Extreme or Absolute Language makes an exaggerated, overblown, and probably untrue claim.
It admits of no exceptions, and it seems to forbid doubt or questions. Clues such as every, all,
always, indisputably, and unarguably should raise questions for readers. When readers spot this
language, they will be alerted either to the strength of the author's feelings or to the possibility
that the writer is exaggerating and may possibly even be deceiving or misleading the reader.
When we teach this signpost, we use an anchor chart similar to this one. You might also want
to second anchor chart of words that signal extreme or absolute language. In addition to
the examples above, perhaps include never, none, totally, unquestionably, hardest, meanest,
hungriest, perfectly, completely, absolutely, unconditionally, entirely, and exclusively.
Anchor Question Progression
ELEMENTARY: What does this make me wonder
MIDDLE: Why did the author use this language?
HIGH SCHOOL: Discipline specific questions
History: What does this reveal about the
author's biases or purpose?
Science: Is this science or pseudo-science?
Why would the author use this language??
Math: Is this language appropriate at all?
Vampire Bat Debate: To Kill or Not to Kill.
(in the Appendix) with our less skilled
Evidence of Acceleration of
Anthropogenic Climate Disruption on All Fronts
(found online at http://truth-out.org/news/item
/22999-evidence-of-acceleration-on-all-fronts-ofanthropogenic-climate-disruption) with our more
Understanding the Signpost
We debated (um, argued) including this signpost because we think
that many of you probably teach it already. You might call it hyperbole;
you might call it a propaganda technique. You might call it test-taking
Items that ask you if no one or everyone does something are
probably false. We think we all (oops!) teach kids about Extreme or
Just when we were leaning toward not including this signpost, we
taught this lesson in Jen Ochoa's classroom at MS 324 in New York City.
We gave the kids an article that had several examples of Extreme or
Absolute Language using terms such as no doubt, unquestionably, every
single voter, and worst ever. The kids identified the language, said it made
them wonder if the author was exaggerating, and that was about it. We
were back to wondering if the signpost was worth teaching.
This was a double-block class, so we moved on to the next signpost
lesson. We gave the kids the vampire bat article (
Vampire Bat Debate:
To Kill or Not to Kill. found in the appendix) and said we wanted them
to read looking for Quoted Words (another signpost lesson we taught
after Extreme or Absolute Language). They were to ask themselves if
the person quoted was a Voice of Authority or a Personal Perspective
and then they were to think about what the quote added. The kids
marked the quotes, and we had a good conversation when we came
back together as a big group. Then a couple of boys spoke up:
BOY 1: So, I saw the quotes, but I also noticed the extreme language. I marked
BOY 2: eah, me too, so I marked
dive-bombed. That was like,
so, you know, dive-bombed. That made me think of a fighter
plane dive-bombing. That was really extreme.
BOY 1: Yeah, and then later, here [pointing to paragraph nine]
continual battle. Wage a continual battle. Really? Continual? And battle? Like a war?
BOB: And you recognized this as extreme?
BOY 1: Yeah. You said that it's language that doesn't leave any
room for doubt. Well, going to battle, wanting to exterminate
them, putting poison on them, saying they dive-bomb and are
blood-slurping. There's no doubt he hates them. That's extreme.
And he was right. The author had set up an extreme situation
via his word choice. And once those boys saw it, they asked,
these the author's words or the farmer's [cattleman's] words? When
we asked why they asked that question, they said,
Maybe the farmer
doesn't really hate them that much, but the author just made it sound
that way to, like, make his story better.
We considered the boys' comments and realized these more novice
readers (more novice than we are) had shown us something about this
signpost that we had not considered. Since we first noticed the obvious examples— all, none, never, always, completely, irrevocably —we
had wondered why the obvious would need to be taught. Surely kids
had noticed those words, too? But these boys showed us that they were
thinking far beyond the obvious. They took us at our word, and when
we told them that Extreme or Absolute Language meant the author
used language that left no uncertainties in mind, they began reading
looking for phrases or words that did just that. We had to reconsider
just who the novice readers were.
A few weeks later, we taught this signpost in a workshop, and
about a week after that a teacher who was there told us that he told
his tenth graders that Extreme or Absolute Language was language
the author uses to eliminate all doubt or to suggest a condition that
has nowhere further to go—undisputable, fastest, worst, total. He said
his students were reading about cyber-terrorism as a part of a unit on
first-world problems. He also said his students saw far more than the
obvious words (all, none, everyone), and their class discussion was more
rigorous than he had expected as they pointed out extreme language:
STUDENT 1: This says that cyber terrorism will destroy the
civilization as we know it. That's extreme.
STUDENT 2: Yeah. And it said that people who think that antimalware protection is protecting them are fools. Not maybe are
fools. Just are fools.
STUDENT 3: And did you see that part that said that no
computer is safe? Really? No computer? Not one?
STUDENT 4: Is this true? I mean if it's true, this is bad.
STUDENT 5: Or is he [the author] just, like, really trying to scare
people? That part about hacking into electricity grids, that was
scary if it's true.
STUDENT 6: So how do we know if it's true? I mean, look, he's
quoting people that seem really smart. You know, they have
STUDENT 5: But, I don't know. How do we know if it's true?
That teacher encouraged us to keep this signpost, telling us that
his kids were reading closely, looking for far more than those obvious
words. We agreed, stopped arguing, and have found repeatedly that this
is the signpost that encourages kids to think about word choice, which
often leads to conversations about author's purpose and occasionally