Working on an entry to the Student Podcast Challenge? Here's what you need to know.
Guidelines to remember
- The contest is open to teachers with students in grades five through 12.
- Podcasts must be between three and eight minutes long.
- Entries can include original music — in other words music that is originally composed and recorded. But be careful! Our contest rules make clear that you must be respectful of copyright and trademark laws, and our legal team is really serious about this. See the rules for the exact details.
- Students can work with a class or extracurricular group to make their podcasts, but ...
- They'll need the help of a teacher to submit their entry. The entry form is open to teachers only.
Before starting a podcast, read through the official rules here.
Dates to keep in mind
- You can start submitting your podcast on Jan. 1, 2021
- The contest will close on March 15, 2021.
You can create your podcast entry in any class or extracurricular group, on any topic. If it helps, here are some suggestions:
- Tell us a story about your school or community: about something that happened there — recently or in the past — that your audience should know about.
- What is a moment in history that all students should learn about?
- Show us both sides of a debate about an issue that's important to you.
- What do you want to change about the world? What's a big change that you want to make in the future?
- Explain something to us that kids understand and grown-ups don't.
Our judges will use the following criteria to narrow down and choose the winners in our two age groups — middle (fifth grade through eighth grade) and high school (ninth grade through 12th grade).
Information and structure, 40 percent
Does the podcast tell a compelling story or teach us something new and important? Is it structured in a way that makes sense and keeps listeners engaged? Can we easily follow the story you're telling or the information you're explaining? Have you spent time editing — cutting out unnecessary information or repetition and making sure the main ideas come through clearly?
Personality and creativity, 40 percent
We want to listen to this podcast and hear your voices. Do we hear the unique voices of your class and community? Does it have personality, or does it make us want to fast-forward? (Tip: Try not to sound like you're reading from a script.) Does it make us laugh or cry or leave us deep in thought — feel something? That's what we're looking for.
PRODUCTION, 20 percent
We're not judging you on how fancy your equipment is and we don't expect you to be an expert on recording and editing sound, but we hope you'll try.
Some podcasts may use sound, or audio, in creative ways. Others may be more of an interview format. If you use sound apart from interviews and narration, does it add to the story you're telling? Is the sound clear, and are the volume levels even? Do the transitions sound smooth, without gaps between audio clips? Did you layer the audio and narration? These are some of the things we'll be looking for.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's a podcast?
Podcasts come in all shapes and sizes. That's good news for you, because it means that you have lots of room to be creative and make something you're excited about. Some podcasts, like This American Life, are long — sometimes an hour or more. Others, like Kind World, a podcast from WBUR, are less than 10 minutes. Some podcasts, like NPR's Up First, are about news. Up First comes out every morning, and the hosts talk about the news and feature stories from guests reporting on the news. Other podcasts tell stories. Lots are funny. Some feature people having conversations. Many are educational: They teach listeners about a specific topic. NPR's Hidden Brain is about science and human behavior. And there's Planet Money, a podcast all about money and life.
Think about sound. We're challenging you to work with sounds — interviews, narration and recorded sounds from the world around you.
Don't I need fancy equipment to make a podcast?
Nope! There are ways to make a podcast without buying expensive microphones and recorders. We're writing this guide with the idea that you can make a podcast with two tools: a smartphone and a computer.
What should we listen to to get a feel for the different types of podcasts?
Head over to our student training guide to find to a few great podcast examples before starting on your own.
What are the rules for the NPR Student Podcast Challenge?
- Your podcasts must be between three and 8 minutes long.
- It must contain original work created by students in a class or extracurricular group.
- Your podcast can include some original music — but be careful! (See contest rules here.)
- Eligible groups for this contest are from fifth to 12th grade.
Read through the official rules, found here, before you begin working on a podcast with your class or group.
Do you have some tips on what music is allowed?
This podcast challenge is about showcasing your work, and that's what we want to hear. We want to hear the creative ways you've found to share stories and illustrate ideas with sound.
The legal rules for using music from the Web are complicated, and we'd never want a class to be disqualified from our competition because you used music you weren't allowed to.
So here are some tips. Make sure your music is originally composed and performed. Can your school's marching band play an original composition throughout your podcast? Yes. Can that band play "Let It Go" or a rendition of music from the Beatles or Drake? No. The important thing here is to make sure your tune isn't copyrighted.
Do all students in a class need to speak on the podcast?
Nope! We expect to hear student voices, but not all students in each class must be featured. We hope that you will work together in a variety of different roles to put this podcast together.
Here at NPR, lots of people work together to make podcasts. Long before hosts narrate podcasts, they have help from producers who record and edit sound and editors who make sure that the story and script are as strong as they can be. Depending on how big a team you have, the roles of writing scripts and researching may be divided up in different ways. We cover more about those roles in our student training guide, found here.
How does each class submit?
Our submission form will open on January 1, 2021 and close on March 15, 2021. We'll add the correct link here when it opens.
Remember that teachers must submit the form on behalf of students. Before you submit, you'll need to upload the podcast to Soundcloud and make it publicly viewable and downloadable, so our judges can listen.
(Need help putting the podcast on SoundCloud and changing the privacy settings? Find guidance here and here.)
Teachers, don't forget to get permission from a parent or legal guardian of each student who worked on the project. Please read through the rules to learn exactly what you'll need permission for.
Can teachers help with the writing, editing or production?
No. The goal is for the contest to represent original student work. Teachers can teach about writing, and editing, but the actual podcast entry should represent original creations by students.
Is there a minimum or maximum number of students that can work on a podcast?
I'm in a journalism club (or a podcasting club, or an AV club, or any other type of club) before/after school. Can we make a podcast?
Definitely! You just need to ask your group's teacher sponsor to submit it on your behalf through our submission form. (That's for legal reasons.)
I'm a teacher. What sorts of resources can I use as my class creates a podcast for this contest?
Our resource guide for teachers is full of information for educators, whether you're leading a class in podcasting or advising an extracurricular group.
As a teacher, can I submit multiple entries?
Yes! You can submit entries for more than one class or group of students putting together a podcast. Please make sure to fill out a separate submission form for each.
My class includes students from both age categories. What should I do?
If students in your class are from both middle and high school — for example, if you teach a class with both eighth- and ninth-graders — you may choose to compete in whichever age group best represents the age range in your class.
Some students in my fifth-grade class are in fourth grade. Can we still compete?
We won't disqualify a fifth-grade class because a fourth-grade student(s) is on the roster.
Can my local member station be involved?
Your local NPR member station could be a fun and helpful resource. They might be able to schedule a field trip with your class to learn about radio and podcast production and see how a radio station works. Remember, though, they can't help you with your podcast — it has to be your original work.
My children are home-schooled. Can they still work on a contest entry?
Yes, they can! However, you may only enter the podcast on their behalf if you are their teacher.
My children attend classes remotely or online. Can they still work on a contest entry?
Yes, they can! However, only teachers can enter podcast entries on their students' behalf.