Audio Composing ~ PSAs

Teaching and Making Digital Audio Public Service Announcements

Audio composing can be as simple as adding a single sound file, a narrative voice-over, an interview, music, sound effects, etc., into another text-type, either written or multimodal, or the writer might arrange and or layer multiple sound files, including recorded voice(s), music and/or sound effects, and even silence, and export the layers as a single audio file.

I have students compose digital audio public service announcements in English 111 for the sequence/inquiry on public argument. PSAs in particular have several written components, so writers move back and forth between speaking and writing, between listening and reading – and between invention and production. For the project, students write a proposal and a formal audience analysis. They may write scripts/transcripts (scripting is written before speaking and provides a text from which students read – so they have to play with the notion of performative reading – reading for oral delivery; transcripts are verbatim written records of what was actually spoken. I like to allow for some experimentation and performance in the delivery). We have a day or two devoted to a delivery workshop where students publicly share their PSAs with the class and write responses to each peer project – I recommend using the same evaluation langauge in the workshop that you plan to use for the final assessment. They complete a works cited page and a final, reflective writer’s memo that discusses the choices they made, the process, and some overall reflection on composing with audio.

We talk a lot about the PSA genre – the PSA is only one kind of audio composing – and perhaps a genre that more easily lends itself to academic settings (with the focus on linear delivery, argumentation and purpose, overall precise/concise, an identifiable beginning, middle, and end). We work through the following questions, revisiting them through the process: 1. What are the conventions and audience expectations – for example, how long is a typical PSA? what sounds do you hear? what types of research are used? 2. What are the histories of the genre? 3. What materials/media are involved? 4. What makes a topic a concern of public service? 5. What does the genre do, in other words – is it a call for action? does it educate/inform? 6. Who sponsors the message? where will it play? what plays before and after it? 7. What does this genre suggest about public literacies?

Making a digital audio PSA is fairly simple. The most difficult component is likely the writing and literal speaking. Students will have most resources available for free. You may borrow the digital audio recorders from the DWC for a class Studio day, and students may check out audio recorders from King Library on their own time. Many laptops have built-in mics- and students may access the online sound recording and editing program, Audacity, for free (see blog posting below on Audacity). Macs have Garageband, which works similar to Audacity. Decide where you want students to turn in the projects- and make sure this space accepts the file types you have required. When working with technologies, we have to be flexible with what materials are available to students and remain conscious of students’ diverse learning styles and multiple literacies.

Scaffolding the PSA project

  • Introduce the project with lots of work on topic selection, invention, and resesarching. Listen to some audio texts – talk about audio genres. What is the PSA- what are the genre conventions? Talk about the rhetoric of sound – the possibilities for the PSA: spoken voice(s), music, sound effects, silence. The constraints of the project – conventionally, audio PSAs are fairly short – played in between news broadcasting and music. PSAs typically have both spoken voice and music/sound effects.
  • Audience analysis- identify three different audiences or stakeholders for your topic. In working with audience analysis, also think about the claims and evidence necessary to reach various listeners.
  • Work with the audio recorders- making and saving files. Talk about technology issues such as volume and background noise; many laptops have built-in mics – this may be an option for making the PSA. Talk about saving the projects- and about delivery/distribution.  How will students get you the project- talk about file types- what you prefer.
  • Work with script-writing and play with performance.  Build production time into class – I call these “Studio days.”
  • Reflection-in-presentation – have students present their PSAs to the class- using this performance to revise and edit before final delivery.
  • compose writer’s memo

Some pedagogical considerations:

Design the PSA assignment around your course goals. I require both primary and secondary research, and I always enjoy the projects that somehow implement creative research. I had one group distribute a survey and implement the results in their PSAs, and one group conducted an interview and actually had the interviewee’s response audible in the PSA. For the projects, students collaborate in small groups (I recommend smaller groups, 2-3). Allow for experimentation and play. Have multiple, in-class studio days- where students produce something by the end of class. Assessment/grading – you may introduce new terms in audio composing- such as “background noise”, renewed understandings of “voice” and “rhythm” – make these new terms a part of the course- and try to keep the grading and evaluation explicit- try a rubric, make one with the class – and have mini-presentations in-class where students can get feedback and revise before turning in the final project. With an audio project, working in class time for listening is extra important.

Ways to adapt the PSA

  • 111 Inquiry IV remediation projects – students could re-cast their inquiry 3 project on a public argument into a series of PSAs.
  • critical reflection – students could embed audio in their electronic portfolios.
  • critical reading response to a literary text. If teaching a novel such as The Handmaid’s Tale, what PSAs might play for the characters? What are the politics of the PSA for these characters– this world? Or, another variation- you could have students orally perform sections from a required reading- I can see this being really helpful for difficult, theoretical readings – a form of embodied analysis.
  • This I Believe audio essay for 111 or 112 Inquiry 1
  • other ideas?

feel free to contact me if you have any questions about teaching or making the PSA

Bre Garrett,


2 Responses to “Audio Composing ~ PSAs”

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