The film’s engaging content provides plenty of opportunities for developing students’ communicative language abilities, conceptualised as linguistic, pragmatic, discourse and strategic competence as well as fluency.

As well as helping students to develop their communicative skills, the film provides opportunities for critical watching and represents a springboard for more general discussions on the film’s themes. Teachers and students can reflect on similar (perhaps not as extreme) cases of social isolation in their own communities; they can explore how such isolation is the result of both the individual’s circumstances and the way in which certain individuals are treated by society. Class discussions encourage us all to think about how social power works and how it can be challenged more generally and in our local contexts, thus promoting student and teacher empowerment.

The film-inspired materials were developed over a number of successive semesters of exposing different groups of students to them and getting their feedback. This resulted in a series of revisions to ensure that the materials are appropriate to my students’ needs, which are shaped by local educational and cultural contexts. This talk has created an opportunity for me to re-visit my materials from yet another perspective, which in turn has prompted me to reflect on future materials development avenues; I will briefly discuss these. I will also discuss how I used scenes from the film to design spoken exam tasks.


Elliot, A. (Director). (2009). Mary and Max [Motion picture]. Australia: Melodrama Pictures.

Elena Ončevska Ager works at Ss Cyril and Methodius University, Republic of Macedonia. She teaches academic writing and supports the development of pre-service EFL teachers in face-to-face and online contexts. In addition to second language teacher education and online learning, her research interests include group dynamics, motivation and learner autonomy.