Believe it or not, one thing I always had to teach to my Advanced Writing students at the university was “proper” comma usage. I would give a pretest on placing needed commas or removing unnecessary ones, and those who made less than 90%/85% (depending on the class and the majors involved) would be scheduled to meet during class time for small-group grammar instruction. Students who exempted out were allowed to come anywhere from thirty minutes to forty-five minutes later for the start of class the next week.

A book I found most helpful in this endeavor was Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Why Commas Really DO Make a Difference, Children’s version, by Lynn Truss (original author) and illustrated by Bonnie Timmons. Each time one opens the book, a sentence on the left side, illustrated by a cartoon, shows a sentence punctuated one way, then its counterpart, with the comma treated differently, is illustrated on the page on the right. For example, A sentence on the left says, “Get him doctors!” while the cartoon shows a kid who has just fallen off the monkey bars, flat on his back, as a woman points to other kids ordering them to run for a doctor. On the right, the same sentence is punctuated, “Get him, doctors!” and shows one kid “liberating” a hospital (in the background) kid-patient, running off with the little boy in the wheelchair, while an orderly shouts the message to doctors (complete with stethoscopes) standing nearby.

My favorite, which never failed to crack up junior high students back in the day had a left-hand page saying, “Eat here, and get gas” complete with cartoon minimart and gas pump while people filled up their cars and ate hot dogs and other fast-food delights. On the right, however, one is inside a restaurant, patrons are sitting at tables while one unlucky lady is flying through the air, expelling gas like a recently released balloon, and the caption has no comma: “Eat here and get gas.”

This book is a delight and as helpful as the best selling grammar handbook  (NOT an oxymoron, Truss’s grammar handbook was on the NY Times bestseller list for over a year.) Eat, Shoots, and Leaves, adult version for teaching grammar and punctuation “basics.”