Teach This Poem is a weekly series featuring a poem from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help K-12 teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom.

Featured Poem

Related Resource

El Rio

Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. Child gathers stones at the shoreline of the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park, Texas. Big Bend National Park Texas United States, 2014. -02-16. Photograph. 

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

  1. Warm-up (individual writing and pair share): Imagine you are a river. Quickly write down the things you would see, taste, hear and feel. Share what you have written with a partner.

  2. Before Reading the Poem (noticing and pair share): Look carefully at the photo of a child gathering stones on the shoreline of the Rio Grande. Aside from the girl, herself, what do you notice? Make sure you look at all parts of the photo. Write down what you see.

  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem “Complaint of El Río Grande” by Richard Blanco silently.  What do you notice about the poem? Annotate for any words or phrases that stand out to you or any questions you might have.

  4. Listening to the Poem (two volunteers read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud twice, and write down any additional words and phrases that stand out to you. Call back the lines that you like by saying these lines aloud with your partner.

  5. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with your partner and another pair of students. (Teachers: If you have not introduced the idea of a persona poem to your students, now might be a good time to do so.) Based on the details you just shared with your small group, discuss how the first two stanzas in the poem could relate to what you noticed in the photograph of the girl at the river’s shoreline. Why might it be important to include these details in the poem?

  6. Whole-class Discussion: How does the poem change in the third and fourth stanzas? (Teachers: Now might be a good time to introduce the idea of tone, if your students do not identify it, themselves.) How are the details used earlier in the poem woven together in the last stanza? What might the River be telling us in the last stanza? Use what you’ve noticed in the poem to support your thoughts.

  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Write a persona poem imagining that you are a river, and that you are saying something important to the reader. Use the list of sensations from the warm up to help you with this poem. Or, pick something from the poem itself and give it a voice through a persona poem (e.g., a cloud, a pebble, the sun, moon, a songbird, the child , the mother.)

  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: (Teachers: You might want to introduce this map of the Rio Grande to your students before you start this activity.) Why is the Río Grande an important river? To what might the River be referring when it says: “I wasn’t meant to drown children, hear/ mother’s cries, never meant to be your/ geography: a line, a border, a murderer.” For what does the River say it was meant?  What might it mean to “be one in one another?” Using specific examples, either from nature, or from urban life, write an essay that supports this idea.