After walking through a reading like a writer (scholar) class session using an essay by Barbara Kingsolver, I want here to offer briefly a guided activity for students to complete in groups in order to practice reading like a writer as one step in their own growth as writers.

Here I ask students to read “Water Is Life” by Barbara Kingsolver, and then, to discuss and answer the following questions:

  • What appears to be Kingsolver’s target/primary audience? What is the evidence from the essay to support that?
  • How does Kingsolver create an effective opening? What techniques (literary, rhetorical), strategies does she employ? Give specific examples.
  • What are Kingsolver’s major claims? How does she elaborate on those claims? What evidence does she use to support her claims? Give specific examples.
  • Identify one or two of the best sentences in this essay. What makes them effective?
  • Does Kingsolver break the “rules” of grammar or that you were taught in school? Examples? What is her purpose in these situations?
  • What is the guiding tone of this essay? How does Kingsolver create that tone? Give specific examples. Does she ever break that tone? Example(s)?
  • What does Kingsolver want her audience to know or do? Give specific examples.
  • How does Kingsolver frame this essay in her closing paragraph(s)? Give specific examples.

These questions are common in the writing conferences I hold with students about their own original essays so this activity helps further reinforce the need for writers to be aware of and purposeful about these elements of essay writing.