WOSCARS hints and tips - Best Podcast

This is one of a series of short posts with hints and tips for The WOSCARS 2013 categories. Following these tips does not guarantee success in The WOSCARS, but it won't hurt your chances!
Image by Evan Forester, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license (Flickr image link)

Image by Evan Forester, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license (Flickr image link)

The Best Podcast category is one of my favourites in the WOSCARS. Using audio, students can take the listener anywhere in the world, to different points in history, and into the minds of fictional or historical characters in ways which are much harder to achieve when creating a short film.

The Best Podcast category will include two distinct types of entry:

  • audio podcasts, which are typically structured like a radio show
  • audiobooks or radio plays, in which students showcase creative writing

Let's look at each of these in turn.

Audio podcasts

A good audio podcast should have a clear structure, and this will only come from careful planning, for example, by:

  • Brainstorming / mindmapping
  • Trying out simple test recordings
  • Creating an outline of the show, and scripting some sections, if necessary

You should try to get the balance right between scripting every word of the show (which can sound artificial) and allowing the show to become too freeform (which may sound unprofessional).

Using two or more presenters in your show can give your show a more natural feel. When planning your show, try to include sections in which the presenters play off one another:

  • Fred: "What's coming up in the show today, Charlotte?"
  • Charlotte: "Well, Fred, we've got a great episode for you today. We've got an interview with the headteacher about the new playground facilities, and all the latest news from around the school"
  • Fred: "That sounds fantastic. Shall we get started?"
  • Charlotte: "Let's do that ...."

Whether the show has a theme which is directly related to a topic studied in lessons in school, or is a 'school news' show, it should be easy to follow, with clearly defined sections. When I've worked with schools on creating these types of podcasts, I've often used a simple structure that is like this:

  • Introduction
  • Teaser
  • Content
  • Conclusion

The introduction will introduce the presenters, the name of the show, and, possibly, the date the show was recorded. The teaser will tell the audience what to expect in the rest of the show. The content section will probably contain multiple smaller sections: interviews, quizzes, news, 'phone-in' sections, possibly student-created music or songs. Finally, in the conclusion, the presenters will say goodbye, 'we hope you've enjoyed the show', and, if the show is one of a series, tell the audience when they can expect the next episode.

Here are some demo recordings for each of these sections that I made during training and planning with Mr. Naghshineh at Trinity Primary School

(This structure is reminiscent of ideas for good practice in delivering an effective presentation: say who you are are, tell the audience what to expect, tell them what you want to tell them, then conclude)

During your show, the audience should be entertained, or made to think. I should laugh, or feel sadness, empathy, or joy. The focus should definitely be on the quality of the show rather than on the length of it. Assuming that you're recording your show in small sections in software like Audacity (on PC) or GarageBand (on a Mac or iPad), there is little excuse for long rambling sections of prose, stumbles, or long gaps in the audio. Be self-critical in your editing, trim out the 'fat', make a difficult decision if one part of the show is not working well. Don't insert a 3 minute song or piece of music into your show, unless it is student-created, and relates to the theme of the show.

podcasting template.png

Speaking of which, you must be very careful with the music you include:

  • no copyright music should be in your show. You cannot use the latest Top 40 track. For WOSCARS purposes, we will ask you to replace any copyright music before accepting your entry.
  • any music that is used under a Creative Commons license should be appropriately credited within the audio of the show
  • music that is built into software (e.g. the loops/jingles in GarageBand) is fine to include, of course.

The quality of your audio is really important. The audience will be very aware of any audio imperfections, and should not have to strain to hear what presenters are saying. Be careful with volume levels; if there is background music behind speech at points in your show, make sure that this does not overpower the speech.

Students should create short test recordings before recording for real to check volume levels and the quality of audio. Be careful of 'pops' or distortion in your recordings - these can usually be prevented by making sure that a speaker's mouth is not too close to the mic, and by speaking slightly across the mic rather than directly into it. (Speaking straight into a mic causes 'popping', as certain letter sounds (e.g. 'p') produce a blast of air from the mouth which strikes the microphone. You can also use something called a 'pop filter' to prevent this from happening).

Be careful too, of background noise. Recording podcasts in a busy classroom can lead to lots of distracting noise in your recordings.

Audiobooks

Most of the tips above are just as important when recording an audiobook, although in this style of recording, you may not have 'presenters' as such. The focus in an audiobook should be on the word themselves, and on the quality of prose. Students should concentrate on the pace of their speech and the expression they put into the words. Using different students for different characters will give your recording a sound more akin to a radio play. Again, your recording should make the audience feel something. Last year's Key Stage 1 winner from Northwood Park Primary School was a wonderful first-person description imagining being trapped on the sinking RMS Titanic. The audience were in tears!

Hopefully these tips will help you to create wonderful podcasts, ready for submitting to The WOSCARS. We can't wait to listen to your entries this year!