Tracy Ibrahim, M.Ed., Trainer and Educational Consultant, SAMA Training Institute

Meet Tracy Ibrahim, M.Ed., a highly experienced trainer and educational consultant with SAMA Training Institute. With a passion for empowering schools and educators, Tracy delivers comprehensive program training and professional development workshops, bringing her extensive expertise to a wide range of educational topics. Hailing from Texas, Tracy boasts an impressive educational career spanning over 25 years, with valuable experience in Texas, Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia. Her diverse roles have included classroom teacher, curriculum developer and writer, team leader, English coordinator, teacher evaluator, trainer, principal, and head of school, demonstrating her versatility and deep understanding of the educational landscape. Tracy’s commitment to excellence is underscored by her numerous certifications, including SIOP Certified Trainer, Early Childhood-Grade Four (EC-4), English as a Second Language (ESL), Gifted and Talented, Instructional Leadership, and Teacher Evaluation.  Furthermore, Tracy holds a master’s degree in educational leadership with Principalship Certification, further enhancing her ability to inspire and elevate educational practices. With her exceptional qualifications and unwavering dedication, Tracy Ibrahim is an invaluable asset in driving positive change and fostering educational growth for schools and educators.


I have always loved teaching science as students get to explore the world around them.  ESL students might not be able to truly enjoy Science as they are still working hard to acquire the language.  And then, in each grade level Science reading and vocabulary are the most difficult of all content areas.   To address this challenge and ensure that all students can fully engage with scientific concepts, an effective instructional strategy called frontloading can be used.

Frontloading is one of my favorite instructional approaches as it provides students with an introduction to upcoming content, concepts, or skills before they engage in deeper learning or activities.  This strategy includes a couple of key SIOP methods that will make the content clear and understandable.  it will also bridge the gaps in knowledge, create connections and enhance students’ readiness to learn new material.

When students know about a topic, their ability to remember and manipulate it is much better than those with limited knowledge. ESL students might not be able to articulate Science concepts in English before beginning a new unit of study, and the SIOP Model recommends explicitly linking concepts to students’ backgrounds.  When students pre-learn content, they develop a conceptual framework that becomes a foundation to pull from as they go through new learning.   So, when I invested time frontloading new science concepts, I was helping students connect to what they already know, build background, and learn topic concepts.  In my experience, I have found that using visuals, discussions, and mind mapping has students actively engaged in exploring and learning new content.

I love visuals for so many reasons, but my favorite is that there are no words attached that might cause students frustration.  Visuals can be images, charts, graphs, infographics, graphic organizers, etc.  In the book, Strategies That Work (Harvey and Goudvis, 2017), the authors shared a strategy called, Noticing and Thinking about New Learning.  “Noticing and thinking about new learning is one of the first lessons we teach to support nonfiction readers in gaining information and acquiring knowledge.” (Harvey and Goudvis, 2017, p.113) When I use visuals in my frontloading lessons, students weren’t reading content yet, they are thinking and connecting about what they already know.  This creates such excitement for students alleviating the fear of difficult vocabulary and content reading.

Students need to be listening and talking about learning.  They need frequent opportunities in each class period to share their thinking and learning.  Research has shown that when students are exposed to academic language, and use it, they develop language proficiency quicker than when a teacher spends most of the time sharing the content.  It will take students longer to learn vocabulary and content when they are passive learners.  I have found when discussions are centered around thinking and noticing, students are involved and engaged in learning discussions.  I have seen them get excited as they realize they can contribute to the conversation because they are manipulating old and new ideas, listening to other’s ideas, engaging iwth another’s thoughts and actively sharing what they know.  It’s a win-win.

Mind mapping is a powerful visual tool that shows students where new learning belongs. The visual nature of this tool helps students organize information spatially, making it easier to understand and remember content.  It also develops language skills by creating connections between words, phrases, and ideas, students enhance their vocabulary acquisition, sentence construction, and use of scientific terminology. Moreover, mind maps can be structured to mirror the process of learning in the text, providing a comprehensive framework. This is particularly valuable as science content and processes are presented in various forms within reading materials, including compare and contrast, cause and effect, as well as predictioning and inferencing.

So, how would this look in a 45-minute class period?  Below you will see a chart with a skeleton of how it runs.  Discussion is ongoing.  If you don’t currently use discussion, in a nutshell, students need two things to get going: (1) a purpose for what they will discuss and (2) what they will be ready to share with the group at the end of the time.  If you haven’t used discussion, before doing this strategy, practice and let your students get used to talking and sharing.

Component Time Materials Activity
Visuals 10 min ·   2 – 3 visual images per group

·   Paper to record thinking for students

·   Teacher will need a copy of the images and A3 paper to collect their thinking with those images

·    Give the groups their images, face down.

·    Explain that they will be noticing what is in the images

·    As they notice, they will talk to each other about what they already know, what is new, any questions, etc.,

·    They will write what they talked about and be ready to share with the class

·    It is important for them to know that they can discuss in their native language and that all thinking is correct.

·    Once they understand the directions, give them 3 – 4 minutes to share and write.

·    When it is time to share, it is best to discuss one image at a time to gather all of the thinking.

·    When each group is finished, you can review what they put, circle what will be learned in the upcoming topic/unit, and then add other vocabulary words to each picture.

Mind Mapping 20 min ·   1 – 2 mind maps per group

·   Various print resources based on student ability

·   Teacher will need a mind map to record student responses


·   Give each group mind maps with the big topics only.  They will be finding the information.

·   Explain that students will be using certain resources to complete the mind map.  Go over the terms on the mind map.

·   Explain they will have 10 minutes to work first, then there will be a quick recap of how it is going and then they will have another 5 minutes to complete their mind maps.

·   Depending on the grade and ESL level, there are a couple of options for students.

·   For elementary and low ESL levels, use leveled readers.  This will allow them to find information at their level.

·   For middle & upper grades and for those who are close to grade level, they can use their textbook.

·   If you have computers in the room, let them go to websites you have chosen with quality information.

·  Students are to use the resources to complete the mind maps.  Students do not need to write complete sentences as they need to focus on the important ideas now.

·  You need to walk around to monitor how they are completing it if they have any concerns.

·  When time is finished, you will use your mind map to collect their thinking and work.

Closure 10 minutes ·   Have groups come up with 1 – 2 things they will learn in the new unit.

·   They can also write 1 – 2 questions they have about what they will learn.

·   Once you record their thoughts, you can introduce the objectives for the upcoming unit drawing connections between what they already know and where they will go.

·   There is wiggle room in the times to allow for a 45-minute block, or you can choose to extend it to another class period.


In conclusion, frontloading is an effective instructional strategy that can address the challenges faced by ESL students in fully engaging with science concepts. By providing an introduction to upcoming content, concepts, or skills before deeper learning activities, frontloading helps bridge the gap in knowledge, create connections, and enhance students’ readiness to learn new material. Visuals play a crucial role in frontloading, as they allow students to think and connect with prior knowledge without the frustration of difficult vocabulary. Discussions centered around thinking and noticing further engage students, promote language proficiency, and encourage active participation in learning. Additionally, mind mapping serves as a powerful tool for organizing information spatially, enhancing vocabulary acquisition, and facilitating comprehension of scientific terminology. By implementing frontloading techniques such as visuals, discussions, and mind mapping, teachers can foster a deeper understanding of science concepts and promote active student engagement within a 45-minute class period.


Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. (2017). Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension for understanding, engagement, and building knowledge, grades K-8. Stenhouse Publishers, 113.

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