Complaint of El Río Grande

by Richard Blanco

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Complaint Of

Step 1

Start by watching the embedded video. When it’s over, have your students discuss what makes the whole situation so tragic and upsetting. Why is this more than just an issue of people crossing the border?

Step 2

Read “Complaint of El Río Grande” by Richard Blanco. The poem is written from the perspective of the Río Grande River. When you’re done, briefly discuss the River’s attitude and feelings toward what they see.

Step 3

Say, “Take a few minutes to think of some issues that sadden, upset, or disappoint you. Write down as many different issues as you can. Then choose one of them. Once you’ve chosen an issue, think of an inanimate or non-living object that would be able to observe this issue from afar. For example, if your issue was how all of the administrators in your school are all E about students being late to class, you can choose a locker or water fountain.”

Step 4

Have your students write a poem similar to “Complaint of El Río Grande” in which they “complain” about an issue from the perspective of an inanimate object or non-living entity.

Step 5

When the students are done, have them share their responses with one another.

The full presentation may be found HERE.

Analytical Lesson

Area of Focus: Tone

Step 1

If your students are not familiar with the concept of tone or tonal shifts, go through the introductory lesson.

Step 2

Start the lesson by showing your students the following picture. Simply have them discuss everything they can glean from it. If they’re having trouble coming up with their own responses, encourage them to look at the background, the ages of the people sitting on the ground, their attire, the positioning of the shot, etc.

Step 3

After several minutes, you can reveal that the photo is of a border agent speaking to migrants attempting to cross the border by way of the El Río Grande River.

Step 4

Have your students open the following Google Slides Presentation and go over the instructions with them. In this assignment, the students will have to track the various tones of the poem and determine how & why it fluctuates throughout.

Step 5

When your students are done, have them share their responses to see if their “tone tracking charts” are somewhat similar to one another.

Step 6

If time permits, share the exemplar essay.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Tone


  • Appreciation
  • Class
  • Community / Culture
  • Creativity / Imagination / Writing
  • Death / Grief
  • Family
  • History
  • Immigration
  • International
  • Violence

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Structure
  • Structure (Syntax)
  • Tone