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NPR's Student Podcast Challenge is back – with a fourth-grade edition!

LA Johnson/NPR

Microphone? Check. Headphones? Ready. A story you just can't stop talking about? Got it!

Yup, it's time again for NPR's Student Podcast Challenge. And we're here to announce the opening bell of year six of this annual competition.

In our first half-decade, we've listened to more than 15,000 podcasts, from more than 80,000 young people all over the country. You've explored serious issues, like the pandemic lockdown and how it affected learning and mental health; how our changing climate is impacting your lives.

Other students, including a number of our winners, have poured into their microphones deeply personal stories, about their families, their hometowns, or their identities. Among the great podcasts that we remember years later are stories about race, gender, disabilities, and the struggle of being a young person in these troubled times. And along the way students have, of course, remembered to bring us the joy and fun and excitement they see in their lives and their communities.

On our end, we've listened to your feedback each year – great suggestions that have brought our ongoing College Podcast Challenge, and a special prize last year for the best podcast about mental health.

This year, we've got a big new change: Since the beginning, the contest has been open for students in grades five through 12. But each year, we've heard from elementary teachers asking, what about my younger kids?

This year, in response to that popular demand, from elementary teachers, we are introducing our first-ever fourth grade contest! So if you teach or work with fourth graders – please consider podcasting with your students and entering our contest!

The sixth annual Student Podcast Challenge is now open for entries starting Feb. 2, 2024 and will close on May 3, 2024. Our judges will choose winners in three categories: grade four, grades five through eight, and grades nine through 12.

As in the past, entries must be submitted by a teacher, educator, or mentor who is 18 years or older. And don't forget all the tips, advice and lesson plans we've compiled over the years – more on that below. Especially the rules around the maximum length of eight minutes, and about the use of music. (You can find the contest rules here.) After years of listening to student podcasts, we've learned that shorter is better.

And, for our college podcasters, we'll be announcing finalists and the winner of the 2023 College Podcast Challenge in the next month. So please keep an eye out! The college edition will return this fall with a $5,000 grand prize and $500 prizes for finalists.

The contest rules remain pretty much the same: Students can create a podcast about any topic they wish to explore. To give you an idea, we've listened to stories on everything from social media, tattoos to even fictional tales. Some themes we've seen over and over include questions on race and identity and how young people do, or don't, fit in. Your podcast can also be in many different formats: an interview, narrative story or even investigative reporting. You can do it by yourself or with your entire class.

To help you get started, we've got a slew of podcasting resources on how to tell a good story, how to warm up your voice and how to use music in your podcast, among other topics. Even, and we're serious about this: how making a pillow fortcan make you sound better!

You can find more tips and tricks on The Students' Podcast, our podcast on how to make a good podcast. We also encourage you to get a feel for what we're looking for by listening to last year's high school winner and middle school winners. And previous years' winners' here.

For more tips, advice and the latest updates on this year's contest, make sure to sign up for our newsletter. Students, we can't wait to hear your stories. Good luck!

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Janet W. Lee
Steve Drummond
Steve Drummond is a senior editor and executive producer at NPR who has held a variety of roles in more than two decades at the network. Since its launch in 2014, he has headed the education reporting project, NPR Ed. The nine-member team provides deep, comprehensive coverage of learning and education and extends that reporting to audiences across many platforms. In 2018, the team launched the Student Podcast Challenge. Now in its fifth year, the national contest has received podcast entries from more than 50,000 students in grades 5-12, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 2021 a college version was added that offers a $5,000 scholarship to the grand-prize winner.