The Surplus C

poem by Zoë Disher , illustrated by Christopher Nielsen

Learning Intention:

I am learning about word play so that I can reflect on how word play can be a fun way to express an opinion.


Success Criteria:

  • I can understand and enjoy ‘word play’
  • I can discuss how word play can be used to express an opinion or make a point
  • I can use a dictionary and a thesaurus correctly.


Essential knowledge:

More information and professional learning for teachers relating to teacher vocabulary can be found Vocabulary page of the NSW Department of Education’s literacy resources website.




Prior to reading the poem, write the word surplus on the board. Ask students if they know what ‘surplus’ means. If they do not know, then they can take a guess.

Hand out dictionaries, or ask students to use an online dictionary such as to find a definition of ‘surplus.’

Now that students have looked up a definition of the word surplus, ask them to think about other words or phrases that might mean the same thing. For example: extra, unnecessary, not needed, over-supply.

Distribute thesauruses to the class or use an online thesaurus such as to look up other words that mean the same thing as surplus.


Understanding text:


Read the first part of the poem on page 32.

Ask the class to identify the change to the alphabet suggested by the author.

Without reading any further, engage class in a hot seating activity. Choose three volunteers to take on the roles of the letter C, the letter S, and the letter K in the poem.


Ask the rest of the class to prepare questions they might ask each letter (C, S or K) about how that change would affect them and how they would feel about the poet’s suggestion of getting rid of the letter C.


Sample questions include:

  • Letter C, how do you feel about the poet’s suggestion that you are no longer needed?
  • Letter S and K, do you feel like you can fill in for the letter C?
  • Do you think that there is a different letter that could be removed instead of C?


When the groups have prepared their questions, have the volunteers in role sit at the front of the room, while the groups take turns to ask the questions they have prepared.


Go back to the beginning of the poem, and this time read it all the way through.

Discuss the following questions as a class:

  • When does the poet’s suggestion of removing the letter C come unstuck? (When the poet writes ‘chicken.’)
  • Which two words does the poet realise needs a C? (chicken and chimpanzee)
  • What do the two words from the previous question have in common? (both start with the diagraph ‘ch.’
  • Can you think of any words starting with ‘ch’ where the ‘ch’ sound could be replaced by this poet with an S or a K? (for example, ‘character’ could be ‘karacter.’)


Ask students to form pairs, distribute a dictionary to each pair. Ask pairs to look at words listed in the letter C. Pairs are to draw two columns, as below. They are to choose 5 words for the left column which could continue to be used without the letter C, and in the right column they are to write 5 words which require the letter C.


Words that could continue to be used without the letter C Words that require the letter C

Cat – kat

Cow – kow

Circle – sirkle





Assessment for/as learning:

Students work in pairs to write a response to the poet, Zoë Disher. They can choose one of the following options for responding to the poem.

Option 1: Write a letter to Zoë Disher. In your letter you are to give your opinion about the suggestion of removing the letter C from the alphabet. Refer to the list created above to provide evidence to support your opinion.

Option 2: Write a poem in response to ‘The Surplus C’ in which you argue to keep the letter C. You may like to follow the structure used by Zoë Disher. Students may like to use the scaffold below to get started.


We ____________ need the letter C.

It’s _________. Wouldn’t you agree?

For _______________________________

So let’s __________________________