Carpool Karaoke in the classroom

By Natasha Kitano

Where would we be without music? People in every nation around the world listen to all sorts of music for all sorts of reasons – to relax, to ease a broken heart, to get ready for a race, or to celebrate an event. Music is ubiquitous, and it connects humanity.

Music has a place in the ESL classroom because it can also be used to improve pronunciation, introduce students to new grammatical structures and lexis, and incite energy and motivation. Music also results in increased positivity, alertness and focus in the present (Sloboda & O’Neill, 2001, p.423).

Introducing Carpool Karaoke

The students in my current class in a General English program are from eight different countries, and all of them, we have oddly discovered, love Adele. This prompted me to create a traditional listening comprehension gap-fill activity for some of her popular songs. The students were happy with this as they enjoyed belting out the songs with her. Hoping to harness the enthusiasm and excitement that music inevitably brings, I decided to introduce my class to Carpool Karaoke, a recurring segment on The Late Late Show hosted by James Corden. The premise behind Carpool Karaoke is famous musical guests accompany James Corden on his drive to work in which he interviews them and sings along with them live… karaoke style.

Most ESL educators, and let’s face it, students too, know that the scripted recordings in ELT coursebooks are performed by actors and lack authenticity. Carpool Karaoke is an authentic listening opportunity for students to listen to an interview with their favourite musicians, and it also includes live snippets of their favourite songs which enhances student interest and participation. No sleeping or absent students in this class!

The Traditional Listening Comprehension Approach vs The Decoding Approach

I advocate using authentic listening in ESL classrooms because it incorporates the problems and complexities present in real life (Oguz & Bahar, 2008, p.328). I used the Adele segment of Carpool Karaoke as an opportunity to focus on decoding the real life, unscripted conversation between her and Corden. Decoding authentic speech focuses on how things are said rather than what is being said (Thorn, 2019). Decoding has been defined by Cauldwell (2018) as the process of separating speech sounds and then attaching real meaning to them. One of the greatest challenges students have is their ability to recognise reduced forms and word clusters, for example, in spontaneous speech. Cauldwell (2002, p.2) has declared that spontaneous speech is a ‘mess’ and familiar words are often completely unrecognisable. As English educators, it is important that we introduce our students to the ‘messy’ world of authentic spontaneous speech, not discounting colloquial language, false starts, changes in rhythm and accents that accompany it.

Rather than creating gap fill questions which test students on content words as would occur in a traditional listening comprehension approach, I wanted to focus on intensive listening of short extracts and allow the students to decode this stream of speech instead. I created decoding gap-fill exercises which focused on reduced forms, assimilation of words, elision, contrastive stress and word clusters that are present in the interview.

In any listening activity, creating context and activating schema at the start of the lesson is a given. The Adele segment starts with Corden commenting on her hair, and in a matter of seconds, the words ‘bob’, ‘hive’ (synonymous with Adele) and ‘wig’ all roll off her tongue. Therefore, I started by providing key lexical terms before the listening began.

Because Adele grew up in various places around London, she has a somewhat Cockney accent, but it is completely undetectable in her songs. Most of my students were surprised by her speaking voice. “I can’t work out…” was barely recognisable as Adele dropped the ‘t’ in “can’t” and “out”. When I started to listen to the interview through my students’ ears, I realised the enormity of the task ahead. Much to my delight, however, the class was hooked on this authentic video, and their readiness to ‘understand the mess’ of their favourite musician was undeterred. The power of music, the power of celebrities and the power of humour are the keys to success in my Carpool Karaoke class.

Humour helps and final thoughts

For those who aren’t familiar with James Corden, (now a household name in the US, despite his English roots!), he is a comedian as well as a host, and one reason for Carpool Karaoke’s popularity is due to the humour he brings to the interviews. He starts Adele’s segment, which has incidentally been viewed nearly 200 million times, by making reference to the first line of her award-winning song, Hello. The 15-minute segment starts with him talking to Adele on the phone. He says, “Hello. It’s me. I was wondering if after all these years, you’d like to meet. Just have a drive around. Hello. Hello from the outside. Alright. See you in a minute”, or “Seeyainaminud”.

The intended humour was not lost on them and piqued their interest. The combination of their desire to get to know Adele, listen to her sing live (and sing along with her), and REALLY understand an obviously popular and fun interview were the motivating force behind the success of this class. Despite having to spend some time creating decoding listening activities, Carpool Karaoke has been a winning authentic listening activity in my class, and I hope it will be in yours too.

Author's Bio: Natasha Kitano has been an ESL educator for more than 23 years. She has taught extensively in many institutions and programs in Asia and Australia. She has also been a teacher trainer for students of TESOL and has been the curriculum coordinator for a college in Tokyo. She has taught in both University Entry and Language programs at a university in Brisbane, Australia.


Cauldwell, R. (2002). Phonology for listening: relishing the messy. TESOL, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Cauldwell, R. (2018). A syllabus for listening: Decoding. Birmingham, England: Speech in Action.

Oguz, A., & Bahar, H. O. (2008). The importance of using authentic materials in prospective foreign language teacher training. Pakistan Journal of social sciences, 5(4), 328-336.

Sloboda, J. A., & O’Neill, S. A. (2001). Emotions in everyday listening to music. Music and emotion: Theory and research, 415-429.

Thorn, S. (2019). The Listening Business. Retrieved from